Another Menzies mystery: what happened to those catalogues?
It seems that the only people who haven't commented on the Menzies exhibition are the artists and administrators responsible for it. After I put my post up, I e mailed Tim Biggs, the Manager of Old Government House, and suggested that he might let me leave copies of it near the exhibition, so as to balance the views of Menzies and his devotees Brill and Young. I never received a reply from Biggs, even though his job is supposed to involve dealing with enquiries about activities at Old Government House.
Neither painter Pauline Brill nor sculptor John Young has responded to the criticisms of their art on this blog, although Brill, at least, appears to have been following discussions of her work closely. According to my handy Extremetracking device, a University of Auckland computer used by a 'p.brill' visited this blog more than a dozen times on Monday the eleventh of May, and many more times in the week that followed. I suppose Brill might have been reading my posts on EP Thompson or the Land Wars.
When I visited A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy for the first time two weeks ago, I took away a copy of the catalogue which accompanied it. The document included rambling and sometimes incoherent statements from Brill and Young, as well as quotes from Graham Menzies' book 1421. The catalogue also included a list of the four members of the Gallery Governors' Committee, the body which decides which artists are allowed to mount exhibitions at Old Government House. Both Brill and Young are named as members of the Commitee. In my post on the exhibition, I quoted the statements from Brill and Young to show that they were admirers of Menzies who had little understanding of the different between pseudo-history and real scholarship. I also suggested that the presence of Brill and Young on the Gallery Governors' Committee cast doubt on the propriety of the decision to give them exhibition space at Old Government House.
I revisited A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy late last week, because I wanted to get some photos of Brill and Young's work before it disappeared from view. Although Young's sculptures and Brill's canvases remained on display, the piles of catalogues which had sat on the long table where Young's sculptures were strewn had vanished. I spoke to someone who had visited the exhibition earlier in the week; they also reported a total absence of catalogues.
It is possible, I suppose, that hordes of enthusiastic art fans might have flocked to Old Government House early last week, and carried off the hundreds of catalogues the university had produced as souvenirs of Brill and Young's exhibition. I find it more likely, though, that either Brill or Young or one of the other members of the Gallery Governors' Committee removed the catalogues after realising how unfortunate their contents were.
Whatever its cause, I can't see how the disappearance of the catalogues for A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy ameliorated the shortcomings of the exhibition. Without the advertisement for Menzies' thought which accompanied them, Young's sculptures and Brill's paintings make little or no sense: instead of being clumsy expressions of a bankrupt theory, they become merely clumsy depictions of sailing boats and assorted ephemeral objects. If the artists and administrators behind A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy have chosen to respond to criticism with a mixture of silence and self-censorship, then they have merely compounded the blunder they made in mounting the exhibition in the first place. Surely it would have been far more useful to acknowledge and engage with critics of the exhibition, by placing material which balanced Menzies' views alongside the catalogue?
A couple of anonymous commenters at this blog have disputed my claim that the work of Young and Brill lacks aesthetic as well as intellectual value. (I was intrigued when one of these commenters described Young's work as 'tasteful' - I didn't think that word was used outside of Antiques Roadshow and Home and Garden magazine.) I've reproduced a couple of photos of Young's sculptures and Brill's paintings (click to enlarge them) so that those of you who did not visit the exhibition can see them for yourselves. I apologise for the less-than-perfect quality of the photos - Skyler's camera has been behaving temperamentally for months, and I had problems adjusting its focus.