Undreamed of… 50 Years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship
By Priscilla Pitts and Andrea Hotere
Otago University Press, 2017
Reviewed by Janet Hughes
This is a solid academic history of the University of Otago’s Hodgkins Fellowship – it has been held with distinction by a parade of New Zealand’s finest – and a systematic survey of the artists who have held it over its 50 years so far. It is also an engaging coffee table book, with high production values and generous illustrations.
The scene is set with an opening discussion of the fellowship’s impact on the arts in New Zealand, by Priscilla Pitts, and another by Joanne Dell of the factual history of its foundation. This pattern is followed in the body of the book, with paired essays about each of the holders of the award. The first, again by Priscilla Pitts, focuses on the artist’s art-making practice and their reception and impact, putting their careers in a philosophical and art-historical frame. Andrea Hotere’s essay then gives us a more personally-focussed account of the artist’s life and work, working as much as possible from interviews and personal documents.
The result has a fine balance, the art and the artist emerging out of these complementary accounts in a richly complex way that neither single approach could have yielded. Pitts’ essays are eloquent and scholarly, often with a striking take on the material. They form an impressive whole. Hotere’s are more uneven, necessarily because the source material is variable. The most engaging are generally those incorporating first-hand interviews, though they are never less than illuminating contributions. There is a scattering of small errors (mostly in names), which editing ought to have caught in an otherwise thoroughly scholarly volume.
This is a book to dip into, but I quickly found myself reading at length, a testament to its engaging writing and absorbing topic. The illustrations are very well chosen, mostly depicting key works discussed in the text, and the standard of reproduction high. And the captions are scrupulously complete, with the details of size and media that are crucial to reading scaled-down flat photos of full-size artworks in countless materials. It’s become common for art books to omit some of this detail, presumably in search of a clean-looking page. This volume is consistently scholarly and thorough in such matters.
In detailing the chronological story of the successive fellowships, the book delivers a selective but representative enough history of the visual arts in New Zealand in the modern and subsequent era, such has been the success of the fellowship itself in targeting its largesse. And it’s so affordable at $59.95 it’s downright necessary.
First published Art Zone #72