Obscene and pornographic art

I’m in a darkened room, sitting on a wooden bench, watching a film. It’s a psychedelic, experimental short from the late 1960s. Shapes and colours flicker around the screen. Soon the shapes make way to reveal humans – lovely young hippies. They’re naked and painting their bodies with abstract shapes, writhing together in a joyful painty mess.

When this image become obvious, a middle-aged woman in the room exclaims, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!”

On screen, a man is standing with a stocking on his genitals.

“That’s a lady’s pantihose!”, the woman’s husband observes.

“Yes,” the she confirms, sounding relieved that it wasn’t her knee-highs on that man’s dangly bits.

Meanwhile, the fellow on screen has started humping a naked lady’s bottom with his manhosiery.

“Oh my godfathers,” the woman says.

“It’s like an orgy gone wrong,” the man says, rhyming ‘orgy’ with ‘corgi’, suggesting he’s never known an orgy gone right let alone wrong.

Soon they leave, almost as if their uncomfortable silence has booted them out like a bouncer.

This scene took place in one of the areas of Yayoi Kusama’s “Mirrored Years” exhibition at the refurbished City Gallery Wellington. (But that’s the room you don’t take your kids into.)

Downstairs, the new Adam Auditorium in the gallery was screening the documentary “Yayoi Kusama: I Adore Myself”.

You know what I don’t like about films played in art galleries? When they’re played on loop, with no indication of what time the film starts, leaving audiences to wander in halfway through, like it’s the 1950s. “I Adore Myself” was a fully-fledged feature-length documentary, not some video art that audiences can just dip in and out of.

The Adam Auditorium has one flaw that makes film screenings difficult – the blinds that block out the external light extend between two layers of glass, meaning the glass surface ends up clearly reflecting the film. This is annoying and distracting (much more than the ladder propped up in the wings at the Paramount) and quite strange to find in an otherwise nicely designed, brand new structure.

There’s a theme here – dark rooms. Amongst the rest of the Kusama exhibition I most enjoyed the pieces that were in dark settings. Specifically the firefly room – lines of LED lights with mirrored walls and over a reflecting pond – and the living room covered in fluorescent dots, violently glowing in the ultraviolet light.

The pieces that were more brightly lit annoyed me and left me feeling like I was being obscenely sucked into their world of yellow and black and giant blobby shapes, an unwilling Alice in Blunderland. Those ones had me uncomfortably fleeing room like the middle-aged couple had done at the short film.

But I like how the City Gallery has, for its reopening exhibiton, been transformed into a series of magical rooms, but with just enough rough edges and dangly bits to not leave audiences feeling too comfortable.

Take your sweetie along and gaze at the pretty lights, but just watch out that your honey doesn’t push you in the water.


This morning I went to the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. Because Te Papa is so awesome, Wellington’s city museum has to pick a theme and stick with it, and the theme is yo ho ho, the sea (and the city).

There was a chronological history of 20th century Wellington (and plenty of historically significant building pr0n for me to salivate and/or weep over); Wellington’s nautical history, including the Wahine disaster; and a look at ye olde Wellington, including Maori legends read by Joanna Paul.

But the trouble was, there was a school group there too. No matter where I went, the school group followed. I was quietly viewing the Wahine exhibit when, “Now, I want you to look at things like the table with the hole in the middle, and think about why the hole might be there.” (Answer: it was for the ashtray.)

I tried getting as far away from the kids as I could, but no matter where I went, they followed. No, children. Run away, little ones!

I had a look in the Film Archive. There was a display of that guy who make all those films, but that was a bit boring. The only other thing to watch was a 1994 edition of Sale of the Century, which looked like the first episode after it switched to TV3. At first I thought maybe it was a selection of TV from that era, but no. It just an episode of Sale of the Century on loop. And I watched it all.

Then I went to the City Gallery and discovered a curious thing. There was an exhibit of the works of Guy Ngan. He’d done a lot of metal decorative things for civic buildings in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, including the blue stuff atop the Bledisloe building in Auckland, which I have always admired from afar.

But the centrepiece of the exhibit was a giant aluminium wall sculpture (is that the right word) he had made for the Newton Post Office in 1973 (NZ Post had been renovating the building and didn’t want it so they donated it to the Auckland Museum). Now, the Newton PO is where I have my post office box. Its fairly ordinary. The only redeeming feature are the hand-drawn posters that feature delightfully sexist buxom ladies. But it warms the cockles of my heart to think that at one stage some wall inside the PO would have been covered with this massive artwork.

Later I met up with Max who made some nice spaghetti and meatballs and even nicer steamed pudding (yes!), which is perfect for a chilly Wellington winter night. We watched selections from his awesome collections of DVDs, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my last night in the capital.

Tomorrow it’s time to head back up north.