Friday, September 04, 2015

Counter attack

You do have to wonder why public art museums keep using numbers to justify their existence and their funding. As Richard Pierce, a spokesman for the Brooklyn Museum, once famously said, 'The whole attendance figure game is just that - a game.’ For all the electronic devices, hand-held counters and surveys, audience counting is an art not a science. As anyone working in a busy institution knows the only real count is a paid-for ticket but you do to have to feel a twinge of sympathy for Simon Rees, the director of the Govett-Brewster. He invested in the usual electronic people counters used by museums internationally beefed up with some staff using manual clickers and the figures have been suitably impressive: 30,000 through the new complex already. But wouldn’t you know it. One of the G-B's chief detractors has an office overlooking the building and by looking out his window he's making his own assessment. Rather predictably it is somewhat lower. Of course the opening months of any new building can be expected to pull the crowds but even if, allowing for initial attendances settling down, you halve that first month's 30,000 as your base the G-B would be indicating an annual attendance of around 180,000. Now that's a stretch as we've discussed before. And that's the problem with figures; today’s success is the rope they hang you with tomorrow.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

By the numbers: International edition

.5  the percentage of sales that made up 48 percent of the global art market in 2014

1   the number of days it took to dismantle Mark di Suvero’s public sculpture Proverb. You can watch it on time lapse here

8    the number of individual works of modern art that have been sold at auction for more than $100 million since 2010

15   the number of minutes for which artists participating in the Istanbul Biennale plan to suspend presentation of their work ‘in recognition of the violent breakdown in peace talks between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government’

21   the area in thousands of square metres occupied by a mural in Norway painted by French artists Ella & Pitr

27   the number of women included in the latest edition of H W Janson’s classic History of Art

282  the dollars in millions paid this year for Picasso’s 1955 painting Les Femmes d'Algers (Version ‘O’)

472    the number in thousands of dollars the Rodin bust is worth that was popped into a paper bag and stolen from the Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen

123.9 the number of art objects in thousands in the MoMA collection (let's face it that's everything) that are now available online

4635  the number of square metres available for exhibiting contemporary art in LA’s new contemporary art museum The Broad

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

One day in the Creative NZ offices

A: We need to come up with some rules so the Trustees of the arts organisations we fund can keep their Chief Executives in line.

B: Sounds like a plan.

A: We’ve going to give them some high powered ammunition. So they can show them who’s who.

B: …and what's what.

A: I’ve been talking to some consultants who reminded me of a brilliant idea I had a couple of weeks ago.

B:  I don’t even know why we pay them when all the ideas we use are yours.

A: True. Anyway we’ve decided to focus in on what “cannot be done, rather than what can or should be done.” It's basically a DO NOT policy, a bit "like the Ten Commandments or the Road Code".

B: That’s totally brilliant but what about all that stuff about collaboration and partnerships we’ve been going on about all the time? (thinks) I guess we could slip it into the introduction.

A: (laughing maniacally) let’s see how clever the Art Org CE's are after we’ve taught their Trustees how to “constrain their freedom to act”.

B: You don’t think it’s a bit negative?

A: No. No, not at all. In fact we’re going to call it the “Thou shalt not” approach.

And that is what they did.

You can check it out for yourself here (section 7.7 page 44)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Power play

The selection of Dieneke Jansen, Maddie Leach and Peter Robinson for the Jakarta Biennale in November is further proof of how well NZ does from inviting international curators to check the place out. For instance, Peter Weiermair (Germany), Charles Eldredge (United States) and Nicolaus Schafhausen (Germany) among many others were all invited to NZ as official visitors and each in turn delivered selection in international exhibitions and other projects for some NZ artists. It's a great medium term investment.

This time it’s English curator Charles Esche who's doing the business. He was the judge of the 2014 Walters Prize who controversially took his curatorial stick to finalist Simon Denny at the dinner before awarding the prize to Luke Willis Thompson. While in NZ Esche also got the chance to visit studios and meet with artists including Robinson (one of the Walters Prize jurors) and finalist Maddie Leach. We can tell you (thanks to Twitter) that Leach has already shipped what looks like two 40-gallon drums of water from the Blue Spring in Putaruru to Jakarta. Putaruru is where most of NZ’s bottled water comes from and the use and abuse of water is a Biennale theme.

The selection of Leach, Jansen and Robinson fits with Esche’s belief in art’s role in political activism. He wants to show “how people in different cities and environments live with and take responsibility for the present through their actions.” It's a position that will be tested to the limit in Indonesia. This is a country with a very grim recent history as anyone will know who saw Joshua Oppenheimer’s gruelling documentary The act of killing last year or its follow-up The Look of Silence this year.  If you can't make it to Jakarta, check out the movies.

LATER: As one of our readers has mentioned Esche also invited Tina Barton to do a piece on the Headland's exhibition for the influential Afterall magazine. That too was unlikely to have happened without Esche coming to NZ and meeting Barton

Image: Maddie Leach H2O to go

Monday, August 31, 2015

Some grist for the rumour mill

After the selection of Simon Denny for the last Venice Biennale we tried to get a list of the curator/artist teams that had put in proposals to be considered. Two years later the Ombudsman finally told us that as Creative NZ had confidentiality agreements with all concerned, this information could not be released. So there you go. If you want to keep your selection processes secret all you need to do is put a gag on the participants. For now, it’s back to rumours, guesses and stabs in the dark. We’ll come up with a list of who we think has applied (you’re welcome to put in your 10 cents worth) shortly after 16 September when proposals have to be with Creative NZ. By that time Creative NZ will have announced who's on the selection panel. In the meantime, after scanning the proposal form, what will they be looking for?

A new work made specifically for Venice. As in the past, the work shown at Venice will have been made for Venice. “The artist(s) will be responsible for the preparation of new work within the nominated timeframe.” That is “suitable for the Venice Biennale context.” Nothing new there, apart from the work.

Agreement to the et al. clause. Creative NZ never recovered from et al’s refusal to talk to the media in 2005 and since then specifically requires the artist to “participate in publicity and promotion activities, which includes media interviews, media launches”.

Funding opportunities. The last Biennale made it clear that Creative NZ expects significant funding via the artist’s dealers. The last Venice outing saw Denny’s dealers make significant contributions to the production of the work, the publication, administrative support and entertainment in Venice. It's also hard to imagine a successful proposal that did not bring with it (probably via the curator) major institutional backing. The usual suspects include Auckland Art Gallery, City Gallery Wellington, Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Te Papa. Untapped so far but definitely a possibility is the tertiary sector via one the art school universities

Looking at the pool of likely contestants it's interesting to ponder on how these requirements will impact on the panel’s final decision when they are applied to specific artists.

Image: Rumour mill, operating model

Friday, August 28, 2015

A toss up

This is going out on a limb somewhat, but you have to admit this vomiting machine looks a hell of a lot like art. That is all. Thank you for your time and attention.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Getting the hang of things

We’ve put up a lot of studio shots on OTNSTUDIO but we also have many more of artists installing exhibitions. It’s always interesting to look at the dynamics of placing work into a gallery space. As Richard Serra once put it, “different people have different problems and different relations to the exhibition of their work.” So here to kick off an occasional series are some shots taken over the last few days of Campbell Patterson setting up his exhibition at Michael Lett from the new 'outside the studio' section of OTNSTUDIO.
Images: a taste. Campbell Paterson and Andrew Thomas installing Patterson's exhibition at Michael Letts

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The year that was

CE Rick Ellis has been in the Te Papa job for 200 working days now and he’s had a bit of luck. Maybe. Te Papa, possibly as part of its agreement with the Wellington City Council, its biggest cash sponsor, has released the latest annual attendance figures that would normally wait for the Te Papa Annual Report. And they look good. Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family,  Air New Zealand – 75 Years and the early months of Gallipoli – Scale of Our War have contributed nearly half (47 percent) of the last financial year’s total visitation. At 1,556,164 that’s a 17 percent increase on the 2013-14 year. Things haven’t been this good attendance-wise for over five years. The problem for Ellis, of course, is that this surge in numbers is based on programming designed by the previous director. His own accounting comes at the end of June 2016 and even then the numbers will be boosted by the Gallipoli display that has been designed to run until the next world war is declared. If you listen carefully you can almost hear them at the programming meeting calling out for exhibition ideas, "we need cartoons, monsters and don't forget to sort out another corporation willing to stump up for a vanity history project." 

ROY CLARE COMMENTS: Roy Clare Long past time to look beyond 'attendance', as typified by counting feet through a door. Where is proper recognition of the merits of 'participation', which hints at something richer than simply folk rocking up at the door? Ensuring access to collections is a 3D issue - physical, virtual, intellectual. And there ought to be a sense of the generic social outcomes. Presumably, something happens to folk who 'participate' - what? And why don't we care more about those kinds of questions? Anyone can drive feet through a door - try creating a shopping mall for example - a deeper delve is how museums founded on a 19th model can today still make a difference to lives; put simply, for the cost, what's the public value? And what price the collections? Or is it sufficient to be a stage for the collections and creativity of others? There's a whole conference in this. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

After some initial discomfort

Museums are going through another round of the name game. The latest player is the Whitney Museum of American Art now known as plain old Whitney. Along with ‘American’ and ‘Art’ and ‘Museum’ it also dropped that annoying definite article like Tate in London. Trends sweep across art museum naming like everything else. Remember those MoMA-like acronyms beloved in the 1990s: DAG, MAG, SAG and G-BAG (Dowse, Manawatu, Sarjeant and Govett-Brewster)? Driving all this is marketing of course chasing up the laws of differentiation. 

Some museums have it easy, and have something useful to work with, donor's names for instance. The Dowse Art Museum, named after a Mayor’s wife, has been called The Dowse by most of its visitors since it opened in the 1970s. It’s probably now time to take the hint. Te Papa got the message that a single powerful idea would serve them far better than MONZ (the ponderous Museum of New Zealand) in the branding game. Maori names have proved hugely successful for museums in the past 20 years (Pataka, Te Manawa, Te Tuhi, Te Uru). Many smaller institutions must be ripe for one word brands. Sarjeant, Suter, Forrester (it's in Oamaru), Aigantighe. (ok, maybe not that one). Could be time for the location-based stragglers (Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery) to give their names a rethink.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Not fair

As many of you'll know, the Auckland Art Fair has been taken over by the event management company North Port Events. The person who up to now has been the face of the Fair, Jennifer Buckley, is no longer involved which is obviously a loss. 

But strangely Buckley has made a very odd appearance in the publicity material for next year's Fair. At the top of promotional material including a email newsletter is a photo of Buckley in one of the last fair’s less primo moments. A visitor has broken a porcelain sculpture by Australian artist Penny Byrne and you can see Buckley holding the broken work moments after the accident occurred. An unusual way to front a publicity drive and demonstrates a problem with taking over such specialist events, that is, the lack of intimate knowledge needed to…well…not make this sort of mistake. You can guarantee this is not the photo Jennifer Buckley would have selected from the bunch. 

The new owners have also announced the five-member panel to select dealer galleries for inclusion. They are all well known. Hamish Keith (Auckland commentator), Michael Lett (gallerist), Dayle Mace (patron), Justin Paton (Head of International Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales) and Simon Rees (director of the Govett-Brewster). You can see here what you get for your money if you're thinking about a stand (they cost between $8,000 and $12,000).

Image: left, the image heading the Art Fair newsletter and prospectus and right, Jennifer Buckley with the Penny Byrne sculpture. (Thanks A and thanks to you too G)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Branded: Peter Robinson

The moment when artists become brands

Friday, August 21, 2015

By the numbers: links edition

0   the amount of significant change (pdf.) in attendance by 10-14 year olds at visual arts events or locations since 2011

0  the number of flag designs presented in the flag panels current top 40 that are worth pursuing

3   the number of comments generated by John Hurrell’s review of the new Len Lye Centre on eyecontact that included his opinion that “there is a strong sense that the Lye Centre has hijacked the Govett-Brewster, that the Govett is only a mere annex to the Lye project.”

4  the number of lectures on Len Lye you can find on Circuit

5  the number of people (ok men) on the 185 strong 2015 NBR Rich List who chose to be photographed with art in the background

5   the number of prints of the 21 published for Artspace’s twenty-first birthday that have sold out

11    the number of visual art works Te Papa currently has integrated into its non-art exhibitions.

27    the number of artist talks available as Auckland Art Gallery podcasts

704  the number of days that have passed since the Government announced Te Papa North

799  the number of art works registered as ‘by New Zealander’ in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Thursday, August 20, 2015

When public sculpture fights back

The State has always known how to use bronze sculpture to forward its case and build the brands of its leaders so it's little wonder that's it's bronze that's pulled down to street level when the music stops. Using bronze public sculptures to critique the State, now that’s a little different and is what’s happened recently in both New York and Berlin. The US version involved a series of sculpture raids as a fibre based rendition of Edward Snowden was raised on various public sites before being whisked away at the sound of sirens. More recently a bronze bust of Snowden was glued to a spare plinth in Brooklyn Park. The local authorities were soon onto it and by midday it was in a police van. Meanwhile in Berlin's Alexanderplatz, statues of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden standing on chairs were installed. Anything to Say? by Davide Dormino left a fourth chair empty for anyone who wants to get up and speak their mind.
Images: left to right, top to bottom, temporary Snowden in New York, Snowden bust in Brooklyn, Snowden leaving Brooklyn, commentary and Berlin's threesome

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sweet 16

How much would it cost to have the Christchurch Art Gallery move half a meter to the left or to the right and back again without damaging itself or the art inside? The answer is about $20 million and involves something that sounds like Foucault on speed: the installation of 138 pendulums under the ground to counteract the movement and hopefully muffle it. All that has taken time but the Gallery announced it would finally open before Christmas with work already being put into the galleries. A few days ago (in what must feel like the tenth or so re-run of a bad joke for Director Jenny Harper and her staff) the opening looks like it has been delayed again. Everything is on track for the main project apparently but tasks that have been left over from normal maintenance are still to be completed. So now it looks as though the opening will happen sometime within ‘the first three months of next year.’ 

In the meantime Harper has been dropping hints. ‘We’re looking to present an important Martin Creed at our Foundation dinner in September!’ You’ll remember Auckland Art Gallery had a brief flutter with Creed trying for one of his large revolving MOTHER works in the foyer. Based on its experience over the past few years ChCh might find SONOFABITCH more appropriate. Although there's no news on the specific ChCh work yet maybe CAG will go with the idea of their previous curator Justin Paton who suggested a couple of years ago on the gallery blog ‘Everything is going to be alright’.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The curator’s egg

Laurie Anderson famously sang, 'it’s not the bullet that kills you, it’s the hole'. The panel which will soon select the artist to represent NZ at the Venice Biennale in 2017 faces a similar problem in the form of a shortage of experienced curators. To front up as a Biennale curator Creative NZ requires you to have 'significant exhibition experience in New Zealand and some experience internationally'. That cuts out quite a few contenders for a start. On top of that it’s reported that Robert Leonard, who has done two Biennales (Stevenson and Denny) is not available and neither is Justin Paton (Culbert). In an odd way this shortage of eligible curators could do as much to decide the eventual choice of artist as the composition of the selection panel. Oh, and here’s the NZ at Venice Biennale curators so far by the numbers.

78  percent male
67  percent NZ citizens
56  percent employed at the time by an NZ art museum