The Tantalizing Language of the Arts

Parallax, Vol. 1 No. 2, Summer 1983. Cover: Richard Killeen, 1982. Antic, Issue One, June 1986. Cover: Jenny Doležel. 

Arts journals have been published in Aotearoa since 1928 - two began as humble newsletters that have grown into mainstays of today’s arts world (Art News New Zealand and Art New Zealand), but most lasted for just a few issues. A selection of these journals, drawn from the Angela Morton Room’s rich archival material, will be on display in Te Pātaka Toi | Art Library, Level 1, Takapuna Library, until 1 May.

Whilst artists are central in the arts community, these journals form an important part of the network that nurtures and celebrates them. The editors of our first arts journal, Art in New Zealand, aimed “to set new standards and spur practitioners to sturdier effort to attain those standards” (Vol. 1 No. 1, 1928). “In this country, newspaper art notices are… more kindly than constructively critical. They spread praise lavishly, and dispraise is a rarety… such notices impart no stimulus to an art that needs stimulating…. They may merely narcoticise the artist into the belief that he has ‘arrived,’ or at least is ‘arriving’.” This first issue included plates from around 20 artists, as well as articles concerning Van der Velden’s influence on New Zealand art and ‘The Art of Young Countries.’

Art in New Zealand, Vol. 1 No. 1, September 1928. Art in New Zealand, Vol. 16 No. 4, June 1944. Cover: S.B. Maclennan, Design for a Christmas Card.

The journal remained in print until 1946 when its publisher, Harry H. Tombs, started the Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand. Editor Howard Wadham dedicated the Year Book to everyone “who is trying to say something in the exciting, difficult, tantalizing language of the Arts.” A thousand copies were printed. The issue included reproductions of work by 90 artists such as Rita Cook (Angus), Louise Henderson, Colin McCahon and E. Mervyn Taylor. The Year Book’s final issue, number 7, came out in 1951. It had grown to include 150 reproductions plus a centrefold of Juliet Peter’s cover design for ‘Tusitala Mo A’oga Samoa’ - the first Samoan School Journal.

Arts Year Book 6, 1950. Cover: Motif from a Māori rock drawing photographed by Theo Schoon, cover design by Eric Lee-Johnson. Centrefold of Arts Year Book 7, 1951. Cover: ‘Tusitala Mo A’oga Samoa’ the first Samoan School Journal, by Juliet Peter, after a Samoan tapa cloth pattern of the 1880s in the Dominion Museum, Wellington.

In 1967, eighteen years after the Year Book folded, another visual arts journal started – Ascent, published by The Caxton Press and edited by Leo Bensemann and Barbara Brooke. Pat Hanly, Greer Twiss and Patricia Perrin were some of the featured artists. Good reviews of this first issue led the editors to say they were on the slippery path to that happy state – success. They hoped “a growing awareness of the importance of the New Zealand image in art will be stimulated and developed” by Ascent. However, the journal ended in 1969 after a special fifth issue marking the centenary of the 1869 birth of Frances Hodgkins.

Ascent, Vol. 1 No. 1, November 1967. Cover: M.T. Woollaston, Left of the Mountain, 1967. Ascent, Vol. 1 No. 4, November 1969. Cover: Gordon Walters design for Ascent, 1969.

Seven years later, in 1976, Art New Zealand launched. This grew out of a newsletter published by the Peter Webb Galleries, and Peter Webb was the managing editor. The first issue featured Philip Clairmont, as well as expatriate and immigrant artists of the 1920s and 1930s. The editorial stated that “The daily papers seem to share a delusion that just about anyone is qualified to turn in a few lines on an art exhibition… Often, important exhibitions are not reviewed at all… while patently amateur showings are treated with the same respect as those of established artists.” Instead, Art New Zealand supported the need for quality criticism, quoting Harold Rosenberg’s view that the critic’s job was to enrich the environment of ideas in which artists work.

Art New Zealand continues to this day, along with Art News New Zealand whose beginnings reach back to 1979 with the Auckland Society of Arts hand-produced newsletter Art News. This was mainly a round-up of member’s exhibition listings and prizes and a gallery calendar. Issue two had a Roy Dalgarno drawing on the cover, and a report on a Don Binney talk to members. Always a labour of love, the June 1986 issue states: “Despatch of this newsletter occupies if not an army then at least a fat platoon of voluntary helpers inserting, folding and sticking on the Friday before you get your copy in the mail.” The last issue of this newsletter was Christmas 1990.

Art New Zealand, Issue 1, August/September 1976. Cover: Raymond McIntyre, Portrait of a Young Girl, 1915. Art New Zealand, Issue 46, January 1988. Cover: Louise Henderson photographed by Robin Morrison, January 1988.

In 1992 Art News Auckland launched. This was free for Auckland Society of Art members and also available by subscription. In the first issue editor Elizabeth Grierson interviewed NZ Herald art critic Terry McNamara. Featured artists included Nyree Cockle, Fatu Feu’u and Pam Blok. Four years later this periodical became Art News New Zealand. Editor Vicki Earl said, “While Art News has always been very much an Auckland magazine – hence its title – there has been an increasing awareness at the magazine that there is life and art elsewhere, including south of the Bombay hills.” The journal broadened its geographic coverage and also moved into other branches of the arts - critiquing the Montana Book Awards and providing an article about investing in fine arts.

Art News, No. 4 Vol. 7, June 1986. Art News Auckland, Spring 1996. Cover: Sue Syme, Tossing the Boyfriend.

Auckland in the 1980s saw the creation of further publications: Parallax, and Antic. Parallax: a journal of postmodern literature and art began in 1982 and was edited by Alan Loney. The first issue was primarily text-based with poetry, reviews and a Wystan Curnow essay ‘Post-Modernism in Poetry and the Visual Arts.’ The third and last issue featured 13 pages of love letter cartoons drawn by Judi Stout – Billet Doux. Stout’s delightful bio read “artist-writer, 24, 5’11”, rusty linguist, retired librarian, wasp-waist, weight-trained.” The work of Cilla McQueen, another artist-writer, also featured.

As one periodical closed, another opened - 1986 saw the launch of Antic, published by editors Susan Davis, Elizabeth Eastmond and Priscilla Pitts. The editorial said: “Antic hopes to foreground aspects of a growing body of work dealing with recent directions in feminist and other theoretical practices often ignored by existing arts publications in New Zealand.” Lita Barrie’s essay ‘Remissions: Toward a Deconstruction of Phallic Univocality’ was in the first issue, along with Francis Pound’s discussion of the hierarchical oppositions implicit in NZ art criticism from the thirties. Ngahuia te Awekotuku was interviewed. She had attended the opening of Te Māori in New York - and found not one item of work by a Māori women artist had been included. Antic ceased in 1990 after 8 issues.

Three more arts journals started in Auckland in the 1990s: monica, The Pander and Loosemonica published five issues during 1996/7. The editors - Tessa Laird, Anna Sanderson and Anna Miles - were all recent Elam graduates. Anna Miles said they had wanted to create a review-based publication that really connected with practitioners and was relevant to their generation. “We were against publications like Art New Zealand as it didn’t have enough point of view, it didn’t have a sense of currency for our generation,” she said. The first editorial stated: “monica reviews art. And regularly. Well, we had to… all that coffee and nothing to read! … monica is intoxicated with ideas… our next issue will be a star-making spectacular with a fashion focus. monica suggest you subscribe now and enter the centre of informed dialogue indispensable to contemporary art and culture. Get a head, get friendly with monica.” Fresh and opinionated, monica posed questions such as: “What makes Peter Robinson’s nod to the community noticeboard of bargain basement advertisement any more trashy than McCahon’s reference to the road side sign?”

Loose, Issue One, Spring 1999. Cover girl: Reneé Mundy. Monica, June/July 1996. Cover: Kate Small, The Pamela Chronicle. Pander, Issue 9. Cover: Mark Smith.

The Pander began in 1997 and published nine issues over two years. Editors were Andrew Forsberg, Robert Hutchinson and Vanessa York. A statement on the cover of the first issue said “By denying or refusing to engage with the established paradigms that constitute discussion in our society The Pander creates a space where thought can be developed and encouraged without having to endure the tyranny of commonsense and outrage.” It included a feature on American musicians the Carter Family and a review of photographic exhibitions by John Collie and Arthur Tress. Marilyn Sainty of Scotties supported monica and The Pander purchasing advertising space on the back covers of both periodicals - and providing beautiful photographs by Deborah Smith.

Back page advertisements for Scotties from monica, August/September 1996, and Pander, Issue 8 July 1999.

Loose: Words, Art and Comix for new New Zealand, was devoted to critical thought/visual pleasure. Features editor Gemma Gracewood said “I got a call from a guy named Chris… asking if I’d like to come and hang on Sunday afternoons with a bunch of Grey Lynn lefties, drink red wine and home-brew, and hopefully produce a magazine out of it. How could I resist?” Comix editor Chris Knox published around 15 comix in the first issue and asked “all you other cartoonists out there, especially you women (who are woefully under-represented here) send me your best stuff. We can’t make you rich or famous but we can print! The next issue’s theme is ‘Colour’. Regardless of that, it’ll still be black and white.” Loose ceased publication after three issues – Fear, Colour and Noise. And yes, all issues were black and white, and jammed full of art, comix and articles.

New arts periodicals continue to be created and are also available to browse in the Angela Morton Room – including ATE Journal of Māori Art, Femisphere, Artzone magazine and many more. But if you’d like to pause and return to some of the country’s earlier publications, then do please visit the Angela Morton Room Te Pātaka Toi | Art Library, Level 1, Takapuna Library, where a selection are on display until 1 May. Open daily. Follow us on Instagram for more.

Author: Leanne, Research North