Peter Robinson

Boy Am I Scared Eh!

1997
acrylic and oilstick on paper
935mm x 670mm

signed P R Robinson and dated ’97 in graphite lower right

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.
Acquired from Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland, 1999.

Essay

For four or five years before he made this piece Peter Robinson had been spinning a half-joking performance as enfant terrible into a sometimes excoriating lampoon of t...

Read full text
Estimate $20,000 - $30,000
Achieved $19,639.38

Peter Robinson

Boy Am I Scared Eh!

1997

acrylic and oilstick on paper

signed P R Robinson and dated ’97 in graphite lower right

935mm x 670mm

Auction N˚4

Estimate $20,000 - $30,000

Achieved $19,639.38

Footnotes
  1. Christine Fletcher, “MUSEUM FUNDED AS MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND”, ministerial press release 14 March, 1997, accessed from https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/museum-funded-museum-new-zealand
  2. Martin Durrant, “Arts funding and support—Changing reasons for government support,” 22 Oct 2014, Te Ara—the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/arts-funding-and-support/page-3
  3. Martin Durrant, ibid.
  4. Anna Miles, “Peter Robinson, Gordon Walters and the Corporate Koru,” Art Asia Pacific 23 (1999): 77–81.
  5. Tessa Laird, “CULTURAL HASTY”, Two Cents, The Physics Room website, uploaded 06.05.97, accessed from http://www.physicsroom.org.nz/archive/2cents/hasty.html
  6. Marja Bloem and Martin Browne, Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith (Amsterdam: Stedlejik Museum, 2002), 226

Boy Am I Scared Eh!

by Jon Bywater

For four or five years before he made this piece Peter Robinson had been spinning a half-joking performance as enfant terrible into a sometimes excoriating lampoon of the art system. Beginning with an ironic deprecation of his Maori ancestry as career vehicle, it was a successful provocation: the harder he bit, the more the hand fed him. In this phase, as a badly behaved identity artist, his artistic whakapapa could have included some of the YBAs, whose shock tactics were showcased in the notable exhibition Sensation that opened in London in September 1997. Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Chris Ofili and Jake and Dinos Chapman, for example, were in the list, culled from the collection of their chief supporter Charles Saatchi. Of their ilk, Tania Kovat would cause a stir when her Virgin in A Condom (1994) was shown at Te Papa in Wellington a year later in Pictura Britannica, but the controversy important to Robinson’s Boy Am I Scared Eh! (1997) involves the Wellington office of Saatchi’s old firm, and their contract to design Te Papa’s brand.

The announcement had played so badly that year that even the then Minister of Cultural Affairs, Christine Fletcher, was quick to distance herself from it, issuing a press release to express her “surprise and concern at the amount of money spent [with Saatchi and Saatchi] developing a new logo for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (MONZ).” She thus repeated the misunderstanding that had caused the furore: that it had somehow cost “between $200,000 and $300,000” to develop just the “thumbprint stylised symbol.”¹ That total was, in fact, the cost of the entire branding project towards the museum’s opening, but mud stuck—and an outrage was sustained, perhaps more so because the idea that a cultural institution should be sold to us at all felt new. The relationship between culture and the state was shifting in New Zealand.

In this same political climate the mandate of what had been the major government arts funding body since 1963, the QEII Arts Council, changed from focusing on the support of artistic “traditions inherited from Britain and Europe,” to democratically acknowledging a greater diversity of cultural activity.² So, with the new national museum swallowing up the role of the former National Art Gallery, support for the mainstream of professional art practice was felt by some to be under threat when the Arts Council was rebranded in 1994 as Creative NZ. The “agency” ring to that name, and the attention to art’s economic rather than its “aesthetic and spiritual” benefits,³ was also met with wariness by many in the art world.

Boy Am I Scared Eh! renders the Te Papa logo as being as effortless and odd as the letters-pages haters found it at the time. The carefully doodled spiral—drawn as if with a crayon held in a clenched fist—looks much like a psychotronic film’s visualisation of mind-control powers: a campy horror of celebrity ad-land taking on a propaganda role, in service of our national identity? Robinson’s rising star had taken him to Western Europe several times already, and references to fascism were becoming a feature of his baiting quotation of racism. In at least one reworking of the “scared” phrase from this period it appears next to a swastika,⁴ bringing to the surface the coincidental likeness between Robinson’s consistent red, black and white palette (also standardised, customary Maori colours) and Third Reich graphics (and their associations of blood and soil).⁵