The Radical by Warren Feeney review

by Sally Blundell / 21 April, 2012
Conservative, reactionary, barriers to forays into new artistic waters – history has not been kind to arts societies, but are such accusations warranted?

Regarding the Canterbury Society of Arts, Warren Feeney, previous director of the CSA’s later incarnation, Christchurch’s Centre of Contemporary Art gallery, suggests not. For almost 100 years, he argues, the CSA “was the most influential and dynamic arts society in New Zealand”. Founded in 1880, it was undoubtedly a splendid idea at the time – a society to promote the study of fi ne arts and hold regular exhibitions of original works of art as part of a wider goal on behalf of the young colony for “the cultivation of the intellect [and] the elevation of Character, by the study of all that is beautiful in Art and in Nature”.

Although repeatedly snagging on the reefs of inadequate housing, insufficient funding and anti-modernist sentiment, the resulting society played a vital role in positioning Christchurch as a bastion of the arts and in developing the Robert McDougall Art Gallery collection and the city’s art school.

Whereas other arts societies foundered in the wake of ever-stronger metropolitan galleries and new dealer galleries, the CSA clung on, surviving challenges from independent art groups (Feeney downplays the much-touted divisions between the CSA and the Group) and new galleries such as the Brooke Gifford, while desperately juggling its responsibilities to its paying members and its aspirations to be a relevant arts institution.

At times it succeeded – the society’s commitment to crafts in the 1960s and feminism in the 1970s, and its engagement with others arts institutions, saved it from the fate of many other arts societies. At other times it didn’t – the four-year battle to have Frances Hodgkins’s Pleasure Garden accepted by the city council, and the society’s periodic resistance to contemporary art, especially under CSA secretary, treasurer and later McDougall director William Baverstock, earned the ire of many a New Zealand artist.

Alongside the McDougall and the art school, the CSA was, growled Colin McCahon in the Press in 1949, one of the city’s “three tombs of dead art”. Scholarly, heavily annotated (the captions and footnotes form a parallel story to the main text) and well-illustrated,

Feeney’s overview of the CSA, ending with its 1996 redevelopment into CoCA (currently closed as a result of the earthquake), tells of an institution that, although marginalised, succeeded in avoiding the death sentence implicit in such a description.


Sally Blundell is a journalist and art writer.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and present lend their support
86105 2018-01-19 15:45:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and pres…

by RNZ

Politicians from at home and abroad are reaching out to offer congratulations to the Prime Minister mum-to-be.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND a mum
86091 2018-01-19 12:36:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND…

by Katie Parker

New Zealand’s newly minted PM and bizarrely cool and normal lady Jacinda Ardern has announced that she and partner Clarke Gayford are expecting a baby

Read more
Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy
86074 2018-01-19 11:11:36Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy

by RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that she is pregnant, with the baby due in June.

Read more
What the media silly season taught us
85933 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

What the media silly season taught us

by Graham Adams

To the eternal gratitude of media chiefs, each holiday period seems to throw up at least one minor scandal that runs in the absence of anything newsy.

Read more
Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more