Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Got it

The syringes are arranged in such a way as to be reminiscent of religious iconography, in particular the crucifixion scene at Calvary.
Damien Hirst edition as described on www.othercriteria.com. The retail arm of Other Criteria, Hirst's publishing and merchandising company, will open its doors right next to Sotheby’s at 36 New Bond Street on 6 October.

Lost and found

For anyone who spent time looking for Atelier van Lieshout’s installation Darwin in the Christchurch Square at the opening weekend of Scape, (“That it over there?” “Nope.” “Maybe round the back?” “Don’t see it.”) or tried to find it on their website, you can catch some pics and commentary by artgirl on watchthisscape. It’s also worth picking your way back through past entries. Most of them are pretty funny and it’s more than you’re going to get from the official Scape site - unless watchthisscape is one in deep cover - in which case we are in awe.

You can find stuff in a similarly gleeful and irreverent tone at thepaintandbake blog from Auckland. Who said art can’t be fun? No one under 30.

Images: Top from thepaintandbake captioned “The food table - plus the cupcakes i made (they were supposed to spell the title of the show but we were too rushed off of our feet to display em that way!!)” Bottom: Darwin with “everyone inside!” from watchthisscape.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On the road

On the road is an ongoing series celebrating the Ministry of Land Transport and Local Body support of New Zealand artists. For others in the series search 'on the road' in the blog search box above.

Start ups

Here are the first sentences from some New Zealand art books and catalogues. You can find out where they came from on OTN Stuff.

1 “My mother wished I had been a daughter.”

2 “If a country’s name is a matter of its identity, a title which confers upon it status and unity as a nation, then New Zealand has long endured a crisis.”

3 “Atlas.”

4 “It was late afternoon in September 1991, one of those pristine spring days when Sydney takes on the aspect of a super-realist painting, hard-edged, chromatic, unforgivingly exact.”

5 “The last canvas was rolled and put high in the storage shelf.”

6 “Our purpose here is to get some things straight about this book.”

7 “Rather than attempting a definitive history of New Zealand painting this book aims at simply being a general introduction to the subject.”

8 “This book began as a discovery”

9 “In an early colonial environment there is little room for art, for artists who make a living from their painting or for the systems of art promotion and management.”

10 “This is a book partly of pictures: a book to be looked at for the pleasure of looking.”

11. “The time was when the ends of the earth were worlds away.”

12 “This book is a study of two hundred years of New Zealand painting.”

Answers on OTN Stuff

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Good to know

"...the collectors, usually independently wealthy, knowledgeable, influential types unaffected by downturns, ..."
Richard Thomson, director of the International Art Centre in the Herald on Sunday

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Artists in Ad Land

A quick follow up on our post revealing Salvador Dali as the designer of the Chuppa Chups logo. Here's the artist with a sweet tooth for advertising coming out for Lanvin Chocolate

Friday, September 26, 2008

Handy tips

“There is no reason to be afraid of the Te Papa model.”

Tim Walker, ex-Te Papa, ex-New Dowse, now Head of Museum Delivery Auckland Museum in Artzone.

Constance Kirkcaldie 1917 - 2008

There are many different art worlds. Most of the time there isn’t much crossover or very much understanding among them. But sometimes there are people who can step across those borders, hardly noticing they are there. One of them was a whirling epi-centre of the Wellington art world of the Academy of Fine Arts, Constance Kirkcaldie. It was strange to hear stories at her memorial service that could have been told in any of the art worlds. “Neither my friends nor I had ever seen anything like it,” her stepson said of Constance’s art collection.

Constance Kirkcaldie was 91 when she died but she always behaved as though she were whatever age she had to be to get the best out of the situation. As director and administrator of the New Zealand Academy she made it possible for us in the seventies to see Jim Allen’s work in Wellington in the Five Sculptors exhibition and, on one memorable occasion, a group show including Tony Fomison. That’s still an image to reckon with: Tony Fomison showing at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts.

She was funny and kind and generous in an art world that was often solemn, cautious and pinched. We never knew her as a young woman, or even a middle-aged one, but we did have the enjoyment of knowing her in her prime.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

High handed

Australian artists Jan Berean & Pat Foster took the “please don’t touch the art works” of the public museum to new heights in their Scape installation Old thoughts and New Ideas; Proposition for Public Sculpture. Works from the Christchurch Art Gallery, including a figurative portrait of Bill Sutton by Tom Taylor, were skied out of reach, out of harm’s way (barring an earthquake) and, to all intents and purposes, out of sight.

Image: Jan Berean & Pat Foster Old thoughts and New Ideas; Proposition for Public Sculpture installed at the Christchurch Art Gallery for Scape

Heaps of praise

Artspace has published its first book in a proposed series on its exhibitions since Brian Butler took over as director. It features Daniel Malone, Francis Alÿs, Mark Adams, Eve Armstrong, Fiona Banner and Ann Veronica Janssens and is published by Clouds. Probably more than any other New Zealand based publication this one effortlessly integrates New Zealand artists alongside others with international reputations. In fact, looking at the illustrations and reading the essays it’s hard to understand why so many public institutions find this role so problematic.

A highlight is Allan Smith’s ‘short history of heaps, stacks and piles’ a wonderfully poetic essay on the world of things crushed, wedged and balanced. The essay, Stacks on the mill, more on still, places Eve Armstrong’s work in an exotic context of obsession fired by necessity. Also of interest to OTN readers Smith, in describing an attic room belonging to Czechoslovakian bookbinder turned photographer and pack rat, Joseph Sudek, pauses to give this warning to collectors.

Each packet or handful of paper, each thick envelope, each shallow box lid, and closed or half-opened box, manifests a spatially coded history of how it got to be stuffed, lent or propped where it is now part of an incrementally climbing landscape of mutually adjusted pressures. In its semi-coherent confusion Sudek’s study demonstrates the horror vacui of the unrepentant collector and hoarder.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


An email today from Abe Books with a list of the 10 most expensive art books sold over 2008.

1. Lithographe: Joan Miro
Edition 150 printed with 2 original color lithographs numbered and signed by the artist. $NZ12,500

2. Visionaire #1 - Spring
Edition 1,000. $NZ4329

3. Ravens
The first edition of Masahisa Fukase’s last photo book published in 1986. $NZ4242

4. Jeff Koons
Edition 1500 numbered and signed by the artist. $NZ4182

5. Chili
Photographer Wessing Koen’s book on the Chilean coup d'état Published in 1973 and signed by the photographer. $NZ3946

6. The Architectural Drawings of Alvar Aalto 1917-1939
4,500 pages. $NZ3706

7. Drevoryty k Mystikum a Visionarum
Josef Váchal woodcuts. $NZ3668

8. Verve. Vol VIII
Pablo Picasso edition with 16 original Picasso lithographs. $NZ3300

9. De-Coll /Age Happenings
Edition 50 signed and numbered by Wolf Vostell. $NZ2934

10. New York: The New Art Scene
The 1967 first edition of Alan Solomon’s photographs. $NZ2568

A Not This Timeline

Back in 1967 the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch hosted the Mary Sisler collection of Marcel Duchamp’s work. Later gifted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it was an extraordinary exhibition to appear at that time in New Zealand. It included many of Duchamp’s greatest readymades including Comb, In Advance of a Broken Arm, Bottle Rack, and Fountain. The latter work proved too much for the McDougall’s director W.S.Baverstock who sequestered it in his office for private viewing only. A long line of art students formed outside his door with everyone rejoining the line after their squiz. The game went on all afternoon. Boyd Webb, a sculpture student at the time, excelled himself by placing an old china po on one of the Duchamp display cabinets. Baverstock, in probably the only DADA gesture he ever made, put the offending object on the floor and with his feet pushed it through the galleries and out the door.

In 2002 Christchurch declined to commission Michael Parekowhai to install two large cartoon rabbits in Cathedral Square. The mayor at the time said that most people “considered the square the most formal part of the city”, a leap of the imagination only possible in Christchurch.

March 2007
Michael Parekowhai snuck an inflatable version of his ‘Square’ bunny Jim McMurtry into the Christchurch Art Gallery. You had to smile when you noticed that it was his bum that greeted the people of Christchurch as they entered the gallery.

October 2007 We posted that Christchurch’s Stewart Fountain, was being refurbished and a new sculpture was to be commissioned. Michael Parekowhai was invited to make a submission.

Late last year we talked with Michael Parekowhai about his idea for the Stewart Fountain Commission. The plan was to put the fact that the original Stewart fountain had been created in 1967 alongside the banishing of the Duchamp Fountain, also in 1967. Parekowhai proposed replacing the Stewart fountain (40 years on) with a replica of the Duchamp Fountain, created in bronze and painted white. It was historically rich, perfect for the over-crowded, small site, and funny.

Early in 2008 Michael Parekowhai heard for the second time that Christchurch did not want to go ahead with one of his public sculptures.

The people who made this decision were:
• Jenny Harper, director of the Christchurch Art Gallery
• Hugh Nicholson, Christchurch City Council planner
• Lara Strongman, ex-City Gallery curatorial manager
• Claudia Reid, Christchurch City Council
• Lady Stewart, patron
• Anthony Wright, director of the Canterbury Museum

You can check out what they went with here.

The probable cost of Christchurch getting a public sculpture by Michael Parekowhai on a third attempt? Priceless.

Image: Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Page works

Art New Zealand show how far we’ve come in the 56 years between the image on their current front cover and a page 14 advertisement.

Images: Left, Art New Zealand cover featuring Rita Angus’s A Goddess of Mercy, Christchurch Art Gallery. Right, Francis Upritchard Untitled.

Adds up

If we had a cent
for every post
we’d published
including this one,
we’d have
ten bucks.

Neither tall nor pointy

If you want to see a great installation of public art in Christchurch check out the Fo Guang Shan Temple, a Buddhist community centre at the Hagley Park end of Riccarton Road. The Warren and Mahoney design of the building’s façade is based on the Dunhuang caves in north-west China where ancient Buddhist temples were cut into the rock face. In the Riccarton Road homage, sculptures of Buddha are placed in niches in the Indian sandstone façade looking for all the world like a contemporary museum display.

Monday, September 22, 2008


While this year's Scape didn’t often reach for the spectacular, James Oram managed a nice surprise for anyone who walks into Christchurch's Cranmer Square. Oram has parlayed the ridiculous with a stern formalist composition by hanging what looks like a P-class yacht from a large crane. We also enjoyed the nod to Jeff Koons’s proposed sculpture for LACMA. You may remember the Koons as being the basis of OTN's best-ever look alike.

Rock my world

The artist’s party for Scape was held in an owner-operated cave. Seriously. We got there by bus (again, seriously), stopping along the way to look at Zones Urbaines Sensibles’ minimal work of bleachers and the word Re-public in bedded flowers (a voice from the back of the bus suggested the addition of ‘Banana’ might have given some political bite) and Callum Morton‘s Monument #19: Sexy Beast. Anyone who has seen the film will remember the opening sequence of a large rock plummeting from a hill high above Ray Winston’s Spanish villa and narrowly missing his over-oiled body. Morton’s rock-filled shop on the flat plains of Canterbury certainly gave narrative, geology and retail a poke in the eye. It also came with a neighbour who was prepared to pop out to talk to anyone she saw looking in the shop window – on our evening visit she was in her dressing gown. If public art works need guardians, Morton’s has found a perfect community volunteer. Our party time under the low-slung rock was like stepping inside Morton's faux rock monument. Emerging from the cave mouth at the end of the evening, you half-expected to find yourself looking out through the shop window at dressing gown lady showing tourists Sexy Beast.

Images: Top, Monument #19: Sexy Beast by night. Bottom left, the alarming sign outside the party cave. Right, Callum Morton and fellow cavers

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Moving along

We’ll be at Scape in Christchurch this weekend. At last year’s Scape we saw Martin Creed’s brilliant garden installation and of course went to watch his band perform. Since then Creed has been busy, most recently with his Work No. 850 in which people run through Tate Britain for the duration of the installation. Creed has even produced a nifty flip-book which shows a runner sprinting past a Henry Moore from the Tate’s permanent collection.

We were reminded of Creed’s runners at the Sydney Biennale. In the MCA photographs recording Chris Burden performances from the seventies included his Bicycle Piece. Here is Burden’s description of the work, “ A black serpentine path one foot wide was placed on the gallery floor connecting the front and rear entrances of the gallery. During gallery hours, I continuously rode a ten-speed bicycle through the front entrance, along the path, out and around the building and back through the front door.

Images: Left. Chris Burden Bicycle Piece 1971. Right, Martin Creed flip book of Work No 850

Friday, September 19, 2008


Here’s a site that depopulates well known landscape paintings. Not something New Zealand landscape painters have much of need for.

Crowd pleasers

How many art works are there in the world that always have a crowd in front of them? The Mona Lisa is always top of the list of course. You may recall the Hirst look-alike and Brian Joseph's image of a mob photographing her like she was Paris Hilton getting out of a sports car. Then there’s Michelangelo’s Pieta in St Pauls, The Nightwatch in Amsterdam and the Sistine Chapel as well as Picasso’s Guernica to prove that twentieth century works can have pulling power. Remember the flash-crowd activity around Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull?
We’re talking about the works that people want to experience simply by being there. This desire triggers a classic blockbuster effect. People crowd in to see a work. Security and space are increased. More people wonder what the fuss is about. Repeat.

In New Zealand it’s hard to think of any major crowd pleasers although Neil Dawson’s Ferns in Wellington’s Civic Square comes close. You’d think Rita Angus’s Cass would be a contender, but it has always been crowd-free when we’ve been around. The same with McCahon’s Northland panels. This sparseness is partly a result of the number of visitors but also the lack of consensus over our icons. If you can think of a New Zealand work with crowd status, drop us an email, we’ll start a list.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Look alike

Noticed amongst the puppets in Pierre Huyghe’s performance piece Celebration Park this tweed suited figure with its uncanny resemblance to Wellington Art Dealer, Peter McLeavey.

All your base are belong to us

We‘ve had a few laughs at the use public art museums make of stanchions and bases. The stanchions are to stop people touching, or in some cases seeing, sculpture and unglazed paintings, and the bases to remind sculptors that the floor is not the place for expensive art.

So it was good to see Peter Robinson join the game in his installation Snow Ball Blind Time at the Govett-Brewster. Crowded into spare spaces left by the monster chain trail were hundreds of stanchions made out of polystyrene. Too frail to keep people back and too art to be exhibited in most public art spaces without their own Son of Savings Bank stanchions in place. Robinson did plinths too, bases made from chewed blocks of styrene with the soft white rubble drifting on the floor.

It was an unusual to see such a delicate work displayed so that viewers to get as close as they liked. This of course is one of the great benefits of projects like this. The artist, as owner of the work, has control over both the display and security. Thanks Peter.

Images: Snow Ball Blind Time (detail)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Advice to artists

“Mr. Hirst wasn’t at Sotheby’s, he was following the results via phone — while playing snooker.”
New York Times

You can purchase the Vigma Evil Skull Billiard Ball Set from Billiards Authority for $US149.99

Take flight

The presiding image above is of the Wellington Koru Club’s last standing artwork, Jeff Thompson’s Penguin. If you thought we were unkind to Auckland and Dunedin, think again and check out these airport efforts. Clockwise from the top, Oslo, Wolverhampton, Charlotte and Birmingham.

But wait, help is at hand. Dick Frizzell, Robert McLeod, Jenny Dolezel, John Reynolds and Philip Trusttum (do we detect a Hamish Keith selection here?) have all been commissioned by Kapiti cheese to “pay homage to New Zealand’s most cherished, hand-crafted cheeses.” This is because “Kapiti recognises that premium cheese is an art in itself.” And so, thanks to four guys and a gal, interpretations of five of Kapiti’s classic cheeses have been transformed into limited edition artworks. The airport connection? “The Kapiti Art Collection will be exhibited in selected domestic and international Air New Zealand Koru lounges.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shark attack

The Evening sale of Damien Hirst’s Beautiful Inside My Head Forever finished with a sale total of $NZ194,098,712. You can drop your jaws at the individual prices paid here.

On the road

On the road is an ongoing series celebrating the Ministry of Land Transport and Local Body support of New Zealand artists. For others in the series search 'on the road' in the blog search box above.

Space cadets

What is it about public art museums in Wellington? With the exception of Pataka in Porirua, they all end up showing exhibitions in mazes you can’t find you way around or long, narrow spaces like pipe cleaners.

New Dowse - Mazes
Adam Art Gallery – Pipe Cleaners
Te Papa – Mazes and the Über Pipe Cleaner of all time, the “Boulevard Gallery”

Now there’s news that the City Gallery is adding two new Pipe Cleaners to the couple it already has. Long and narrow can work (sometimes) but four galleries that shape seems relentless.

One of the two new galleries will be the new Michael Hirschfeld Gallery (aka “Chez Alcove” and another Pipe Cleaner), the other a new gallery “dedicated to the work of Maori and Pacific Island artists.” So why have Pacific and Maori art upstairs and right at the back of the building? One of the reasons for a dedicated Maori/Pacific space was the observation that many Maori and Pacific people were reluctant to come into the City Gallery at all. If that is so, why march them up the stairs, past the project room, through the reading room and past the new Hirschfeld? Wouldn't it make more sense for them to have the Pipe Cleaner on the right as you come in the front door?

Images: Top, the proposed addition to the City Gallery. Bottom, the shape of the two new galleries.
Read the full press release on OTN STUFF here

Monday, September 15, 2008

By the book

Given Billy Apple is involved in creating an edible apple called the Billy apple and has trademarked his name, you can see why we did a double take when we found Christopher Cowles and David Walker book on the art in Australia.

By the numbers: Face-Off

“Six staff, 200 hours, 7000 canvases… plus another team of six spent 12 days painstakingly putting Velcro dots on the back of each canvas.”
The New Zealand Herald reporting the Auckland Art Gallery on the installation of Cloud by John Reynolds.

“Six tons of polystyrene, 300,000 links and seven different sorts of chain.”
The Govett-Brewster’s Rhana Devenport introducing Peter Robinson’s Snow Ball Blind Time

Image: Macy’s New York processing orders in 1940

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

King hit

Jeff’s having a wonderful time. Wish we were there.

Found: Alexa Johnston

Someone called her in lost a while back but as she was still a fairly well known Auckland presence we gave it a miss. But when Alexa Johnston, ex-curator at the Auckland Art Gallery, turned up on TV3 a couple of nights ago, it felt like a sign. Since leaving the gallery where she curated some important exhibitions like the eighties classic Anxious Images and the Colin McCahon survey Gates and Journeys, she has mixed curating with Hillary studies. Johnston is the official biographer of Sir Ed, but it was her cookbook Ladies a plate that put her on TV last night.

Image: Johnston (right) talks up baking on TV3

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Warning to curators

“Today no curator can afford to be ignorant of the market. If you are, you will soon learn a hard lesson when you try to mount an exhibition by a “hot” artist. Either you will find it is very difficult to secure loans, or you may come under pressure from collectors and dealers to include particular works.”
Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, quoted in the Art Newspaper

Backstage pass

The Auckland Art Gallery staff blog Outpost has survived existential despair and made a new leap forward. Over the last week they have been showing images of installations by Peter Robinson and John Reynold's being prepared for the Walters Prize opening. For the first time, we are getting a sneak preview of an important exhibition. Given the small but enthusiastic readership of art blogs, this is just the sort of generous gesture needed. The art gallery business is the same as any other, the more you know, the more interesting it gets.
Images: Top, Peter Robinson's installation Ack being placed in position. Bottom, unpacking Cloud by John Reynolds

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Look alike

Damien Hirst waits for his auction at Sotheby’s

When art goes to the movies: The Rebel

Writing about Giovanni Intra the other day reminded us that a month after Giovanni was born Tony Hancock, the great British comic, died. This is a subtle segue so we can talk about Hancock’s great movie about art, The Rebel. Made three years before his death, it was his first feature film.

The many art references in the movie include a Magritte moment when Hancock goes to work and finds everyone suited and bowler-hatted, but the main art work featured is the hideous sculpture of Aphrodite Hancock labours over.

In 2002 the London Institute of Pataphysics reproduced the Aphrodite sculpture and other art works from the movie. Ironic, given Hancock’s cry of anguish toward the movie’s end, "You're all raving mad. None of you know what you're looking at. You wait till I'm dead. You'll see I was right."

The Rebel is hard-going today but remains a sharps take on how art was perceived at the time. Some might say things haven’t changed that much but it’s not often you see a beret representing artists any more, so there has been progress.

You can see the sculpting scene from The Rebel by visiting YouTube here.

Images: Tony Hancock as The Rebel

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


When you turn up to the Hirst Sotheby’s auction next week you’ll want to be wearing Hirst gear. Your choices are a pair of jeans at $80,000 a pop or the Levi's package, priced to sell to humans.
Images: Left, High waist - high price. Right, shallow pockets

Polyglot a cracker

We’re fans of Giovanni Intra so were intrigued when earlier this year Webb’s announced a sale of his works. It followed up on the sale of three items catalogued as being by Intra in their May 2008 sale of contemporary art and modern design. We understand those pieces were purchased by two buyers for modest prices so assume there is major work left in the estate to make up the 3 November sale. Intra’s output was always surprising. Once, when we had called him a ‘bad boy intellectual’ in a catalogue, Giovanni responded, “I would prefer to be historicised as a ‘polyglot born in May ’68.’ Would you mind making that subtle alteration?” Fun for all, but a nightmare for an auction house responsible for cataloguing and determining which pieces are artworks and which better belong in an archive. More when the catalogue hits our desk.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Things that might have been artworks but weren’t at the Sydney Biennale Cockatoo Island venue. Click to enlarge.

Images from top, left to right: Door, entrance to office, foundation stones, table rigged from spare metal and blocks, builder’s putty on window sill, sorting boxes.

Winning post

People who put their money on Emma Bugden as odds-on favourite for Artspace Director should proceed to the window to collect their winnings.


When the concept for Te Papa was being fine-tuned in the nineties, one of the surprise consultants was American artist and activist Fred Wilson. His most well-known works show how changes in context cause changes in meaning and have often focused on museums and the institutional protection of racism. At the time of his venture to New Zealand Wilson’s most celebrated work was Mining the Museum: An Installation by Fred Wilson at the Maryland Historical Society galleries in Baltimore. Wilson used a number of display techniques that have become more familiar today, but were then physically and emotionally shocking. A good example is his juxtaposition of a circle of ornate Victorian chairs and a whipping post designed for the punishment and humiliation of black slaves. Wilson titled the piece Cabinet Making 1820-1910.

Wilson’s shadow could be seen over the work of Aboriginal artist Gordon Bennett at the Sydney Biennale. Bennett (who exhibited with Peter Robinson in the two-person touring show Three colours in 2005) was represented in the Art Gallery of New South Wales by two models of an unrealized exhibition proposal for the Biennale. Bennett wanted to reconstruct the way the AGNSW showed its collections and to “eliminate distinctions between departments.” In short, Bennett had proposed that he “reposition paintings from the Indigenous collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the colonial painting galleries on the ground level where European painters and Australians of western descent are represented. The paintings they would replace were to be moved down to the Indigenous galleries of Yiribana.” What we saw were the two models for this proposal with his selection of miniature Aboriginal and European-style paintings stuck to the walls. What was quickly apparent was that in the proposed relocation the European paintings were to be hung upside-down. Not a bad idea we thought but the kicker came when we went back for a second look. An Aboriginal woman asked us what we thought Bennett was trying to do. We hedged, she insisted. We gave the version above and she told us we had missed the point. The thing was, she explained, all relocated works were to be hung upside-down. She could tell by looking at the images on the model. We could only tell it of the works of the Western tradition. Bennett 10 – Barr 0.

The AGNSW did not go with the idea for “logistical, curatorial and ethical reasons”. Our guide summed it up in a word. “Mutts.”

Saturday, September 06, 2008

“The new renaissance”

Whoever it was who said, “painting is dead” never counted on Michael Israel in concert with his Heroes & Icons Tour. For the full range of Israel’s talents, visit his site here. And, make sure you scroll down to catch the home page video.
Thanks M, an OTN cap's on the way.

Friday, September 05, 2008


"The more you see of contemporary art in other parts of the world the more proud of Australian art you become... none of our leading artists produce freak pictures and our landscapes show the sunshine and sweep of the Australian scene." - The Hon Robert Menzies, 1937

Quoted by Mike Parr in MIRROR/ARSE on Cockatoo Island

Image: Mike Parr installation with quote written on wall

Open Mike

If you had any doubts that the White Cube was about worn out as a context for contemporary art, a trip to Cockatoo Island will send them packing. The island is the venue for 34 of the artists exhibiting in the current Sydney Biennale. They have colonized the abandoned buildings that once housed a prison and then shipyards on an island reachable only by ferry and, thanks to sponsorship, a free ferry. The industrial and social tailings on the site are a gift for many of the artists offering emotional punctuation that is missing from so many public art venues. Vernon Ah Kee found it enough simply to point to the racist and sexually violent graffiti in one of the many abandoned toilet blocks. The most memorable installation has been created by Mike Parr. This artist is reasonably well-known in New Zealand but a major figure in Australian contemporary art. Parr offers a partial retrospective of 17 of his more challenging performances in the abandoned buildings of a naval academy. The result is both courageous and generous. From early works where he holds his breath for an excruciatingly length of time to a gut-churning work involving vomiting and dry retching, Parr uses the rooms, corridors and utilities of his location as a kind of organizational ghost with which to organise his ideas. The result is remarkably disturbing. His audio work The Sitting Member has particular resonance to current political antics in New Zealand. It stages the self-serving bad behavior of an Australian parliamentary question time in a lavatory block with grimy walls and floors so saturated with the stench of ancient drains as to make you gag - a word that surely passed through Parr’s mind when he created the piece. It is a savage and telling way to take the piss. Not pleasant art, but unforgettable.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Yesterday's post on big books reminds us that, for some time now, Te Papa Press has been talking about producing a series of monographs on New Zealand artists. They’ll need to get a move on as the prospective list is being eroded by the day. The Reynold's book is out and coming up, books on MrKusich and Culbert (due out from AUP), and Ron Sang’s Hotere coffee table volume. Hotere is at the printer and due out end November.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

look alike

On the road

On the road is an ongoing series celebrating the Ministry of Land Transport and Local Body support of New Zealand artists. For others in the series search 'on the road' on the blog search above.

Feel the width

The John Reynolds’s book Certain Words Drawn, which Reynolds describes as “an artist’s book, a series of buy-ins by critical people,” has appeared in bookshops. It is a massive 480 pages. Did we say massive? We meant slim, given that the Michael Parekowhai book was 600 pages, or 650 if you count the separated text booklet. But both are but dust when compared to the Mike Parr book just published by Anna Schwartz in Australia. To get a full understanding of Parr’s work you need 900 pages. Of course overseas these behind-the-bike-shed books are commonplace. Gilbert and George shamed the Tate into 1239 pages for their two-volume monster, Jeff Koons is 605 pages but weighs a ton (well 11.6 kilos anyway), Andy Warhol volume 1 comes in at 503 pages. Poor old Gordon Brown had to put McCahon’s whole life into 237 pages and even Jeffrey Harris at 208 and Bruce Nauman at 388 can now consider themselves page-challenged.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


“This exhibition is accompanied by a text by Harold Grieves that tells you all about the erudition of the writer and bugger all about the art. Flatulent yet dense with literary references, it is preoccupied with narrative with no grasp of how the images are constructed. Like a lot of art writing these days that young graduates seem to love (because it flatters) it is useless.”
John Hurrell on fellow art writer Harold Grieves

Image: Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya, Prado Museum, Madrid


Speaking of Jeff Koons, his large outdoor exhibition is due to open at the Cháteau de Versailles next week. Watch this space.

Duck soup

The play Jeff Koons at Bats theatre was about ... er ... Jeff Koons, so how could we not go? As it turned out the play was a smart collage of the art world, funny, chaotic and unpredictable. The script by Rainald Goetz is a technical challenge. If you want to mount a production your starting point is simply the text – no characters, no stage directions. Overheard conversations, written criticism and commentary loosely related to Jeff Koons and the world he has created are shaped into the drama by the director and actors. La Cicciolina was there in all her many positions and so too were vaguely recognisable dealers, art world hangers-on and possibly Koons himself. One of the reasons we were diffident about going was because plays about the art world usually start with frustration at the high dollar value of art and can’t get past it. Try Art by Yasmina Reza if you really want a taste of the genre. Jeff Koons took a few swipes, but they were so brilliantly observed, what you could do but nod. The whole piece played out at demonic speed with semi-hysterics never far away and sometimes in your face.

All tyhis was a strange contrast to the One Day Sculpture event we visited the next day. Under a golden tent at the back of a small Haining Street building, Kah Bee Chow kindly served soup and bread to whoever turned up. It was all very low-key and we were told, proudly, that more non-art than art people had attended.

Locally based Relational Aesthetics or global high concept art? You pays your money (or not as the case may be) and you takes your chances.

Later: Having just written all that, we read two rave reviews of new plays about artists, The Pitman Painters by Lee Hall and Edward Albee's Occupant, a play about Louise Nevelson. Maybe Jeff Koons is part of a turning tide.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Window of opportunity 2

Another OTN obsession has been recognised, and a new series born thanks to one of our readers sending in this example of look alike NZ modernist art as car window repair.

Sellers market

A response from Te Papa to our Goncharova post as followed up by the Sunday Star Times. (You can read it here on OTN STUFF along with a couple of follow up letters to the editor) Although OTN didn’t exactly make the headlined “call for Te Papa to sell off” the Goncharovas, we did introduce the possibility as something worth discussion. Te Papa’s response, inevitably all about why they should not sell Goncharova's work rather than why they should keep it, makes three main points.

“The potential to lend Goncharovas to other international museums would enhance our borrowing power.” True in principle if Te Papa did curate its own shows drawing on international loans. The international exhibitions shown at Te Papa over the last ten years have been package shows. Institutions buy the package making loan brownie points irrelevant. Price, exclusivity and marketing pull are what matter.

“There was likely to be tremendous public disquiet if not opposition to selling the family silver.” Not so much in New Zealand, if history is our guide. Museums who have sold from their collections in order to purchase more relevant material, like the Govett-Brewster, were able to explain the decision to the public’s satisfaction. The discussion is part of the job. We’d certainly be interested to understand how Te Papa sees the contribution of the Goncharova to its collection development and programmes.

“The institution could legally sell the paintings but ‘ethically’, we’d consider it a poor choice.” Here is the American Association of Museums' Code of Ethics on the subject.

"disposal of collections through sale, trade, or research activities is solely for the advancement of the museum's mission. Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum's discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections."

Selling the Goncharovas has nothing to do with ethics. It’s about making professional choices. Most museums, and we are sure Te Papa is among them, now refuse to accept gifts that have any restrictions on how the institution can dispose of them. Now why do you think they do that?