Things to Come

Rudolf Boelee

McDougall Art Annex, Christchurch - 1997
Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson - 1998

Photographs: James Inge
Text: Felicity Milburn

With "Things to Come", the McDougall Art Annex presents works by Christchurch based artist Rudolf Boelee, who came to New Zealand from the Netherlands in 1963. It is an exhibition intended to continue and build upon the themes explored in Boelee's recent travelling show, "Visions of Utopia", which has toured between many galleries in the North and South Islands. Boelee describes his work as "history painting"; an attempt to seek social significance from events and situations from 1950's New Zealand, and to relate them to present conditions. "Things to Come" was designed especially for the large, open Annex space, and consists of work on paper, on canvas, and on painted and silk-screened panels. Each piece is completed with the addition of simple geometric shapes which are painted directly onto the wall, in colours which were influenced by those of 1950's ceramics.

Drawing from sources as various as science fiction, 'Vogue' and 'Popular Mechanics' magazines, the Grecian Acropolis and New Zealand's racing icon Phar Lap, Boelee examines the way daily life of the 1950's and 60's was affected by popular culture. Each image presents visions which are comfortably familiar, but which can carry a multitude of other connotations. What happens to an image when we suspend the naive belief in a perfect future which abounded when it was first published, and regard it now with the jaded and jaundiced eyes of the late 1990's? Some of the works, which are collages made up of solvent transfers and laser prints, are especially conducive to this treatment. Take for example, the image of "Rebecca and the Maoris"- when initially presented, this picture of a young Maori girl as an exotic and friendly ambassadorial native seemed appealing and positive, but many will now regard it as distasteful, oversimplified and patronising.

With H.G.Wells' "The Shape of Things to Come", as its starting point, this exhibition aims to contribute to some understanding of contemporary society, locating its disquiet in the here and now. Boelee's stylish constructions present images of the social traditions which encouraged previous generations to believe in an optimistic and uncomplicated life: the symmetrically perfect wedding party, the "Man from Prudential" and the New Zealand Railway Cup. The grimy underside to the prosperity of the 1950's is implied by darker images such as "Mother England", a bleak, Bosch-like portrayal of the realities of industrial Europe. By examining the expectations ordinary people previously had of a "Brave New World" as an affluent and altruistic utopia, we can reflect on how well the future actually measured up, and wonder, perhaps, how accurate our own predictions can be.