The decade in art, from Quasi to the Turner Prize and beyond

We get a handle on the artists and artworks that shaped this decade in Aotearoa.

As 2019 draws to a close, the four nominees for this year’s Turner Prize subverted the competition – they asked to receive the award as a collective. Meanwhile, at Art Basel Miami Beach, a banana taped to the wall sold for US$120,000 and the media went ape. Is it time to suspend judgment? Is it collective action that counts today, or cool bananas? The Spinoff Art’s coeditors Mark Amery and Megan Dunn review the high points of New Zealand art over the last decade.

2019 Mata Aho Collective Kiko Moana

Mata Aho, Kiko Moana, documenta 14, 2017.

Mata Aho (Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti and Terri Te Tau) is a collective that produces monumental fibre-based works and is currently showing new work at the National Gallery of Canada. In 2017, Mata Aho, Nathan Pohio and Ralph Hotere – all Māori – were the first New Zealand artists selected for documenta 14, in Kassel, Germany. Mata Aho’s installation there, Kiko Moana, made from ubiquitous blue tarpaulin, embodying the idea of a taniwha built for poor weather, went on to the Royal Academy’s Oceania exhibition and was acquired by Te Papa.

2018 Luke Willis Thompson autoportrait

Luke Willis Thompson, autoportrait, Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, 2017.

Produced during Thompson’s residency at London’s Chisendale Gallery, autoportrait is a black-and-white, silent-film portrait of Diamond Reynolds, who broadcast live on Facebook the moments after her boyfriend Philando Castile was shot dead by police in Minnesota in 2016. Autoportrait was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2018. But London’s BBZ collective protested in T-shirts reading “Black pain is not for profit”. Their accusation? That Thompson, of mixed Fijian and European heritage, is a “white-passing male.”


The Spinoff’s Decade in Review is presented in partnership with Lindauer Free*, the perfect accompaniment to end-of-decade celebrations for those looking to moderate their alcohol content (*contains no more than 0.5% alc/vol). 


2017  Michael Parekowhai The Lighthouse

Michael Parekowhai, The Lighthouse, 2017.

Funded by realtors Barfoot and Thompson, Parekowhai’s million-dollar state house on Queens Wharf became a beacon for debate about the housing crisis. Inside, a giant stainless-steel statue of Captain Cook is surrounded by Southern Hemisphere constellations drawn in neon – the stars of Matariki resting at his feet. In Metro, critic Antony Byrt wrote: “It simultaneously memorialises Māori resistance, pays tribute to our shared histories of navigation and migration, honours our egalitarian past, and acts as a gesture of permanent subterfuge in the heart of our property-obsessed city.”

2016 Ronnie Van Hout Quasi 

Ronnie van Hout, Quasi, Christchurch Art Gallery, 2016.

From Comin’ Down to Walking Boy, Van Hout proved to be a dab hand at divisive public sculpture. Quasi, his giant hand, first landed on the roof of Christchurch Art Gallery in 2016. Not everyone clapped, but they did look up.

Bravo also to Christchurch Art Gallery which delivered record-breaking visitor numbers for its Ron Mueck exhibition after the 2010 quake. Then, following the devastating 2011 quake and being commandeered as a civil defence centre, the gallery ran a dynamic offsite programme. Quasi would clap, if he had a twin.

2015 Lisa Reihana In Pursuit of Venus (Infected)

Lisa Reihana, In Pursuit of Venus (Infected), Auckland Art Gallery, 2015.

The defining Pacific work of the decade. Based on the French neo-classical wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (1804–5), Reihana’s panoramic video animation reimagines first encounters across the Pacific – Captain Cook’s ‘drawers’ are dropped on screen! Incorporating art, film, costume, theatre, and dance, the work debuted at Auckland Art Gallery to popular and critical acclaim, before heading to the 2017 Venice Biennale, then Sydney, Toronto, San Francisco, Cape Town, Jerusalem, Honolulu, Tallinn, Hobart, Adelaide, and Paris.

2014 Simon Denny The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom

Simon Denny, The Personal Effects of Kim Dot Com, Adam Art Gallery, 2014.

Adam Art Gallery staged the first major New Zealand solo show of the audacious Simon Denny, whose work explores neo-liberal tech culture. Originally presented in Vienna, The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom recreated the inventory of items seized by New Zealand police (acting on behalf of the FBI) during their raid of the outlaw internet entrepreneur’s mansion. It includes a jetski, a Predator statue, oversized monopoly cards representing seized bank accounts and plastic bags of shredded banknotes.

2013/2014 Shannon Te Ao Two Shoots that Stretch Far Out

Shannon Te Ao, Two shoots that stretch far out, single channel video, 2013-14.

In his video Two Shoots that Stretch Far Out, Te Ao reads a waiata to animals – a donkey, a swan, rabbits, geese – creating one of the most lingering, emotive artworks of the decade. It was the only New Zealand work selected for the 2014 Sydney Biennale and won Te Ao the 2016 Walters Prize.

2012 Susan Te Kahurangi King 

Susan Te Kahurangi King, Untitled, 1966.

Dan Salmon’s documentary Pictures of Susan captures the extraordinary life of Susan King, who stopped talking as a young child but produces prolific idiosyncratic drawings featuring discombobulated, carnivalesque, cartoon characters and rhythmic line pile-ups that have dazzled the art world. Subsequently profiled in the Guardian and collected by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, she’s the best New Zealand artist you’ve never heard of.

2011/2012 Gapfiller, Christchurch

Gapfiller, the Pallet Pavilion, 2012.

This canny collective of artists, designers, architects and thespians was born of the citizen action of earthquake recovery. Gapfiller populated Christchurch’s post-quake rubble with a wealth of artist and community-led projects, ranging from the mobile disco Dance-o-Mat to the Pallet Pavilion. It helped change the way art was viewed – pity that Gerry Brownlee wasn’t listening.

2010 Tao Wells The Beneficiary’s Office*

“We need to work less so we consume less,” said artist Tao Wells. For two weeks, in a Wellington CBD office, he promoted “the opportunities and benefits of unemployment”, and it worked. In the media, Wells was pictured in iconic Lenin-as-businessman pose, while former finance minister Roger Douglas fumed about him. After Work and Income found out about this Creative NZ funded art project, his benefit was cut. “To be both dependents on that system and to so publicly expose the issues around that system was very brave”, wrote art critic Chris Kraus. Cut to 2019: the median income for creative workers is $15,000 per annum. Now that is brave.

* Mark Amery was a curator on this project.

Honourable mentions: 

A FAFSWAG portrait.

FAFSWAG’s epic annual vogue balls, the theatre, the moving image… taking over from the Pacific Sisters in bringing their swagger to wearable, danceable arts the Pacific way.

Francis Upritchard, Wetwang Slack, The Curve, Barbican, 2018.

Francis Upritchard’s figurative sculptures, shown everywhere, and called out by Lana Lopesi.

Yona Lee, In Transit (Arrival), Te Tuhi, 2017.

Yona Lee’s In Transit installations, making their way from Pakuranga to Lyon.

Lemi Ponifasio/Mau, Standing in Time, 2017. photographer: Christophe Raynaud de Lage.

Lemi Ponifasio’s audacious dance works, a staple of international festivals.

Yvonne Todd, Creamy Psychology, City Gallery Wellington, 2014.

Yvonne Todd’s survey Creamy Psychology complete with a frock room showcasing the collection of vintage and celebrity gowns used in her photographs.


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