Judy Millar

Branch
2021
1400 x 1000 mm
oil and acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of the artist and Gow Langsford, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Judy Millar has generously offered to donate the entire proceeds of the sale of her work towards the completion of our basement facilities. Ngā mihi maioha Judy.

Estimate: NZD 24,000 — 32,000

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If there is one thing that is celebrated with Branch, a new work made by Judy Millar, it must be the collision of extensive practical materiality that is expected from painting, with a high-level of dreaming. Connected to the ever-changing social reality in our direct environments, for Millar “Painting is a direct body-to-body communication, there is no mediation between what one body has made and what another body sees and experiences, that can’t be replaced.”

The treelike and liquid elements in Branch consider an embodied space and focus on the things we see just before we name them. After that we seem to try and ‘locate’ but just before that moment, a slight vision opens up before we settle down in language. Linguistically too, Branch can be both a noun as well as a verb, signalling the ambivalent and transforming position it takes where it is about to become something else, or not.

Artist Biography & History
with Artspace Aotearoa:

Curated

Judy Millar co-curated Laying it On Thick: Hit Me, Spurn me, Shoot me, Sell Me (group), 31 January — 23 February 1996, with Delia Browne and Peter Shand. Two panels were staged as part of this exhibition, the first titled Violent Art/Pornography and the second The Capitalisation of Sexual Identity.

Exhibited

Ngātahi presents the Judy Millar book collection at Aotearoa Art Fair 2021, 24 — 28 February 2021. Ngātahi is an informal collective of public galleries that includes Artspace Aotearoa, Gus Fisher Gallery (The University of Auckland), Objectspace, ST PAUL St Gallery (AUT), Te Tuhi and Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery

100m2: A Ten Year Survey (group), 1990

Judy Millar

 

Judy Millar is one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised artists. She shares her time between Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and Berlin and has a significant reputation in Europe, which continues to gain momentum.

Recent career highlights include two exhibitions at the Venice Bienniale (representing Aotearoa New Zealand with her solo exhibition Giraffe-Bottle-Gun, 2009; and in Time, Space, Existence a curated exhibition including new works by Carl Andre and Marina Abramovic, 2011); a major commission for Auckland Art Gallery, Rock Drop in 2017; exhibitions at Rohkunstbau, Berlin and Schloss Marquardt, Potsdam. Her first solo exhibition with Fold Gallery in London, The View From Nowhere, opened in 2018. Judy Millar: The Future and the Past Perfect opened at Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland in March 2019, with a survey of works from 1981 to 2018.

Broadly speaking Millar works from a within conceptual painting framework, in which she freely references painting’s recent histories, particularly delighting in plundering the expressiveness of gestural painting. Working with processes of erasure, wiping or scraping paint off the surface of the work, Millar takes up known positions only to deconstruct and question their previous meanings. In recent years Millar has used mechanically-generated enlargements of handmade gestures to challenge our expectations of the expressive gesture and of the efficacy of painting as a contemporary means of communication. In these works is a clear desire to grant painting the same power as all the other images that press upon us daily.

An interview between Judy Millar and Remco de Blaaij, Director of Artspace Aotearoa

Remco de Blaaij: Judy, to me your work always seems connected to social and political progressions, beyond just the idea of materiality and painting, and on top of that focuses especially on Aotearoa. Where does this come from?

Judy Millar: Well yes, I’ve always struggled with the relationship between making work in a studio and what goes on in the wider world. This was particularly acute for me immediately on leaving art school, I was disillusioned with making objects of any sort. Wanting to create a local environment where conversations around art and ideas could take place, I stopped making art pretty much all together, and in the 1980’s opened a café in central Auckland. At the time, the small group of artists I hung out with used to go to an Italian cafe to drink coffee and then we'd go to the Hari Krishna place to eat vegetarian food. I put those two things together in one place and it was an instant success. We had one of the first espresso machines outside an Italian restaurant in Auckland, and we served organic vegetarian food, which was still far from the mainstream. I remember the days when people would come in and ask what tofu was. Or they’d come in and say what is that espresso thing, I just want a coffee.
It did become a place where artists, students, punks, and grandmothers would meet. It was a place where everyone came together. Gigs and exhibitions were advertised, there was a lot of information shared. I became increasingly involved in the organic movement here, the macrobiotic movement, local produce, eating well… And then much of that became mainstream and I couldn’t really see any need to keep it going. But I remember the days when we were trying to use organic ingredients and the only organic vegetable available on a certain day would be carrots, so you would have carrot muffins, carrot cake, carrot everything.

Remco de Blaaij: Then you went to Berlin - was that in the early 2000’s?

Judy Millar: Yes, I did. This was obviously quite a bit later. By that time, I was teaching at Elam at The University of Auckland and initially went to Berlin on a sabbatical. At that time Berlin was incredibly exciting, a lot of people from all over the world were going there. It was a very egalitarian space. Everybody mixed. People went to each other's studios. It was a big conversation; you would go to dinner parties, and you would meet everybody. That quickly dissipated. As soon as the big galleries moved in, things became much more structured, as they are in big cities. And those kinds of things didn't happen so much anymore. I really treasure the two or three years I spent there in the early 2000’s because I was meeting so many artists. They would come to my studio, and they would confront me, they would challenge me in a way that New Zealanders never would. I remember babbling away, and an artist just turned to me and said, “I don't see that in your work”. Or I’d have things said to me like “You seem to be a very brave person. Why aren't you brave when you paint?” Very confronting.
You learn so much from these comments. That comment really struck me, “Why aren't you brave when you're painting?” With moments like that, if it's not true, it's not going to have any impact on you. But it reached me. I still ask myself that same question quite often. I remind myself.

Remco de Blaaij: So a confrontation with how things are working elsewhere one could say. Having lived in Germany and also later Italy, could you say this international perspective grew on you, like many other artists from Aotearoa throughout this time?

Judy Millar: Throughout the 1970s in Aotearoa, there was a feisty debate going on between the so-called internationalists and the so-called provincialists. The argument was about whether we should position ourselves as part of an international dialogue or focus on more local dialogue and concerns. My generation had no doubt about which side we were on, and we were determined to embrace the international art world. Having said that, about five or six years ago, my own position began to shift a little on that matrix and I became, for several reasons, much more skeptical of global politics and the global marketplace. I became rather horrified about the lack of sustainability in the global art world, which is just so wasteful. All these doubts started to compound. I began to see that if I really looked at the art I was most interested in historically, it belongs to a highly specific time and place. So, I have developed a more critical position in the global art world, and I have been struggling with it. Well, COVID came along and finalized that for me recently. So, for all those reasons I have become slightly dubious about the path I have taken and some of the choices I have made - about my ‘internationality’ - and began to become much more interested in being located, being placed.

Remco de Blaaij: And the seed for that was planted perhaps in the 1970s?

Judy Millar: When I was at art school in the very late 70s, early 80s, we used to hang around waiting for Artforum to drop. We desperately wanted to know what was going on in the wider world. Artists who were my contemporaries, like Julian Daspher and Mary-Louise Brown, they were thinking about the same things, we wanted to embrace being part of a bigger situation.
Artspace as an institution had to eventually deal with this too. Having started off as basically an artist run space that built a programme from local artists putting forward proposals it eventually changed into a curatorially led programme showcasing the work of many artists from around the globe. When Robert Leonard became Director in the mid 1990’s, Artspace moved to this completely different model. And that was an interesting chapter, because I suppose Artspace suddenly became a ‘grown up institution’ – in no longer working from proposals it gained a clear curatorial direction. It was a very contested time, because a lot of artists thought Artspace should stay a predominantly local gallery. They saw the old proposal model as being democratic. Before the shift to a curatorial model, they at least had a chance to try and get their exhibition proposal accepted, and they were concerned that their access would go. It did to some extent. As Artspace began to show more international content local artists felt that they had been, in some ways, left out of the conversation.

Remco de Blaaij: A very similar discussion still comes up time and time again, even now.

Judy Millar: Well, I think institutions must change or they will die. I think there was a recognition that if Artspace sort of floated on accepting or rejecting proposals endlessly, it wasn't going to grow up in a way that it needed to.

Remco de Blaaij: Of course. In terms of a new internationalism, of Aotearoa reconnecting to the world once again, what potential do you see?

Judy Millar: I’m fascinated to see the rise of work from many different countries getting recognition at the moment. Ghana has a whole art scene going on that is completely riveting. There is great work coming out of Nigeria. So there has never been a time before, that I know of, when work is coming forward from so many different localities and is being recognised by a global audience. Of course, it mostly still ends up being exhibited in New York and the work needs that audience to cement its reputation. This indicates that the power of the big international commercial galleries is still a deciding factor in what work gets the widest audience. How Aotearoa chooses to connect, or not, with this remains to be seen. The connections that assist artists to be seen offshore don’t happen by chance. How and on what terms Aotearoa reconnects needs to be thought through and strategized with eyes wide open.
There used to be an old debate about New Zealand light, and you know, you've probably heard this, they used to write on and on about New Zealand light. The clarity and crispness of the light. The way we see the world is not just physical, obviously, it's also social. Our immediate environment is our social environment, our physical environment, our heritage. So perhaps the clarity of light was related to a form of political clarity Kiwis felt at the time. We’re now in the process of taking stock of what our history really has been and reimaging what our collective future could look like. How we see ourselves will decide how we choose to interact with the various artworlds beyond our shores.

Remco de Blaaij: So how much of it do you think is any sort of parallel with this social reality of colonial British times?

Judy Millar: When I was growing up, we were the food basket of Great Britain. We were a relatively prosperous and seemingly egalitarian society and that resulted in a very secure political reality. This was all torn apart by Rogernomics and the slow awakening to the truth of the effects of colonization on our tangata whenua, on the land itself.
In 1975 we had the first Māori land march at about the same time we had punk arriving in New Zealand. So many changes. Britain becoming part of the EU, Thatcherism arriving, the dismantling of all the kinds of institutions that we had grown up with. It created an incredible ferment of different inputs. Travel became very cheap. In the art world, we had new trends forming, new image paintings everywhere. And along with that came a whole new understanding of commerce and art. I mean, when I went to art school, we had no thought that we could make a living from being artists, we were planning our futures with the question of what kind of job we might have alongside making our work. But that changed, because suddenly during the mid 1980’s we had an art market.

Remco de Blaaij: But how do you see the future? What do you think is changing especially from a perspective of younger artists? It seems to me to be quite an exciting time to be in New Zealand?

Judy Millar: Absolutely. I completely agree with that. I think that we are at a pivotal and important point where, finally, we're beginning to open our eyes to who we are, and in the majority, we’re ready to deal with past wrongs and rebuild a different society based on new understandings. Look at the use of Te Reo for example. This is stunning. There's a hell of a long way to go but a new society is beginning.
For me personally too, it's an exciting time to be involved in art making. No matter what I’ve done in my life up to now, I’ve always come back to that. For me the essence of making art comes down to the way we live in two worlds; we live in a mental world with dreams, hopes, ambitions and we live in a physical world of stubborn materiality. As artists we are always trying to tie those things together in a new way and, for me, that's the importance of art, that we can at least try and tie those impossible worlds together.
I still paint, because for me, painting is the most direct way of negotiating this. As a painter you pull together the mental world and the physical world with what is basically just coloured mud. It’s primitive and immediate.
I'm fascinated to see how new generations that have grown up in a digital world continue to relate to such materiality, but it seems to me there's an ever-increasing need for body-to-body communication. That’s why I'm a little reluctant to think that the internet is going to take over completely. Painting is a direct body-to-body communication, there is no mediation between what one body has made and what another body sees and experiences, that can’t be replaced.