Monday, May 31, 2010

Dashed hopes

Four things that might have been art at the National Gallery of Denmark, but probably weren’t.

Screen goddess

We are now in Berlin and strangely closer to Edvard Erichsen’s Little Mermaid sculpture (that’s the one with the famous ballerina’s head, the sculptor’s wife’s body) than we were in Copenhagen. As you may know, the bronze mermaid has been lifted off its rock and sent off to be exhibited in the Danish pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. This does make you wonder (if only for a nanosecond) how the Ohakune Carrot might look on top of the NZ effort. Anyway, in place of TLM, the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei has erected a large video screen that shows TLM live from Shanghai. Now you can watch visitors to Copenhagen photograph visitors to the Shanghai Expo photographing the Little Mermaid.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dutch courage

Why not while away your Saturday morning, or afternoon for that matter, making Mondrians. (Thanks P)

Friday, May 28, 2010

on the road

On the road is an ongoing series celebrating the Ministry of Land Transport and Local Body support of New Zealand artists. Thanks R (got that right at least)

For others in the series search 'on the road' in the blog search box above.


They really don’t have much in common, but seeing Santiago Calatrava’s great building Turning Torso in Malmø, Sweden gave us the same sensation of clarity and wonder we experienced at Le Courbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp and Erich Mendelsohn’s astonishing Einstein Tower in Potsdam. Architecture requires so many things to come right on the day that when it happens it feels like magic. And in this case Calatrava was the magician.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Then and now

In the portico of the National Gallery of Denmark a statue of an unnamed artist (complete with brushes and palette) screened by a banner announcing the survey exhibition of contemporary Danish artists Bjørn Nørgaad who has been photographed holding a severed head of a horse.

Creed is good

In Denmark the contemporary art duo Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen feature large. Some of you might remember them as the team that created a stir at the last Venice Biennale largely because of their realistic portrayal of an art collector drowned in his own swimming pool. They were also presciently featured in the 5th SCAPE 2008, in Lyttelton of all places. 

Among the early Danish paintings and other international works (rather provocatively labelled “foreign art”) at the National Gallery of Denmark, a large room accessed through swinging hospital doors gave way to a typical Dragset and Elmgreen installation. Please keep quiet from 2003 presents four hospital beds with one empty and the other three occupied by male patients. It’s similar to the work in Boris’s bunker that we have previously posted on. 

Our curiosity was piqued when we looked closely at the hand of one of the wax patients and saw a crumpled ball of A4 paper. Now, we know a Martin Creed when we see one, even in a fake hospital bed, in a Danish Museum in Copenhagen.

You can purchase your own Martin Creed Work No. 88 here or here.
Images: Top and bottom left Dragset and Elmgreen’s installation, Please keep quiet (detail). Bottom right Martin Creed’s Work No 88.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gate post

In Copenhagen thinking about Colin McCahon’s Gate series

When opposites attract

In the gallery windows of Copenhagen we have noticed a large number of homegrown abstract expressionist paintings. They seem to still be a staple of the popular art galleries along with prints and sometimes art /craft items. The paintings are all very much of a similar style; messy, highly coloured, non-representational or marginally representational, and often without discernable formal structure. Paintings just like them can also be seen in the windows of real estate agents where they are displayed in photographs of apartments for sale. These apartments are almost without exception beautifully furnished in a spare…well, Danish modern…style, very cool but comfortable too. 

It occurred to us that the expressionist paintings are there to contrast with this high level of restrained design in much the same way as Sepik River sculptures were used in modernist apartments in the fifties and sixties to show the breadth of cultural sophistication of the owners. It’s the old sweet-and-sour game apartment-wise.
Images: Danish art to go

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Judgment day

“… a world of self-proclaimed royalty full of ‘blacklists,’ ‘greylists’ and astonishing chicanery.”
Federal Judge William H. Pauley describing the New York art scene.

Page work

With so many students pursuing Masters and PhDs in the visual arts, the pressure is on for good thesis topics. So enough of bibliographic trudging through New Zealand artists, here's first of our OTN go-get-'em-tiger topics: the examination of the reading material of gallery assistants. 

Given that these books are proving more interesting than you (the audience), we figure an analysis of their content could prove illuminating. We did a little introductory research in London dealer galleries and found the following books in play. OTY.

Greg Bear – Queen of Angels
Denise Markonish (Ed.) – Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape
Scott Fitzgerald – Tender is the night

Image: minder/reader guarding a gallery at the Haunch of Venison in London

Monday, May 24, 2010

Naked came I

In Copenhagen thinking about Billy Apple and the Sarjeant Gallery

Random post

Before Te Papa was Te Papa it was an idea that went something like this. New Zealand could be explained through stories and those stories could be told by mixing and matching items from all areas of the collection. To try and explain this radical concept, the then Chair of the future museum’s Project Development Board, ex-Prime Minister Wallace Rowling, said that in the new museum, “you might see a moa next to a McCahon.” While that particular combo didn’t happen they did go with a refrigerator next to a McCahon. 

Although the idea of mixing museum items with art items has been diluted over the years if you want to get a feel for what might have been, check out Te Papa’s collection page and the Random me link. It brings up a set of random objects from across the collection and while it can be bland, persevere. In just a couple of outings it will throw up some surprising and thought provoking juxtapositions.
Images: Sets of image pairs from Random me. Click on image to enlarge and see credits

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bad wrap

When art enters adland it is often – although not always – with the cooperation and permission of the artist. Apparently not so in this spot by BBDO. AT&T blatantly uses Christo’s signature wrapping to create a not-so-subtle metaphor for cellular coverage. As a wit on one of the many blogs covering the Christo copycat debacle said, “I assume they tried to contact Christo by calling him on his iPhone, but got cut off.” Click on the images to see AT&T's weird disclaimer in the bottom right image. And yes Veronica, AT&T is the carrier for the iPhone.

It may get taken down but currently you can see the AT&T advert here.

Friday, May 21, 2010


“A great eye yields a great portrait.”
Tip from’s art & style section

Bunker dreams

There was a strong shock of recognition when we went down to the basement of Hauser & Wirth in Piccadilly. A set of narrow stairs in an ex-bank building took us into a gloomy gallery that was once the vault. Like OTN’s own exhibition space in Wellington On The Table, it was windowless, rough concrete and lit only by unshaded light bulbs. The assistant guarding the work was reading her book with a small torch which she politely switched off while we looked at Bharti Kher’s installation.

This all took us back to the early 1990s and our own experience of working in a safe when the Cubists (operating then as the Mutual Admiration Society) ran the Nat Mut Gallery in the Arcade between Victoria and Willis Streets. The safe in the National Mutual Building was used for art storage and a cramped office. Nat Mut exhibitions included an early solo outing by et al. exhibiting as Lillian Budd. The work was sent from Berlin in a suitcase and mostly installed on the floor as the exhibition Budd in Berlin.
Image: Bharti Kher installation at Hauser & Wirth

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Some works are just not made for public art museums and Richard Serra’s Trip Hammer is one of them. Two very heavy sheets of rolled steel are balanced one on top of the other in the corner of a room only supported by two points on the each wall. If this sculpture were to collapse, anyone nearby would be at serious risk of being crushed (and this did indeed happen to one of Serra’s installation assistants). So the question is how you place such a risky work into a public art environment without compromising it. The answer is, in the case of Tate Modern anyway, you don’t. Instead the massive weight of Trip Hammer is visually trivialized by a barrier created out of rope and metal sticks. It’s not enough to protect either people or the work, but intrusive enough to subvert the promise of the form and materials. Adding another stick with a notice about an upcoming talk and some signage on the floor, and Tate Modern has pretty much put Mr. Serra to bed. 

It’s a shared problem. Most public art museums cannot show this kind of work properly and fall back on inappropriate stands, barriers and ugly strips of tape on the floor to protect the work and/or the public. Does this recontextualization concern the artists? You would think that Serra – a famously rigorous practitioner – could do something about it if he wished, but maybe he doesn’t, or has given up. So it’s left up to your imagination to see what his large balanced works would feel like when there is nothing between you and the mass and the message.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The prestige

Living in WETAWORLD we are pretty blase about things made to look like things as the Weta Workshop can knock out a realistic rock, hand or ape without breaking a sweat. In Wellington the creation of fake objects has become ingrained in our culture through the ongoing impact of the three Ws: Weta Workshop, WOW (World of Wearable Art) and Te Papa (ok, two Ws), so it takes a lot to impress us with custom made lookalikes, unless you’re Fischli and Weiss, that is. Their installation Untitled (Tate) may appear to be an abandoned sculpture studio (and a none too tidy one at that) but that’s an illusory punch in the face. It turns out that every item, including the tea bags, the packet of fags, the pallets, the bowls, brushes and paints were all created out of Polythene foam. This reality is hard to believe in even when your brain had sorted out some accommodation with the information your eyes keep sending in. The work is not so much a feat of technical skill (though it’s that too) as a transformation of the banality of work.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the LACMA gift shop

We were thinking about Rohan Wealleans and Horrorgami


Q is for qualification

The MSc asks “how?” The MPhil asks “why?”, The MFA asks “tap or bottled?” An oldie but still a goodie.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Looking at...

... Senyou Faibisovich's In the line for vodka II at The Haunch of Venison gallery in London and finding Tony Fomison

How to look at a painting

Going to museums in mid-week is a vastly different experience from the weekend one most people have. You do have to get used to making way for large groups of kids herded through the galleries to be taught how to look at art (paintings mostly). The small ones are fine as they mostly sit on the floor. The taller ones can get in the way, but they also make the best comments, “Like who’s Van Dyke, like?” 

A group of little kids we saw at the Wallace collection were persuaded by the education person to suck in their stomachs for one minute to get an idea of what it was like to wear bone corsets. When they were finally allowed to breathe out a few groaned theatrically and one said, “Having your clothes full of bones hurts.” And you knew what he meant.

The bright new brocade wall-covering behind some of the paintings the kids were looking at came courtesy of über-artist Damien Hirst. He paid for the recovering as a quid pro quo for showing his work in the Wallace. The decision caused an uproar at the time but the result is a very sharp looking set of galleries that could not have been renovated to this standard any other way. Besides, there was nothing to stop opponents stumping up with the cash before Hirst made his offer. Getting an exhibition of Hirst paintings for a couple of months seems like a small price to pay for a stunning result. Thanks Damien.
Image: dressing up as art

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Googling on

The Wayne Thiebaud counting book. Well, why not? Journey through Google with Wayne: one wedding cake, two ice creams, three gumball machines, four desserts, ok you have to scroll down a bit for the desserts, but you get the idea.
Image: Susan Goldman Rubin’s book Counting with Wayne Thiebaud

Friday, May 14, 2010

Washed up

LA is Ed Ruscha’s town. Driving past LACMA you look for the flames and it‘s always surprising to see the sky without letters marching across the blueness. But hard at work in the restroom of a pimped up designer store (James Pearse), that’s where Ruscha lurks. Turns out to be a copycat (far too craven to be a lookalike) and a tricky one at that.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A gem

The bleakest sign we have ever seen in a museum. This from the gem gallery in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Very strange as the displays are don’t-miss-on-any-account experience if you are ever in LA.

A piece of work

It can’t be long before we get a reality TV show along the lines of Sarah Jessica Parker’s pet project Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. Charles Saatchi has already done one in the UK and audiences there and the US appear to warm to reality TV brutality being exerted on art and artists. Why anyone would put themselves in the firing line is another question altogether. One go-away-loser comment on the US version was very Weakest Link, “It’s been said that good art isn’t what it looks like but what it makes us feel. Your art didn’t make us feel anything. Good-bye."

Image: work by a contender in Work of Art: The Next Great Artist

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paton place

The first thing we usually do when we get to Los Angeles is to go into our favourite book store Hennessey + Ingalls in Santa Monica. This time, as we walked through the door, the first thing we saw was Justin Paton’s How to look at a painting (in hardback). Only one copy left but one of the book guys told us there were more on order.


Something that’s changed a lot over the years is the way exhibitions are presented. In New Zealand’s post-Te Papa world this job has almost exclusively been given over to designers. So what’s wrong with that? Space, that’s what. Exhibitions live in three-dimensional space and yet most designers come out of graphic design and are trained to be expert in two dimensions. Find some exhibitions feel a little flat? Maybe this is the reason.

We saw an antidote to this limitation at the LA County Museum of Art. They had invited a couple of artists to work with specialist curators in the display of major historic collections - Austrian artist Franz West for the new Pacific collection and Jorge Pardo with work from Latin America. Both had transformed their spaces into dynamic experiences that showcased the specific works and created illuminating juxtapositions. 

The Franz West plinths are extraordinary. Constructed from simply treated wood, the variations he devises in both the number and scale of supports seems to respond to each work individually and yet they add up to a harmonious spatial whole. The effect is enhanced by delicate wall treatments called Pale Mate Tea by Andreas Reiter Raabe (who has shown with the Hamish McKay Gallery). 

Artists are good at developing space that is good to show art in. Billy Apple’s rearrangement of the walls in the City Gallery for his Good as gold exhibition in 1991 was a great example and so was his input into designing Hamish McKay’s front space in Ghuznee Street. You can get a further taste of the possibilities in Francis Upritchard’s installation Save yourself at Te Papa. What might she have done if let loose on some of the permanent collection displays?

Images: Top, Jorge Pardo’s design for Latin American art: ancient to contemporary at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Bottom, Franz West and Andreas Reiter Raabe’s design for the new Pacific collection.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Space travel

As you know if you follow OTN, we are big Andy Warhol fans so imagine us driving down La Cienega and seeing a sign saying FERUS. This was the site of the original Ferus Gallery that held Andy Warhol’s first exhibition of the soup can paintings in July 1962. The top floor of the building was Artforum’s office at the time. The photograph of the building as it is today was taken from the middle of La Cienega, thanks to it being a Sunday and a truck that kindly stopped, well slowed down, so as not to kill the photographer. The big bonus was that when we got to the glass door and looked inside, there was the space virtually unchanged and empty. Half close your eyes and you could see the soup can paintings placed around the walls on their narrow wooden shelves.
Images: Top, the Ferus Gallery today. Middle, left as it was around 1965 with Ed Ruscha in the doorway from Kristine McKenna’s The Ferus Gallery. Right, a cartoon in the LA Times at the time of Warhol’s Ferus Gallery exhibition. Bottom, a shot through the door of the gallery as it is today and as it pretty much was then. (click on images to enlarge)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Art is where you find it

Beating the drum for history

How quickly history envelopes life. As part of an exhibition at the Adam Art Gallery that included bringing together Julian Dashper’s Big Bang Theory (a set of five drum kits) and Michael Parekowhai’s Ten Guitars (you work it out), Robert Leonard was brought over from Australia to give a talk on the Dashper work. The last time we had seen the full set was seven years ago in Artspace. Julian had arranged a dinner on a long trestle table for the evening and, there being a whole lot of drum kits in the room, we all had a go including Tony Green. He had been involved with Julian’s set-up of the Colin McCahons kit in the Auckland Art Gallery. At that time all the kits were different. Julian probably had to scrabble to get them all together without spending a fortune so in the warehouse-like Artspace of the time down by the waterfront, they looked like the set-up for a drum kit face-off. At the Adam the kits are pristine in shiny matching colours, red, black, red, black etc, with the effect fetishistic. Listening to Robert place the works into history with its inevitably selectivity and earnestness, it was hard to remember how much we all laughed that night.
Image: Tony Green plays for the Colin McCahons

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Whale watch

Otters and seals stand back (in so far as you can stand at all) and make way for Xiao Qiang, the painting….wait for it….whale. Xiao Qiang plies his brush at Polar Ocean World in Shandong, China and specialises in watercolours. If you just can't get enough of painting mamals you can catch this talented Beluga (white whale) at work here. Thanks P

Friday, May 07, 2010

Things past

If you were wanting one of those nifty stainless steel Koons balloon dogs that rich people own, you might be out of luck. Carlson and Co, the company that makes them, is going out of business (check out their site while you can here). Carlson was also working on Koons’ Train that was to be suspended outside Los Angeles County Museum so it sounds like bad news for that project too.

Poor prints

A couple of years ago we reported on a Gauguin reproduction we found in the Statue Bargain Barn that came from the Auckland Public Library’s loan collection. Late last week we saw a bunch of framed reproductions piled up outside a local second hand shop that were all from the National Art Gallery loan collection. This collection was started in 1936 with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. A National Art Gallery’s Annual Report of the time noted, ‘As it is quite impossible for the Gallery to acquire a collection of original old masters, it is felt that the excellent reproductions which are now obtainable will be far more valuable to students than second rate originals.' At its peak the Reproduction Loan Collection numbered around 1,400 items.

One of the repros we saw up for sale was The painter on the road to Tarascon by Vincent van Gogh rather casually titled on the back Man on the way to work. It’s rather poignant to note that this reproduction was out on loan as late as May 1975. If the borrower had held out for a couple of months, he or she could have checked out the real thing in the exhibition Van Gogh in Auckland at the Auckland City Art Gallery.

The other poignant thing about The painter on the road to Tarascon is that the original of was lost during the Second World War when allied bombing set fire to the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Magdeburg. Other copies do exist, well versions really, they were painted by Francis Bacon in 1957. In an art-in-the-movies moment, it is said that Bacon saw the film Lust for life, which was released late in 1956, and based his composition on a sequence of Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh walking along the road. Bacon went on to make a number of paintings based on the Van Gogh. One of them, painted in 1985, he sent on long-term loan to Arles for the 100th anniversary of Van Gogh’s stay this. This month, battle is being waged in the courts as the Bacon estate try to have this painting returned. You can buy a reproduction of the Lust for life poster here.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


For all of you who followed the tragic true story of Sir Keith Park’s sculpture in London, news in that it was removed from the Fourth plinth last night. We’re talking the fibreglass replica of the bronze to be; a $200,000 man-on-a-plinth investment. Sir Keith has been replaced by a ship in a bottle. History buffs can read the full OTN saga here, here and here.

Where’s Walters?

One of the interesting things about the Walters Prize is how little interest there is from the media, art or otherwise. The typical media reaction, where there was one, was to print the Auckland Art Gallery’s media release without comment. From what we can see the DomPost didn’t even bother to do that.

So does this mean that everyone is convinced that all four selected Walters Prize finalists (Dan Arps, Fiona Connor, Saskia Leek, and Alex Montieth) have made an “outstanding contribution to the visual arts over the last two years”? Did no other artists have exhibitions over the last two years that made more significant contributions? Did the public art museums with all their resources seriously fail to produce a single exhibition that included any artist who had made a more significant public contribution than the selected ones? And what the hell does an 'outstanding contribution to the visual arts' look like anyway?

The selection panel for the Walters Prize chose to make a radical shift from previous years in the kind of artist chosen for the Prize. Radical can be provocative but the selectors have offered no commentary on why they selected any of the artists, apart from some ruminations over the kind of art they make, which most of us kind of knew anyway. 

In absolute contrast the recent announcement of the Turner Prize finalists set off a flurry of analysis in the media. The selections, how they met the Prize aspirations and the trends the four new Turner finalists reinforced or undercut are all being thrashed out in passionate detail. Some commentators even disagreed with the choices made. OMG.

You can read some of the Turner response here

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Do I hear 149 million?

Picasso's 1932 painting  Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) has just set a new world record for art at auction, selling for $148 million NZ dollars at Christie's (not Sotheby’s as we posted in error a few days ago).

Branded: Dane Mitchell

The moment when artists becomes brands

Cut and run

Last week we posted about Bill Pearson’s biography and the cover commissioned for his book Coal Flat from Colin McCahon. We’ve been looking at that cover some more as it must be one of the most awkward designs ever used to market a book. Not McCahon’s fault apparently . In the Pearson biography Paul Millar relates how publisher Janet Paul changed the background cover from what we are sure was a classy McCahon pink to a rather brash ‘marketing’ red. She also changed the type from black (er, the title is COAL Flat) by dropping it out in white. McCahon was not so impressed which you can tell from his recasting of the cover when it was reprinted making it more abstract and recovering the coal black type. McCahon worked up another couple of ideas for the cover which were completely abstract. You can see them here.

But what is that ugly white mess on top of the hills on the original cover? At first we thought it was McCahon clouds which you can see in the original, but we are inclined now to reckon it is white-out paint being used to clear-cut the hills that has been accidentally printed as a solid white. You can see how it really only serves to make a clear line across the top of the hill shape, not to create any sort of recognisable cloud formation (McCahon had already supplied this with his original art work after all). When we used the long white smear to clear-cut the hills we got a much happier version with a more balanced placement of Pearson’s name. While it might not be what McCahon was hoping to see, we suspect that, apart from the black type, it’s what Paul was.
Images: Top, McCahon’s painting for the cover. Bottom left, the published cover and right the doctored version clear-cutting the mountains.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Don’t worry, be happy

As The Art Newspaper has pointed out, there is nothing like a recession to get record art prices out of an auction room. Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man I was knocked down for $NZ143.5 million in February making it the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction. The previous record of $NZ143.3 was set in 2004 by Picasso’s Boy with a pipe and it remained unbeaten throughout six years of market mania. Now the word is that the Giacometti record, set in the midst of recession, might fall tonight when another Picasso, Nude, green leaves and bust comes up at Sotheby’s tomorrow.
Image: A record holder from way back


P is for plinth

Designed to raise statues up from the common people, the plinth got a bit of a battering in the twentieth century as sculptors came down to earth. The plinth did still have a life in museums where even ground-based work is raised up to stop it being kicked or scuffed. If there is one unquestionable twentieth century museum icon, it is the white plinth topped with a Perspex box. And the rest is just puns like, “someday my plinth will come”.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Four you

If april was lost to you in the rush you may not have noticed that at otn we got a promise that the city gallery’s prospect show would be on next year, puzzled over the estimates, coined the phrase ‘zombie editions’, shed crocodile tears over te papa’s sculpture court getting the axe, upped the reward for information, scooped the media on the walters prize, blanched at scape’s new world view, asked cnz to front up, saw a kick arts movie, and looked at ian athfield’s hole

Revelations 1

We are pleased to tell you that it is now possible to see photographs and short biographies of the seven senior staff members of Creative New Zealand on the CNZ website. CNZ has told us they will cover ‘client-facing’ staff (including art form portfolio holders)’ shortly, so you can probably expect to see this even more interesting information by the end of May. Thanks CNZ

Eye pod

The Wellington region continues its quest for the biggest outdoor sculpture with Whales-on-sticks, a project coming out of the Kapiti Coast. The project is being run by Gavin Bradley, ex-Saatchi & Saatchi and the star of one of our country’s few sculpture theft events.  

Whale song – yes, the bronze-coated pod of whales will have a sound track – will be 17 metres long supported on 20 metre poles and will cost $3.5 million. Kapiti Chamber of Commerce chair Mark Ternent said local businesses have mixed views on the project but cheered up when told it wasn’t going to come out of the rates. Airport buff Sir Noel Robinson told the DomPost, “ It would be one of the great sculptures of the world”, so that’s good.

Images: Top the Kapiti Whale proposal. Bottom: other whale-on-stick projects around the world

Saturday, May 01, 2010


Art + H2O = Waterworld. You can see more here.
Thanks P