Leo Bensemann: A Fantastic Art Venture and Van der Velden:Otira open at the Gallery on Friday 11 February. Leo Bensemann: A Fantastic Art Venture provides the first comprehensive survey of this extraordinary Canterbury artist while Van der Velden:Otira will bring together a comprehensive collection of the artist’s important Otira series.
Leo Bensemann: A Fantastic Art Venture is an intensive look at one of Canterbury’s most influential artists and graphic designers. Bensemann was a pivotal figure in a vibrant arts scene in Christchurch during the span of his career and was renowned for his technical expertise in a wide range of activities including painting, drawing, wood engraving, music, calligraphy, illustration and design.
Bensemann is well known for his designs at the Caxton Press in Christchurch, where he worked for 40 years between 1937 and 1977. The press published some of the most important writers of the day, including Janet Frame, James K Baxter and Frank Sargeson. Bensemann was also a key figure of The Group, the leading outlet for New Zealand art between the 1930s and 1970s for which he designed and printed catalogues. The Group included some of the leading artists at the time, including Bensemann’s close friend Rita Angus as well as Bill Sutton and Colin McCahon.
Curator Peter Simpson says the exhibition will show the scope of Bensemann’s work and will include landscapes, portraits and his graphic work. Peter Simpson is an authority on the artist and the launch of his book Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann coincides with the opening of this exhibition in Christchurch.
The second exhibition opening at the Gallery this week, Van der Velden:Otira, brings together a comprehensive collection of van der Velden’s rarely exhibited oil paintings and drawings of his Otira series from public and private collections across New Zealand. The exhibition highlights his fascination with the wild and untouched Otira Gorge on the West Coast and includes one of his masterpieces, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s A waterfall in the Otira Gorge.
Van der Velden arrived in Christchurch from the Netherlands in June 1890. By then he already had an established career and had exhibited alongside many major Dutch painters of his generation. Just seven months after he arrived in New Zealand, van der Velden was drawn to Otira, with the paintings that resulted becoming some of the most celebrated of his career.
The exhibition also includes works by van der Velden’s contemporaries who worked at Otira, including John Gibb, Margaret Stoddart and Charles Blomfield. Alongside these are works by contemporary artists, including Colin McCahon, Ann Shelton and Elliot Collins that respond to the Otira region, van der Velden or the theme of a mountain stream.
Curator Peter Vangioni is also the lead author of a major new exhibition catalogue, which will be launched to coincide with the exhibition.
Leo Bensemann: A Fantastic Art Venture and Van der Velden: Otira will be at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu from 11 February-15 May 2011.