Australians have a proprietorial interest in Captain James Cook but of course he belongs to the whole world. That is dramatised by a splendid new sculpture featuring Cook recently acquired for the Art Gallery of NSW. Called The English Channel, it is by Michael Parekowhai, a New Zealand artist of Maori and European descent. His sculptures have been seen in the Sydney Biennale, the Andy Warhol Museum and the Venice Biennale where he represented NZ in 2011. His work was the subject of a much admired survey exhibition The Promised Land at the Queensland GoMA in 2011.
The English Channel is larger than life and made from highly polished steel. Cook is depicted in a flowing topcoat and wig but in a reflective mood, echoing the material used; he is seated on a sculptor’s work table. He may be reflecting on his international legacy, at the same time this beautiful sculpture is reflecting the world around it. In its position in the AGNSW, it reflects not only the people who are viewing it but also the harbour which Cook sailed past in 1770.
There is something playful about the work of Michael Parakowhai. Perhaps in a reference to the NZ film The Piano, he has depicted grand pianos in a number of sculptures; pianos with ropes and Maori decoration, in another, a piano balanced on the nose of a seal. The acquisition has been made possible by the extraordinary and recurrent generosity of Peter Weiss AO.
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