Tuesday, September 02, 2014


Judith Collins joins the endless stream of lookalikes generated by Eugene Delacriox’s Liberty leading the people

Photo opportunity

Last year 'selfie' was the Oxford Dictionaries international word of the year and it looks as though Te Papa has taken the hint and finally dropped its no photography of art works policy.  Speaking directly to the people on the street the change has been announced via a poster for a new rehang of the collection. Rita Angus in her Cleopatra self-portrait has been served up to illustrate the snappy taglines: ‘Get in the picture,’ ‘Strike a pose and take a selfie,’ and ‘Share your selfie’.

It’s the marketing department encouraging one and all to up their level of engagement, get into Te Papa, and start snapping. The Metropolitan Museum in NY ran the same campaign back in 2009 with the tag "It's time we met." But even given that pedigree you can bet no one from Te papa would have had the nerve to suggest the idea to Angus were she were still alive.

Of course in its purest form the selfie encourages people to not look at art - after all the works they photograph are behind them. To paraphrase Barnett Newman (thanks B), ‘art is what you bump into as you back up to take a photo.’ Even Angus might have got a laugh out of that and, if she were in a mood for payback, she could enjoy the fact that the old Te Papa photography policy “You are not allowed to directly photograph, film, video, or otherwise copy any works on display in the Museum”… including painting” is still firmly in place on their web site

HOLD ON A SECOND: An OTN reader was in Te Papa a couple of days ago and saw someone get their head bitten off by a guard for talking a selfie in the new hang exhib. Is it possible that the selfie opportunity is only with the poster? Now that would taking confusing the public with marketing to new levels.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Art on the hustings

Art is where you find it and we found it just South of Himatangi

What art has in store

A long time ago now we noted a very droll site (you can still find it here) that asked you to try and tell the difference between furniture created by the minimalist American artist Donald Judd and the sort of stuff you can buy in mega box-stores like Ikea . Seven years on, let us point you (thanks blouinartinfo) to a Tumblr that sources items in pre-sixteenth century paintings from IKEA. So, if you want that nifty red throw pillow you saw in Hans Memling’s painting of The Annunciation, go here. And boom here’s the GURLI Cushion cover for only $48 ready to fill and plump up on your window seat. Or if you are in a more reflective mode how about this framed mirror straight from Christ blessing, surrounded by a donor family by a German painter in the late 1500s.

All this decorating pleasure comes via Cecilia Azcarate whose Tumblr will bring your everyday tastes up to the late sixteenth century.  Azcarate is a killer when it comes to art spotting on the internet so you might also like to chase up her very funny (but definitely not safe for work) collection that features art from the background of sex tapes. That more specialist journey you can begin by going here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Catching a wave

You can’t keep a good image down especially if it's as intense as The Great Wave off Kanagawa, the ukiyo-e woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai from his set Thirty six views of Mount Fuji. If you want to see a copy of the original you only need to go as far as the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. While it's thought around 5,000 copies were printed time is bound to have slashed that number back a fair bit. One was certainly lost in 2012 with the grounding and partial sinking of the ocean liner Costa Concordia. A set of the Thirty six views was hanging in the CC's wellness spa.

But don't give up. It's still possible to have your own copy. An original print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa was auctioned for $36,000 in 2003 while a full set of the thirty six views (for some reason there are 42 prints in the series) went for $2mil the year before at Sotheby’s.

Images: top, The wave as used by the advertising industry, the design world, the ink fiends and bottom, a mural in Dresden of all places by C.Muench

Friday, August 29, 2014

Good form

When art collectors pose on furniture looks back. This week Dr Barnes of Philadelphia benches a leg before Cezanne's Card players

Watching paint dry

Anyone who was at art school in the sixties will remember the miracle of acrylic paint. Rather than waiting hours or even weeks for the layers of your masterpiece in oil to dry, you could barge on and get the thing done in a day. There were a few ways of doing this - by mixing raw pigment with ‘medium’ (a sort of watered down PVA glue) or, if you had cash, by buying very pricey tubes of a paint (obviously named in a rush of sixties marketing genius) called Liquitex. You also had the option of the enamel based house paints like Solpah, which were cheap and still dried a lot faster than artist’s oil paint. House paint as an art material has a noble lineage. One such product known as Ripolin was used by Picasso back in 1931 for The red armchair and in the next decade Sidney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly series in this material.

OK, kinda specialist but if you want to follow up on how NZ painters came to these new materials you need to get to the Auckland Art Gallery. In another of the small focused exhibitions that seem to be becoming a specialty, Sarah Hillary presents a fascinating perspective on post war painting through a conservator’s eye. Included are great art production icons like Ralph Hotere’s spray gun as well as paint cans, tubes and charts, but also more personal artifacts including a small paint brush used by Don Peebles with an equally discreet cloth for wiping off mistakes or brush cleaning. There is also a pocket notebook of Colin McCahon with notes and diagrams to decipher. We love this sort of stuff although it's has been out of fashion in art museums for quite a while now. Nice to see you back on board, ephemera. Missed you.

Images: left, Don Peebles brush and a tin of Solpah paint. Right a 1949 Australian advert for one of McCahon's favourite house paints Solpah

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Don't mention the war

"He wasn't fired, he has made his own decisions. Yes, we did have a big problem, and we've completed the turnaround."
Te Papa chairman Evan Williams in the Dominion Post confirming that Te Papa chief executive Michael Houlihan has left New Zealand


Here's a rule of thumb for assessing a work of art. Does it appeal to cartoonists? Guy Body’s drawing published in the NZ Herald the other day picks out some of the layers of meaning in Michael Parekowhai's Lighthouse for the Auckland waterfront and pulls it right into political commentary. Works that have featured in cartoons make a line-up of populist stars that don't even need the artist's name - Mona Lisa, The scream, Nude descending a staircase, American gothic, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (ok that one probably needs the word 'shark' and Damien Hirst's name attached). Cartoonists are often the first to grab on to powerful images that they can connect with current ideas. 

So here's a prediction. For all the fuss about, Parekowhai’s lighthouse it will become the background of countless selfies, a feature on all Auckland city tourist material and (like Neil Dawson’s Ferns in Wellington) quickly assimilated into the city landscape as a much loved icon of Auckland.

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)