Wall of Man

Ervon Todd’s show closes at City Gallery Wellington on March 2nd (well, the bit including her 2009 Wall of Man series does anyway), so if you’re in Welly, make sure you check it out if you haven’t done so already.  And here’s a short blog post I wrote on the Wall of Man blokes for the City Gallery blog.

Yvonne Todd, Founding CEO, from the 2008 series Wall of Man
Yvonne Todd, Founding CEO, 2008

Men don’t appear often in Yvonne Todd’s work. The first was Founding CEO (2008), a large, standalone portrait of a silver haired gentleman exuding a powerful sense of paternal authority. A year later, a whole troop appeared – 12 in total – including Family Doctor, who I first encountered at Ivan Anthony’s stand at the 2009 Auckland Art Fair, peering out, hand on chin, in a position of contrived benevolence. Todd fans build up an appetite for certain things – kitschy costumes, buck teeth, bad wigs. Family Doctor was different. He was so ordinary.

Todd had been interested in creating a body of work featuring actual male accountants arranged into a large-scale montage but decided that “the idea and the reality would not necessarily align and I was limiting myself by being too specific”.[1]  Instead, she placed an advertisement in her local newspaper The North Shore Times, calling for mature male models between the ages of 65 and 75. Her criteria were simple – they had to be “reasonably well groomed and socially functional”.[2]

We’re all familiar with the visual language of the corporate portrait, featuring confident ‘experts’ with steely gazes and assertive body language, and Todd encouraged her resulting sitters to play the part. She clad them in formal shirts and jackets selected from local op shops and bestowed them with impressive titles like International Sales Director, Company Founder and Agrichemical Spokesman.

In front of the camera, Todd’s male models knew what to do. Retired Urologist squints smugly through his piss tinted glasses, Chief Financial Officer brandishes a fancy pen and Senior Executive smiles so calmly that we almost don’t notice his missing segment of finger. Part board room posturing, part amateur acting roll call, Todd’s blokes enact a strange form of mimicry.

The artist destabilises their authority through artifice. What at first glance appears to be resoundingly familiar slowly unravels as the sitters’ authenticity is called into question. Perhaps this is why I managed to convince myself, after looking at Founding CEO for too long, that his entire face was actually a rubber mask that could be peeled away at the edges, revealing the true subject beneath.

[1] Email correspondence between the writer and Yvonne Todd, Tuesday the 7th of February 2015.

[2] Yvonne Todd, ‘Yvonne Todd in Conversation with Serena Bentley’, Wall of Seahorsel, ex. cat., 2011

Wall of Man

On Curating – Robert Leonard

Robert Leonard, Senior Curator of the City Gallery, Wellington
Robert Leonard, Chief Curator of the City Gallery, Wellington

“These days curating is show business. But I’m not so sure that shows today are that curatorially extroverted. I don’t see many shows where curators take the lead, where they foreground themselves. Many curators are slaves to their directors, to artists, or both. While I was in Australia, I was surprised by how many big museum shows were conceptualised and driven by directors, with curators (often teams of them) simply tasked to deliver them. On the other hand, with the solo shows with major artists, the artists tended to have veto over everything, so curators didn’t enjoy much freedom there either. I worry that the idea of curators as authors has been downgraded. I’d like to see more extroverted curating.”

From a great interview with Robert Leonard in Ocula.

On Curating – Robert Leonard