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September 21, 2009 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Subject to Debate


If you are a commuter from the Newtown or the Southern ‘burbs you may have noticed a rather large, maroon object that has been protruding from the area beside Martha’s Pantry for a good two months now. Although at first glance it looks like yet another development that’s fallen victim to the (insert unmentionable R word here), it is in fact a large-scale art installation by a relatively well-known Wellington artist, Regan Gentry.

Subject to Change comprises the bare bones of a heritage-style building. A rusty-red coloured side wall and front façade have been erected on the derelict site, complete with stained glass panels and even a brass door knob on the front door. The work comments on the changing nature of Wellington’s inner city environment, reflecting the architecture of the heritage buildings that were restored and relocated to their present site on the opposite side of the bypass by Transit NZ. Gentry aims to merge both the contemporary and historic meanings inherent in the site and elicit a response from those outside the art community.

This is not the artist’s first foray into public sculpture. Originally from Hawke’s Bay, Gentry graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Otago in 2000 and since then has gone from strength to strength, establishing himself as a prominent member of the national art scene. His often quirky artworks have been a regular feature in local galleries and public spaces for the past five years. These include Of Gorse Of Course, a sculpture made entirely from our infamous national weed, exhibited at the NewDowse in 2007 and more recently, Green Islands, a series of elaborate flora sculpted from metal, which takes pride of place on the four plinths that form a gateway between Te Papa and the waterfront walkway.

Whereas Gentry’s Te Papa commission is an asset to the waterfront area, Subject to Change sticks out like a sore thumb. Its clean lines and untouched paintwork are a stark contrast to its well-loved Aro surroundings. At least part-funder the Wellington Sculpture Trust has high hopes for the piece, expecting it to “become an embedded and popular part of the Te Aro streetscape”.

Personally, I think it is an awkward-looking sculpture that doesn’t reflect the time and extensive processes employed to create it. Its clumsy colouring and form mock the elegant yet sturdy structures that stare back in dismay from the opposite side of the road. I hope it’s subject to move. Quickly.


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Comments (8)

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  1. Michael says:

    I don’t really think this is a well thought through critique of the work. I would hardly describe the context of the surrounding buildings as well loved. They are empty, blandly painted and have been designated as some kind of heritage site now that the bypass has been shoved through. I personally think Gentry’s work to be a user friendly take on public sculpture, at least it has some kind of function besides just being a facade (like the seats for example).

    I think there is something that you have missed, and may need to think further on its site specificity.

  2. bananarama says:

    Write your own review.

  3. Teresa says:

    What Michael said. Public sculpture is generally dull and Gentry’s work always surprises me with it’s popularity because it has a sense of humour. The Karo Drive piece is a mockery of those ‘elegant yet sturdy structures’ it faces but isn’t that the point? Pre relocation/bypass that area was ‘well-loved’ and had a vibrant creative community. Now it’s sterile and bland and looks like some sort of Heritage Toy-town. I thought the piece commented directly on that. It’s a facade.

  4. Teresa says:

    Michael interviewed Gentry on the VBC about a month ago.

  5. bananarama says:

    oooh yay Michael’s mum must be proud

  6. Teresa says:

    The article’s called ‘Subject to Debate’ – would you rather it be called ‘Subject to Childish bickering’?

  7. Hank Scorpio says:

    Subject to the Object (on a very special Teh Grammarz)

  8. Michael says:

    i’m sure she is. thanks.

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