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3 Good Reasons to See Auckland Art Gallery's Billy Apple Retrospective

Mar 13, 2015 Art

On March 14, Billy Apple’s largest-ever retrospective will open at the Auckland Art Gallery. It’s the city in which, in 1935, he was born; the city he left in 1959 to take a place at London’s Royal College of Art; the city he returned to in 1990, as an American citizen and conceptual artist.

Next month Anthony Byrt will write extensively on Billy Apple, the man and his work. In the meantime, here are three reasons to visit the show:


Self-Portraits, 1962

On Thanksgiving Day 1962, Barrie Bates bleached his hair and eyebrows with Lady Clairol Instant Crème Whip and disappeared forever. In his place stood a living brand — Billy Apple. One of the earliest documents of this transformation was a series of photographic portraits, printed on canvas. They marked not just the arrival of a new artist, but an entirely new way of thinking about what an artist is.


Sold, 1981

Originally conceived for New York’s art world, Apple’s Transactions — oversize receipts recording the details of their exchange — found their true home in 1980s Auckland. Starting in 1981, they were perfectly timed; over the next decade, the Transactions perfectly mirrored the growth, and brashness, of New Zealand’s deregulation-fuelled contemporary art market.


The Immortalisation of Billy Apple®, 2009-now

For several years, the artist and scientist Craig Hilton has been helping to “immortalise” Apple. So far, Apple’s cells have entered the American Type Culture Collection, where they’re available for scientific research. He’s also had his genome mapped. Both are early steps towards the future possibility of an infinitely reproducible line of actual “Billy Apples”. It’s one of his most radical projects, stretching the relationship between art and biotechnology to its ethical outer limits.

Billy Apple: The artist has to live like everybody else: March 14-June 21, Auckland Art Gallery,

Anthony Byrt’s Billy Apple feature will appear in the April issue of Metro.


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