**Tīwakawaka by Shannon Te Ao at Coastal Signs, Auckland**
Acclaimed Pōneke-based artist Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Wairangi, Ngāti Te Rangiita, Te Pāpaka-a-Maui) exhibits widely in Aotearoa and overseas. He also won the prestigious Walters Prize in 2016. At inner-city gallery Coastal Signs, he’s currently showing a new series of photographs that explore the ambiguity of the tīwakawaka (fantail), our cherished native bird. The meaning around the bird is mixed: in Māori mythology, it can be an ominous symbol of death, although it also represents transformation and movement.
In the white gallery, the cerulean blue tones of each framed photograph stand out in sharp contrast. Te Ao shot images of one person, who’s shown in a range of angles and always caught in movement. Sometimes what has been captured doesn’t look human: a hand so blurred it looks like a wing or a tail, a ghost-like portrait with unfocused features. It could be the sea or the sky in the background, shifting between realms as the tīwakawaka is said to do.
On from January 19-28 (check website for gallery’s summer hours), 90 Anzac Avenue, Auckland CBD. Free.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Art and Life in Modern Mexico at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
It’s your last chance to visit this major exhibition before it closes. As you view Kahlo’s famous portraits in person, you can also obtain a holistic understanding of the tumult and love between Kahlo and painter Diego Rivera through their art. Their lives were intertwined with creativity, passion and politics, and set the stage for post-revolution Mexico between 1920-1940.
The installation presents something for everyone in an approachable way with a total of 150 artworks, varying between large- and small-scale paintings, drawings and photographs. The gallery walls have been painted brightly in orange, khaki and blue, and each room you walk through details a different section of the theme. You're introduced to Kahlo and Rivera’s paintings, often juxtaposed side-by-side. What follows are works by other artists synonymous with modernism in Mexico, including Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo, and Rufino Tamayo, providing well-rounded context for Kahlo and Rivera’s life’s work.
The display of traditional Mexican costumes and textiles is a highlight, as is the colour portraits of Kahlo in full jewellery and attire taken by her once-lover Nickolas Muray. Additional highlights include couplings of small, ethereal photographs taken by legendary musician, poet and artist Patti Smith documenting the preserved state of La Casa Azul, Kahlo’s family home (now museum) in Mexico City that she once shared with Rivera.
On until January 22, Wellesley Street East, Auckland CBD. $24.50 for adults.
Len Lye: Sky Snakes by the Len Lye Foundation and Team Zizz! at Len Lye Centre/Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Taranaki
Renowned for his experimental films and kinetic sculptures, Len Lye was a New Zealand-born artist working internationally in many art forms. The current installation of Sky Snakes is a reiteration of Sky Snake, which Lye originally installed as a single piece in 1965 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.
It’s a dynamic exhibition for the whole family to experience, featuring seven Sky Snakes hanging from the ceiling of the gallery. The gallery space is darkened to fully show off the hypnotic twirls and twists as each brass ball-and-chain creation dances. The snakes slither against the darkness with strategically placed spotlights that catch their glimmer, often casting a mesmerising shadow on the ground below. To experience Lye’s work in full motion outdoors, don’t miss his iconic sculpture, the 48-metre-high Wind Wand on the Coastal Walkway waterfront.
On until February 12, 42 Queen Street, New Plymouth. Free for residents, $15 for visitors.
Gathering Rust by Yvonne Rust at Whangārei Art Museum
The field of pottery and ceramics has had a pandemic-prompted resurgence with hobbyists, but New Zealand already has its own strong history of distinguished makers such as Barry Brickell, Len Castle and Wi Taepa. Artist, teacher and Whangārei native Yvonne Rust was an unsung equal who some feel has never been properly celebrated, even though she was an important figure in New Zealand’s studio pottery culture. Gathering Rust is the first retrospective of her work since 2002, when she passed away.
A large system of wooden shelving runs the length of the gallery space, housing Rust’s various ceramics, vessels and creations. Her brown and dark-toned pieces are charmingly off-kilter and have an unmistakeably raw look, while also being skilfully detailed and finished. Rust also trained as a painter and became more prolific at this later in life – in another corner of the same space, you can see her colourful landscapes, ocean and rural scenes, and portraits.
The ceramics display often changes as the museum discovers new pieces, cataloguing them and sometimes returning them to private collections where the majority of Rust’s work is held. It’s all in an effort to create a substantial record of Rust’s work, recognising the artist’s lifelong dedication to art and craft.
On until February 19, 91 Dent Street, Town Basin, Whangārei. Free.
Anita Tótha is an art consultant working between New York and Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland.