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Nostalgia at the gallery

Expect childhood flashbacks when you encounter L&P, jelly tip ice creams, and aeroplane lollies at the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. These traditional Kiwi dairy items feature in Corner Dairy, an exhibition curated by James Hope.

Many of the artworks in Corner Dairy look good enough to eat. Ada Leung’s “small eye-candy pieces”, Confections, represent traditional dairy lollies. They were constructed by “building up layer upon layer of acrylic paint, and finally cutting it all up into many tiny pieces”. Ceramic replicas of common dairy items such as chippies, marshmallows, and Smarties fight for space in Elisa Barczak’s Salad Days are Gone. The artist says junk food, “can instil a sense of comfort or guilt, and occasionally nostalgia, being fondly remembered from childhood, but we deny ourselves its pleasures as adults.” Taking inspiration from his childhood, Oliver Cain’s Biscuits is a series of life-like and life-size clay biscuits – “Fat free, sugar free, calorie free and guilt free,” he quips. Other artists featured include Wayne Youle (AZ #82), Madeleine Child (AZ #78), and Erica van Zon (AZ #67).

In the early 1900s small shops known as “dairy produce sellers” started popping up. These were the only stores in New Zealand allowed to sell milk, cream, cheese, butter and eggs, as well as being the only places allowed to operate on a Sunday. The term “dairy” became commonly applied to small grocery shops from the late 1930s. Before then they would have been called a “cash grocer”. In 1945 a new law meant most grocers couldn’t open on Saturdays and when the first conventional supermarkets opened in New Zealand, in 1958, their operating hours were also limited. Dairies, which were allowed to be open outside of normal trading hours, could thrive. These days, however, dairies have begun to disappear. A report by Euromonitor International shows Kiwi dairies face an uncertain future due to increasing property prices, more crime and violent incidents, increased competition and changing consumer trends.

Sarjeant Gallery Assistant Curator James Hope at his favourite local dairy. Image courtesy of Sarjeant Gallery.

Corner Dairy both celebrates and laments the shifting status of the local dairy in New Zealand culture, says James Hope. “Stepping into your local dairy you are presented with a cornucopia of brightly coloured products, many of which have come to be embedded in the psyche of New Zealand. Hopefully, visitors will find an affinity between this exhibition and the beloved institution of the corner dairy.”

Corner Dairy is at Sarjeant Gallery until 14 March.

By Courtenay Scott-Hill


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