Détour, the major work by Michael Parekowhai commissioned for the opening of Toi Art filled the Threshold Gallery in an all-enveloping, layered cacophony of visual stimulation. There is an enormous elephant, suspended high above our heads, which we were warned not to stand under in the event of an earthquake! It sits at eye level of those walking the bridge bisecting the upper reaches of where we gathered on a Sunday morning. There’s also a monkey with a revolving head, a policeman, a tiny storefront alone on a wall, which reveals its hidden fragment of moon rock only if you kneel upon the floor, and a variety of art from the museum collection and that of the artist. Where to start!

Curator of Modern and Contemporary Maori and Indigenous Art , Megan Tamati-Quennell, walked us through some of the ideas behind the works in the show in a talk aptly titled Generosity, conversation and collaboration.

The spatial dimensions of this new gallery space demanded an artist who could command it, undaunted, and within a tight timeframe, and Michael achieved this. He credits Marcel Duchamp as a key influence in his work; a collaboration and conversation of sorts lasting since art school. Détour – reused and repurposed by Michael, from an avant-garde literary group in 1930s France who used it to mean reroute, or hijack. He runs with this, taking items that exist in Te Papa’s collection and reimagining them to change how the viewer sees. Artworks are suspended from scaffolding holding Forest Etiquette, transparent tree forms, so that we can see the reverse. Mining of the museum collections unearthed other treasures seen in vitrines designed for the angles and corners of the structure. Duchamp’s Box in a Valise features here as a key work, and true to Michael’s intent echoes rebound .

The lack of wall tags and written material free this show. The audience can move in different ways, making unique and personal connections. Glimpsed works blend to make conversations.

Détour was an entry point to the rest of the art collection on display. It invited us to consider the role of institution itself by interrupting our traditional viewing formats. Colours from Francis Hodgkins palette reappear on the legs of bench seats we are permitted to share with laughing monkeys who refer to the museum as a circus of sorts. Blurring the lines between high art and low made this a very accessible show. We were joined by the Friends of Christchurch Art Gallery in an enjoyable and informative morning from which conversations begun will surely continue.

Sharon Taylor-Offord
Member, Friends of Te Papa