But Is It Art?

Opinion is divided on the latest work by the controversial collective known as ACT.

The work, entitled “Sentencing and Parole Reform Act”, but better known as the “The Strikes Law”, was unveiled last night in Wellington.

The concept was the brainchild of David Garrett, the noted artist and ACT Party MP. Garrett was responsible for the bulk of the work, though other members of the collective assisted.

“I wanted something that expressed my feelings about man’s interaction with the instruments of oppression,” said Mr Garrett.

“I have always believed that proper art, real art, should be about self-examination. For me the law represents the final descent of mankind into irredeemable folly, and in that respect it tells us something powerful about the nature of the human soul and how the instruments of state violence are ever-present in our lives.”

Fellow artist and Corrections Minister Judith Collins has applauded the work.

“Garrett yet again displays his complete command of the genre. This piece exhibits his characteristic three-layered method in its most daring manifestation yet. Garrett devastatingly captures the commoditisation of our prison population, and in doing so makes a bold statement about the subversion of our justice system.”

But critics have been dismissive of the artwork.

Labour leader Phil Goff, also a prominent conceptual artist, called the law an artistic failure.

“The so-called artist known as Garrett has made a career of assembling weak pieces. This is no different. The triple-layered effect shows major technical weaknesses. This is a man who is not on top of his game.”

Other critics have labelled the work as “pretentious”, “vulgar” and “dated”.

Art historian and co-leader of the Maori Party, Tariana Turia, said Garrett’s work was the latest in a long line of similar works by overseas artists.

“There’s no originality on display. It is one thing to take an influence and play around with it to create something new, but Garrett’s work merely bundles together a lot of themes from American artists and patches them together. It’s hardly art. In fact it’s no better than much of the crass American trash he borrowed so heavily from.”

Law Society president Jonathan Temm said the work was deeply flawed.

“If Garrett’s intention was to subvert the justice system, then he has failed. How ironic that a supposedly subversive piece rebounds so heavily upon the artist, revealing his own moral decay and decadence. Garrett’s cognitive vulnerabilities are there for all to see in this work.”

But members of the collective have been quick to defend Mr Garrett and his artistic vision.

“David is a visionary,” said ACT Leader Rodney Hide. “His style is unique, and his technical skill in layering the three strikes is frankly unrivalled. This is a historic day for art in New Zealand.”

Mr Garrett plans to take the work on tour around various courthouses.