Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world

Coat tailing

One of the most famous artist studios of the last century has got to be the cluttered room used by Francis Bacon. The artist told Melvyn Bragg that the chaos surrounding him helped in his process of painting. You can watch the terrific Bragg documentary on Bacon here and see the studio when Bragg and Bacon discussed the work around 12 or so minutes in.

As you might have guessed we only dropped this in as a lead so we can tell you that we've put up four new sets of artist studio images on OTNSTUDIO. The 1980 images of Michael Smither show him working on his harmonic chords, a series of works investigating the connections between music, colour and shape. In September 1985 we photographed Neil Dawson in the garage at the back of his home that he used as a studio before moving to the hall he's worked in for the last 20 or so years. Moving north to New Plymouth you can see that the 74-year old Don Driver was still producing his large banner works and rapidly filling the garage he had converted into a studio. And finally Peter Robinson. When we took these photographs in September 2004 he was working in the tiny front room of an apartment on the Great North Road in Auckland. If you look at this other set shot earlier in the year and already up on OTNSTUDIO you can see the same space as it was around six months earlier and get a sense of how quickly the inventive Robinson moves through ideas.

Image: Michael Smither working on his Harmonic chords in his New Plymouth studio in 1980

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


... Bill Hammond in Wellington

Simple as one, two, three, four

You may remember during the run-up to the last Walters Prize that an OTN reader claimed you could predict the judge’s choice by looking at what this selector had done and said over the past few months. With this year’s judge there's tons to choose from. Charles Esche is not your typical arts bureaucrat. He is a curator and museum leader with strong opinions and a highly developed sense of political injustice. To get a taste of Esche’s views you can:

Visit him on Facebook. Recently Esche named hard left wing British politician Tony Benn as a formative influence on him and reproduced on Facebook Benn’s famous five questions to ask the powerful (Q5: How can we get rid of you?). He's also a generous linker, always with an opinion like "good article here...there really is no 'Dutch consensus' between racism and anti-racism...either you want to continue celebrating white domination over other people, albeit unconsciously, or you don't. I vote for not doing it anymore.."

Follow him on Twitter:

Read his many interviews and discussions: Some are online with Esche constantly questioning his position on art and the role of the museum world. His view? “Art should be about doubts, relationships, questions - about opening up spaces, people and knowledge.”

So it’s kind of easy. Charles Esche will be looking for a work that is socially aware, takes a strong point of view and is posing important questions about contemporary life. Oh, oh…. That’s all four of them.

Image: word cloud constructed from a Charles Esche's interview on contemporary art

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday quizz

Our mystery object this week is from the art world. Prizes for the first two correct answers. NOTE: Members of the Dowse Art Museum staff who already know they are templates for hanging the Peter Peryer exhibition are not eligible.


The Act Party don't have a culture policy as such. Of the 19 policy areas outlined on their website none include culture or heritage. A search for the word ‘culture’ brings up zip unless you count the “nation’s commercial culture” or “business culture”. And ‘art’? Just a 2012 comment by Rodney Hide that he was pleased the new Wellington Mayor had a “special interest in Wellington's arts and culture scene.” Good to know but not much help. As for the Act budget, not a cent art-wise, unless you're in the film industry where you're promised just under $52 million as part of economic development.

On the other hand, when it comes to throwing a few metaphors around about the good life and Act’s ideal New Zealand, art is dragged on over and put to work. This is thanks to deep-pocketed Act supporter and super collector Alan Gibbs. Act leader Jamie Whyte kicks off the party’s advertising campaign with a brisk walk across the Gibbs' farm. The talk is all “This is a good country” but the walk is more about expensive art via Zhan Wang, Leon van den Eijkel, Bernar Vernet and Anish Kapoor with a couple of giraffes thrown in for emphasis. You can watch the complete ad here.

Image: Jamie Whyte and his wife promote art in Act's TV advert (Thanks S)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The horror

“It will likely include reproduction tanks, planes, famous battlegrounds and even a "smelly" trench, allowing people to experience the muddy and decaying stench soldiers were forced to endure on the frontline.”
Stuff’s Ben Heather reporting Peter Jackson proposed Government funded World War I museum in Wellington. (Thanks for the clip and diagram T…we think)

Friday, August 22, 2014

At a farm workers museum display.... Scotland, thinking about Ronnie van Hout. (Thanks D)

Better than collecting dust

News that the Christchurch Art Gallery has just raised ‘more than $80,000 toward a Bill Culbert sculpture installation' (if $80K is just ‘towards’ it’s surely a record price for the artist) is an indication of director Jenny Harper's unswerving belief in the importance of collections. This resolve is not as common as you might assume. Many of NZ's art museums have let acquisitions budgets shrink as staff numbers and marketing costs have soared. There was a time when the collection was at the very heart of public art museums but this heart has long been replaced with the temporary exhibition and its ability (or let’s face it failure) to haul in big crowds. The usual complaint that art-is-sooooo-expensive-these-days-we-can’t-afford-it’ is kind of blown out of the water when you hear that one of Michael Stevenson’s meticulous and mysterious drawings went for just $5,875.00 at Webb’s last auction or at Art + Object where you could pick up a sensational Don Driver for around $15,000 and work by l budd for considerably less. Christchurch Art Gallery has understood that waiting around for the City Council to provide more funds for purchases is a thing of the past. It's drawn on crowd sourcing channels like Pledgeme and Boosted and made smart use of gifted money to leverage even more works into its collection. The Christchurch Art Gallery also encourages gifts. You might ask 'who wouldn’t?' but many of our art museums are oddly reluctant to ask for gifts. To find out why they'll probably have to go deep into therapy.

Image: Christchurch Art Gallery's work Bebop by Bill Culbert as shown in Venice

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Art/life, life/art

Top  Christo and Jeanne-Claude Surrounded Islands, Miami and bottom Lake Hillier, Australia

Hammer heads

Since the appearance of Art +Object in 2007 the Auckland auction world has been nothing if not exciting. A+O shook Webb’s initially with a super-energetic jump out of the starting gate that included smart catalogues, a front foot approach to collectors and the shock of the new. It didn’t take Webb’s long to catch up and now both houses produce catalogues that can match anything in the world for panache. Then a couple of years ago A+O scored the Les and Milly Paris collection from under Webb’s noses. Lots of talk followed about how A+O managed such a coup, most of it around massive reductions in commissions when the two houses struggled to secure what turned out to be a $4.5 million dollar sale.

Now the word on the street is that yesterday Webb’s has made another mega move with the trimming of staff, reduction in its range of sale catagories and its intention to put art front and centre. At least part of this strategy probably lies at the door of 51 percent shareholder John Mowbray. His stamp business Mowbray Collectables has struggled on the stock market since listing and he’d be looking for a leg up from the art biz.

Another player behind this tighter focus on art (and lets face it we’re talking modern and contemporary art) would have to be investment guru and art collector Christopher Swasbrook who was made chairman of the Webb’s part of the Mowbray collectables empire last year. You can see what he thinks is the sort of art that has pull by visiting his collection web site here. A+O has never been backward in coming forward when a challenge is issued so watch out for some action over the next six months.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Et tu?

McCahon lookalike, lamp post on Aro Street in Wellington

The information sage

Somewhere along the way someone asked what it meant when Simon Denny was called a ‘post -internet’ artist. Now we know. The difference between artists who grew up before the internet and those who didn't is starting to become a little more apparent. It is only possible for Simon Denny, living in Berlin, to keep right up to date with NZ politics and culture post internet. Pre (say) the early nineties, when you went overseas (as we called it) NZ faded away into a few letters from the folks and out of date newspapers. Now someone like Denny can get as much information as those of us on home ground and, as we have seen, information is his stock in trade. The result of his intense curiosity and his current focus on NZ has led him into the spectacular media trifecta of Dotcom, Five Eyes and Nicky Hager. All three are intimately intertwined in ways that only digital media could deliver. The recent pic of Dotcom snapping a selfie at the Waihopai listening station only needed Hager in shot to be picture perfect. Now stir in Hager’s relationship with the hacker drip feeding #dirtypolitics emails off Dotcom’s Megaupload cloud and it's all too good to be true for any self-respecting post-internet artist. The only person not playing the game is John Key. By bringing the election forward a month, he's possibly deprived Denny’s next exhibition The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom of some valuable publicity.

Image: Nicky Hager and Dotcom at Waihopai (thanks Photoshop)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Being there

Meanwhile outside the Serpentine Gallery in London where Marina Abramović is doing her 512 hour performance .... at last something for art world pug lovers (you know who you are), more here. (Thanks for that important art news heads up M)

Rinse and repeat

Over the last year or so there's been a run of exhibitions internationally that recreate …um…other exhibitions. The most spectacular so far was the replay of Harald Szeemann's 1969 exhibition When attitudes become form. Squeezed into the Venetian palazzo of the Prada Foundation during the Biennale last year it took the art world by storm. In its wake has been the here-it-is-again version of MoMA's The photographic object 1970 at Hauser & Wirth as well as Other primary structures revisited at the Jewish Museum.

So here's a question - are there any exhibitions in NZ's own history that could do with another outing? You bet there are, and here’s a few to get started with:

Colin McCahon’s Wellington exhibition in 1948. Mounted by Lower Hutt’s head librarian Ron O’Reilly, it nailed McCahon’s efforts to turn the NZ landscape into Bible Land. Many of the works are now in public collections so this would be very doable. We're looking at you City Gallery seeing as how you're in the Library building that hosted the original.

Fifteen New Zealand painters
1952. This was the first exhibition of contemporary art to show outside New Zealand. The dealer Helen Hitchings secured the Irving Gallery in London to show artists like Rita Angus, Louise Henderson, Doris Lusk, Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston.

Object and image
1954. While this legendary exhibition by the New Zealand Fellowship of Artists might not look so flash today, it's been talked up so much over the intervening years that it would be great to be able to make up our own minds. Colin McCahon had recently taken up a job at the Auckland City Art Gallery and made the famous poster painting (now owned by the Waikato Museum) that hung in the show.

Gordon Walters's first Koru exhibition
at New Vision Gallery in 1966. Only 12 paintings, four drawings and two gouaches to pull together for this one. Mind you the values have increased somewhat since then when Painting number one went for £40.40 (with inflation about $3,000 today).

NZ Maori culture
1966. Fifty paintings and ten sculptures chosen by Buck Nin to represent contemporary Maori art and exhibited in the Canterbury Museum. The exhibition went on to tour overseas and throughout New Zealand. If not the first, it was certainly one of the very early attempts to present contemporary Maori artists.

The active eye 1975. Luit Bieringa introduced New Zealand to photography as an art form in this pivotal 104 image exhibition. The show toured 12 venues in NZ famously losing two controversial Fiona Clark photographs along the way. Word is that the entire show is still packed away in the original crates.

Mothers 1981 toured by The Women’s Gallery in Wellington. Political and opinionated, this exhibition was an extraordinary effort organized by women working on a government work scheme and came complete with a 42 page full colour catalogue.

Choice! 1990 was put together by the very independent curator George Hubbard. The exhibition served up Maori artists as …you’ve got it… artists. It was Michael Parekowhai’s first outing and although it only ran for 18 days and was seen by 555 people according to the attendance book it has become something of a legend.

Headlands 1992 curated by Robert Leonard split the art world and spread Chicken Little syndrome in the institutions (only the National Art Gallery didn’t cancel on the proposed tour to the Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery). OK it’s probably too big to do the whole thing again but how about a sampling or just the Primitive section that caused all the fuss. When Headlands finally showed for a meagre eight weeks (after six weeks of installation) at the Museum of New Zealand it declined to show the film component so maybe that could be resuscitated too.

Parade 1998 was Te Papa’s opening exhibition of contemporary New Zealand art. Now that could be fun to see again just to remember how radical it was and why we all hated it so much. Don’t forget the thumbs up and thumbs down signs next to works so that the audience could have its say.