Anthony Byrt reviews Theo Schoon: A biography for The Spinoff


Read Anthony Byrt’s brilliant and in-depth review of Theo Schoon: A biography by Damian Skinner:

‘Art history is a brutal discipline, which feeds off the corpses of nearly-rans: the artists and dealers and curators and muses and rivals who make up an artistic community, but who never quite had the chops themselves to do something genuinely new or revolutionary. Individually, these failures of transcendence are sad, often-forgotten facts. Collectively though, they serve a vital purpose, providing a rich compost for the genuinely important art to grow from.

‘The debate about Theo Schoon – a Dutch émigré artist who became a deeply complicated figure in mid-twentieth century New Zealand art – has always hinged on whether he’s master or mulch; whether his own artistic achievements belong alongside those of his peers like Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters or he’s better understood as a supporting actor in the trajectory of New Zealand modernism. Schoon’s most important contribution to New Zealand culture, by far, was his championing of Māori art forms as potential source material for a new New Zealand art, from rock drawings through to gourd carving. But as Damian Skinner’s impeccably-researched new biography shows, over and again, Schoon was also a prize-winning, standard-bearing bastard. This shouldn’t necessarily cancel out his achievements – many of the great innovators in our culture have been giant arseholes too. But if you don’t have any previous investment in Schoon’s cultural stature, Skinner’s book makes it difficult to forgive the artist his sins.’

Read the full review here.