Sunday, January 07, 2007

Missing, but not missed

The University of Auckland library, that place where I squandered many hours to the pleasures of youth (yes, I know, I'm a geek and a loser), was burgled during the Christmas holiday. I'll admit that when I read the headline 'Art Theft at University Library' my heart did skip a beat, because the library does house some wonderful paintings and drawings. Images by Colin McCahon, Richard Killeen, and Don Binney don't really deserve the indignity of being ignored every day by thousands of snotty-nosed undergraduate brats, but they deserve imprisonment in the wine seller of some pretentious real estate developer even less.

I was reassured, though, when I scanned the short list of items pinched over Christmas. Frankly, the library can do without a dreary old Charles Goldie canvas and a set of seven bad poems by McCahon. Goldie's patronising portraits of Maori elders were never more than hand-painted photographs. The grand old man regarded them as records of a 'dying race'; thankfully, Maori have outlasted him, but by making his subjects suck on pipes for the first time he may have encouraged thousands of their descendants to take up smoking and go to an early grave, in the belief that the practice was somehow an affirmation of their culture.

McCahon's poetry is even less of a loss: as the recent retrospective of his work at the Auckland City Art Gallery showed to those willing to ignore the hype, the introduction of snatches of portentous and pretentious text onto his canvases in the 1960s marked the beginning of his decline, as the restraint and ambiguity of his early work (see below) was replaced with boozy vacuity. Without any imagery at all to accompany them McCahon's texts quickly discredit themselves, which is why you won't find his name in any anthology of New Zealand poetry. McCahon was no more a poet than Russell Crowe is a musician.

If any of the library staff disagree with me about the merits of the goods they've lost, then they can at least put their pain into perspective by casting an eye over the diary of Saad Eskander, the embattled director of the Iraqi National Library and Archive.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree re the Goldies (they are patronising and indeed not even "realistic") but I hold McCahon in high regard.

2:30 am  
Anonymous Olivia said...

Hmm, so Maps you think original intention has the most important part to play in reception, do you?

Nope, I tend to side with Stuart Hall on this one, especially vis a vis Goldie - and never mind the "snotty" undergrads, I enjoy the uni's strange collection, and always have. If anyone nicks that big Killeen I'll be gutted.

2:33 am  
Anonymous Olivia said...

My god, Richard, what are the two of us both doing here at this hour of the night? Are you me?!?

2:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God, you really are utterly humourless, aren't you, Maps?

12:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Olivia - I am actually intending to get to bed earlier. But I tend to come online when it is quiet. Keep well.

As far as I know I am only myself!

The concept(s) of Duchamp is (are) very are important to me as is that of Bueys and others. But more anon.

Killeen is a great artist also. I like his ideas. Comrade Maps does also.

The university is actually an interesting place...pity the old Philosophy building is gone - and there used to be a biology Museum - it may still be there. The Engineering Dept is interesting and the Architectural...also there are other nooks and crannies. Haven't been in there (to the AU) for a while though.

10:09 pm  
Anonymous Olivia said...

Yes, I agree - Classics has/had an interesting library as well, which I think is still there. I'm all for enjoying semi-public spaces - I remember when the aotea centre was new, my sis and I determined to get the most out of it - at one stage we spent a whole day in an unused "corporate" room with its own balcony (we'd brought a picnic lunch and all our study books etc.)

6:12 pm  
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7:06 pm  

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