Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Art in adland: Robert Smithson

Epic Brewing might have reached in the past for Clipper Ships and the sheer cliffs of the Eiger to market their brand, but they have also picked on Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. As they say, “Spiral Jetty… with its aggressive hop profile… is our strongest Classic Series ale at 6.6% alcohol by volume.” As Robert Smithson himself remarked, “Artists are expected to fit into fraudulent categories.”

Stairway to heaven

Te Papa is working on a new exhibition called Slice of Heaven: 20th Century Aotearoa. It is expected to be open for at least 10 years and will prove a useful milestone in assessing the value Te Papa places on the visual arts. As the exhibition is about “the stories, people, and events that changed New Zealand's twentieth century and gave the century its unique flavour,” it’s reasonable to expect art to play a significant role. 

Watch out for what Te Papa selects to show the evolution of modernism in NZ, the way we turned our gaze from Europe to the United States in the 1970s and particularly the reassessment of Maori culture, Te Reo and the effect of urbanisation through contemporary Maori art at the end of the century. When it comes to our particular slice of 20th century heaven, the visual arts have made up a significant part of the pie.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fill ‘er up

“The real reason we have to look hard at the issue of storage, then, is the essential part it plays in our ability to procure new works we deeply desire for the collection. At the very least, we should have the same opportunity to make errors of judgement that our predecessors did. At best, we should be able to do much better, if only to sharpen awareness off how relatively little really does end up mattering in the end.”
Ann Tempkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in Artforum


S is for the Stendhal Syndrome

Visitors are often overcome in museums (ok not always by the exhibits), but pity poor Marie-Henri Beyle (better known as French writer Stendhal) who, when exposed to too much art, couldn’t pop into the gallery café for a quick macchiato or quietly browse in the bookshop. Instead, overwhelmed by the beauty of Venice, Stendhal was pole-axed by fainting spells and hallucinations.
“Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”
Illustration: Pippin Barr

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Basel

We were thinking about Peter Robinson

By the numbers

In the opaque world of resales, or primary sales for that matter, who knows how value is placed on this work or that. Size matters but the storms of fashion and rarity also sweep through pushing prices up and down. There is a brief glimpse of transparency in the latest Webb’s auction catalogue. An old regular is up on the block again: the 42-year-old Barry Lett Multiple Series. These silk screened prints by the name male artists of the day are all unsigned and from a seemingly endless edition so the price estimates give an interesting indication of the auction house’s ranking of the artists involved. Based on Webb’s low estimates in descending order:
  1. Colin McCahon $2,500
  2. Don Binney $2,000
  3. Ralph Hotere $2,000
  4. Gordon Walters $1,500
  5. Milan Mrkusich $1,000
  6. Pat Hanly $800
  7. Toss Woollaston $500
  8. Robert Ellis $400
  9. Michael Smither $400
  10. Ross Ritchie $300
  11. Mervyn Williams $150

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Grow up

Juvenile photograph of a David Hockney painting (detail) in a Danish public museum.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Style section

Artist Jenny Holtzer has created a design for a pair of Keds sneakers. The Holtzer text on the shoes reads Protect Me From What I Want from her Survival series. Holtzer’s first choice was The Future Is Stupid but Keds and The Whitney, who are also involved, thought ‘not so much’. The black-and-white Protect Me high-tops will sell for $75 and low-tops for $70. From 8 July you can get them from Bloomingdale’s.

Food for thought

Part of the intrigue of competitions like the Walters Prize is trying to guess the preferences and likely leanings of the selector. This year’s judge is Vicente Todolí, the recently resigned Director of Tate Modern. 

Todoli hit the headlines when he invited chef Ferran Adria from El Bulli to participate in Documenta 12 in 2007. He also co-edited a book on the famous food guy Food for thought: thought for food with artist Richard Hamilton.

Here are some of the artists he has focused on as a curator over the years.

John Baldessari
James Rosenquist
Richard Tuttle
Tony Cragg
Juan Muñoz
Julião Sarmento
Pedro Cabrita Reis
James Lee Byars
Franz West
Gary Hill
Hamish Fulton
Lothar Baumgarten
Roni Horn
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Richard Hamilton/Dieter Roth
Francis Bacon
Sigmar Polke
Robert Frank

Roughly speaking, that’s:
17 men
2 women
6 Americans
4 British
10 Europeans
1 video artist
3 photographers
10 sculptors
4 painters.

Now, go figure.

Image: Vicente Todolí (left) with chef Ferran Adria

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Edith Shane 1919-2010

Shane was the nurse in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous 1945 kiss photograph V–J day in Times Square. You can see a great collection of lookalikes here on buzzfeed.

Into the void

A number of exhibitions by Colin McCahon have been organised by public museums outside New Zealand and yet, as good as he is, McCahon has never made it into the global art story. Part of the reason is the lack of works for sale to these kinds of institutions. 

For McCahon to become part of the Big Story there had to have been significant works available so that a few key international museums could step up as investors and advocates. As it happens, during the 1980s and 1990s when there was serious interest in McCahon, such works were no longer available. Even the Stedelijk in Amsterdam which initiated the last big survey show has only one McCahon in its collection, and that only through the generosity of Jenny Gibbs. There are no works by McCahon in MoMA or the Tate. 

We were reminded of this by the catalogue for an exhibition from a few years back called 100 artists see God. (Co-curator Meg Cranston showed at Artspace in 2007). If McCahon had been better represented overseas there is no way you could have a show like that without him included. But as it is, he wasn’t.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Before... art, there was the art of the maggot.

Doctoral student Rebecca O’Flaherty, with mucho time on her hands, encourages maggots to paint. And yes she is completing her studies at the University of California.
Image: Maggot artist does Pollock

Other OTN fly posts:
The original painting fly story
Too many flies

Boogie down

Art in the movies is one thing, movies about art another. Boogie Woogie is a satire on the UK YBA world and is full of in-jokes, sly references and broad, almost slapstick acting i.e. terrible but, selfless as always, the critical team at OTN sat through the whole thing on your behalf.

The director (Duncan Ward) claims that his film is not based on anyone in particular, something that is belied by the evil dealer wearing Jay Jopling’s (the owner/founder of London’s White Cube, the command centre of the YBA movement) signature black-rimmed glasses. Damien Hirst is credited as “Art Curator” (a first?) and has certainly packed the movie with convincing versions of high-priced art. John Curran is there, so too the Chapman brothers, Tracey Emmin, Gary Hume, Gavin Turk, Michael Landy (a full-size flower stall in the Collector’s hallway) and, of course, Hirst himself. Hirst is a friend of Boogie Woogie’s author and scriptwriter Danny Moynihan (they once shared an apartment and studio and Hirst designed the book cover for Boogie Woogie the novel). Moynihan, who used to be an art dealer is, in turn, a friend of Jay Jopling and also of Larry Gagosian who co-opted curator Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, the wife of Boogie Woogie’s director, to help him establish his London gallery. Small world, or should that be club? 

For all the foregrounding of British art the movie’s title refers to a Mondrian painting (permission was given by the Trust to create a Mondrian for the movie subject to it being destroyed at the end of the shoot) that is subjected to market shenanigans and destroyed for its trouble. In addition a Brancusi-like object is lugged around the Collector’s hallway and a replica of Jake and Dinos’s Fuckface given its head. In fact most of the art is treated with remarkable casualness (maybe because they’re replicas or have been created for the movie by DH) with not a white glove in sight.

Funniest line in the movie goes to the final credits: “Any similarity to the name, character or history of any actual person, living or dead or to any actual event, firms, institutions or other entities, is entirely coincidental and unintentional.”

So that's Boogie Woogie – high on art spotting, low on everything else.

Images: Left to right, top to bottom. “Jay” and the Collectors study a Hirst spin painting, the “Mondrian”, gloves off with the Chapman Brothers, “Think the Brancusi will look better over here with the Warhol?” a tasteless Hirst work made for the movie and the Hirst credit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In Basel

Thinking about Julian Dashper

Copy cat walk

A reader sent us this image of a Te Papa poster featuring their Matariki Festival commenting that if it wasn’t a Lisa Reihana image (and as far as we can tell it isn’t) she should at least get some sort of payment. Don’t think that’s going to happen but, hold the bus, maybe Te Papa could get royalties from the producers of the latest Sex and the City 2 poster which obviously is a copy of Te Papa’s effort. Then they could pass the cash on down to Lisa. Perfect.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two up

One of the good things about the way art is priced is that big paintings (although strangely enough not very big paintings) cost more than small paintings. This means you can often get important and beautiful small works for less than the cost of a large average work by the same artist. One artist who totally understood this dynamic was Andy Warhol. To double the prices of his paintings he often included a second blank or monochrome canvas as part of the deal. Double the size, double the profit. We saw a great example of these kind of paintings in Basel: a classic disaster painting cunningly doubled up with a black side-kick.
Image: Andy Warhol’s Black and white disaster #4 [5 deaths 17 times in black and white] 1963, collection Kunst Museum Basel

Going to the chapel

Vals is not the sort of place you drop in on for a quick morning tea. For a start it is about half-way between Zurich and Milan and then there is the long winding road that takes you high up into the Swiss Alps. But Vals is also the village where Swiss architect Peter Zumthor built one of his greatest works, a thermal spa. This extraordinary complex is well documented online (you can see it along with the Zumthor designed hotel rooms here). About an hour away from Vals and up another winding alpine road is Zumthor’s Kapelle Sogn Benedetg in Sumvitg. If we had wondered why it was that Zumthor designed a small chapel deep in the middle of the Alps, it was made clear on that drive. This is a region remarkably rich in churches and chapels, some majestic, some modest and some only big enough for a small band of worshippers. Walking up the uneven path to Zumthor’s chapel the building looked for all the world as though it were covered with glossy brown feathers. The feathers turned out to be small wooden shingles more like the roughly dressed flax used in Maori pake (rain cape). Given the way both chapels and cloaks protect and decorate the connection felt apt. As with every Zumthor building we have seen, Kapelle Sogn Benedetg is a perfect combination of a memorable location with arresting materials and fearless metaphor. In this early building Zumthor made direct reference to local rock formations and Alpine spectacle as well as the distinctive wooden and stone farm architecture of the region. Zumthor won architecture’s top award The Pritzker Architecture Prize last year for his work to date. We’d have given it to him for Kapelle Sogn Benedetg alone.

Images: Top, the chapel and wall shingles. Bottom exterior and interior of chapel. You can see a YouTube walk through here

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bigger ears

Day 2 at the Basel Art Fair

“So I took them upstairs and sold it to them there. It was soooo much easier.”

Dealer: “Jenny is drawing at the moment.”
Collector: “Oh… that’s a shame.”

“You don’t understand the pressure I’m under. Your work is a B-. This is definitely a B+”

Dealer 1: “That’s interesting.”
Dealer 2: “Very interesting.”
Dealer 1: “Interesting enough?”
Dealer 2: “No.”

“I’m kicking myself for selling the Warhol too soon.”

Dealer: “I’m afraid they have all been sold.”
Collector: “All of them?”
Dealer: “All of them.”
Collector: (pause) “What about that one?”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Musical chairs

When the music stops, Charlotte Huddleston is going to be director at St Paul’s, Heather Galbraith will be senior curator of art at Te Papa, Sarah Hopkinson will start her own gallery in Auckland and Andrew Thompson will leave the White Cube in London for Sydney


Sometimes, you feel like giving up on curators. It’s not always because the curatorial ideas are bad (often they’re not) and it’s not that the art is always bad (it often isn’t), it’s just that a lot of art doesn’t happily play second fiddle to someone else’s big idea. So when curators amplify an artist’s ideas rather than editing them into their own orchestration, you can get a miracle like the installation of Felix Gonzalez-Torres works at the Fondation Beyeler. 

Curator Elena Filipovic had been given free reign to present Gonzalez-Torres works among the famous masterpieces of the collection. Letting Gonzalez-Torres’s work lead the way, Filipovic never misses a beat creating a vivid set of confluences, conversations and interruptions, each more pleasurable and engaging than the one before. A chain of light bulbs spilling in front of a bossy white Basquiat, a stack of red posters on the floor charming the pants off a severe Mondrian and a gold curtain dividing a gallery full of Bacons and Giacomettis. 

It was breath-taking. Half-way through the exhibition run artist/ curator Carol Bove (bringing in artists as curators? Now there’s a good idea) will undo the show and reinstall it in the same spaces. 

Curation? Bring it on.

Image: Mondrian and Gonzalez-Torres

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Spitting in the eyes of a blind man

Objects become powerful and evocative when they change the way you see and think about them afterwards. Coming out of the Gabriel Orozco exhibition at the Kunst Museum Basel you could tell your mind and eyes had been given a tune-up. An orange tree that we had passed on the way in suddenly presented a perfect Orozco moment. A small marvel. Thanks O.

The loneliness of a long-distance gallery director

Remember back in the day when New Zealanders rushed to the Basel Art Fair like lemmings to a cliff? The Trip of a Lifetime crowd, how they loved Basel. ‘We need to be here’ they clamoured to CNZ. ‘We absolutely agree,’ CNZ chorused back. The harmony was, well, unusual is as good a word as any. 

Now skip forward three years and try to get funding for an international art fair. You’re lucky to get $7500 here and $7500 there, bit of a change from the $90,000 they put up for Art Basel last time. There’s more support at CNZ for the Melbourne (is it still happening?) Art Fair adding up to what is not exactly the most dynamic overseas strategy. This year at Basel there is barely a government paid New Zealander to be seen. 

This is all very unfortunate because Sriwhana Spong’s installation at the Basel Art Fair’s Statements exhibition is outstanding and attracting a great deal of attention. The problem is, from CNZ’s point of view, it might as well be the sound of a plinth falling in a forest. If CNZ really believes in the power of international connections (and they said they did, didn’t they?) one or two of them really need to get over to see what’s going on. Would some of us then call them out as junket travellers? Possibly, but they need to do it anyway.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Big ears

At Art Basel...

Astonished collector: “This price. Are you serious?”
Dealer: “As a clam.”

“…and the question I ask is, ‘Why this skull? Why that skull?’ ”

Visitor: “But I just want to take a photo of the label, not the art. Art is not the same thing.”
Guard: “No photos.”

“But we don’t have the sort of money you need to buy that sort of art.”
“What sort of money do you need?”

“If I buy the video do I get to have the projector as well?”
“You can have the screen and chairs if you want to pay for them.”

Collector on phone (screaming) “But does it say Monet on the back?”

Spot on

Posting about Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgallerie building, we forgot to mention that the Rudolf Stingel carpet that covered the entire upper floor of the building was in fact a photograph. A photograph printed on carpet not paper, but a photograph nonetheless. Stingel photographed an old Indian Agra rug he owned, had it enlarged and then printed in black and white on carpet. Is this the largest photograph in the world? It is certainly one of the more provocative given the horrible conditions in which hand-knotted carpets are produced. 

Downstairs Stingel continued his investigation into the nature of photography with some black and white paintings of landscapes based on black and white photographs. Anyone who knows a photographer will also know of that tedious process called spotting. (Peter Peryer has talked about the problem on his blog in reference to the print Headless Chicken, I wish that I had made more, but at the time I was put off by the amount of 'spotting' that each print needed. Spotting involves poring over the print for hours with a fine paint brush and a bottle of ink touching up imperfections, or spots.")

In the images Stingel uses for his paintings, the blemishes that would usually be painstakingly removed from a photograph with various shades of white, grey and black spotting paint are painstakingly reproduced with shades of white, grey and black oil paint. Even a fingerprint of the photographer (artist Ernst Kirchner) which he left on the negative is diligently reproduced in the painting. To reproduce some of these images on OTN as photographs felt perverse, but we went ahead and did it anyway.

Images: Top, an Agra rug reproduced photographically on carpet. Middle, blemishes from the original photographs used as source material reproduced on Stingel’s paintings (details). Bottom, installation of two Stingel paintings including Kirchner’s fingerprint at the rear.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Simon Denny features in an exhibition catalogue at the Malmo Konsthall's book store in Sweden, Frances Upritchard’s book on display in a Berlin magazine shop and Michael Stevenson’s work to be included in the upcoming Berlin Biennale.
Images: Left Upritchard, right, Denny

The history museum

The Neues Museum wasn’t open the last time we were in Berlin and hadn’t been open (except in the bombed-out sense) since World War II. The shell of the building – the museum was built in the mid-1880s – largely remained open to the elements until 1986 when some reconstruction work was undertaken. 

In 1997 an international competition was held to rebuild the museum and the job went to British David Chipperfield Architects teamed with conservation expert Julian Harrap. The resulting building opened last year is a spectacular interweaving of references between the old building and its reconstruction and ideas about what museums are about. Examining the rich textures of the exhibition halls you can see pock-marked scars of shrapnel and shell hits, traces of old educational murals and layers of shifting architectural styles and intentions. It is as much a meditation on the dramatic history of this museum as it is a meticulously considered design for the safe keeping and display of its collections. 

It is rare thing for museum architecture to be so spectacular and for that spectacle to enhance the collections it serves rather than diminish them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Empty is the new full

No matter how great the work on display, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin is one of those places you can’t help but want to experience empty. Designed by Mies van der Rohe it is a modernist classic. 

Sometimes museums do give us the opportunity to seem them empty when they are brand-new and yet to install their first exhibitions. The Neues Museum here in Berlin did it giving performers Sasha Waltz & Guests the opportunity to work in this astonishing new building. One of New Zealand’s great cultural exports, dancer Lisa Densem, was part of the company and you can see her performing and get a taste of the work here. In another Berlin/NZ connection the Jewish Museum was also a major public sensation as an empty piece of architect Daniel Libeskind sculpture before NZer and ex Te Papa stylist Ken Gorbey helped turn it into the curatorial muddle it is today. 

Thanks to artist Rudolf Stingel’s installation at the Neue Nationalgalerie we found ourselves (as near as damn it) alone in an empty van der Rohe masterpiece. The only additions Stingel had made to the space were a large chandelier and a huge carpet that covered the entire floor area. Even thought they were intended to give a twist to the tail of the building’s famous modernity, in the end they only helped reassert architecture’s power in one of its purest forms.

On the table and over the net

Did we mention that this is our 2000th post? is.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Inside the outsider out

In the nineteenth episode of the tenth season of The Simpsons, Homer tries to assemble a barbeque. The dreadful result is spotted by an art gallery director and Homer is famous for 15 minutes as an outsider artist. See Homer create his masterwork. Another time-wasting-art-is-so-easy-a-child-could-do-it video for your Saturday entertainment.

Friday, June 11, 2010

In Berlin

Thinking of Ricky Swallow

All the work that’s fit to print

A visit to Walther Koenig Books near Museum Island is a humbling experience. Here the artists of the world are caught between the covers of thousands upon thousands of volumes. One large cabinet in this huge store contains nothing but catalogues raisonnés, those invaluable listings of detail and photographs that describe works so that they can be accurately identified. When you consider the three volume, complete catalogue of the works of someone like the Swiss artist Roman Signer, you do wonder why major New Zealand great artists continue to go unrecorded in this meticulous way.

Three years ago we posted on the pathetic effort the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust has made to record the works of Colin McCahon. The database remains virtually unchanged since the day it was put up; same errors, same badly-cropped photographs and still includes its famous promise, "A Selection of essays on Colin McCahon's life and work is currently in development and will be available soon". 

When it comes to doing the Trust business well, the McCahon people could well take a look at the Len Lye version. The Len Lye Foundation has been tireless in its support and research into the sculptor’s life and work. Who can be surprised that interest in McCahon is waning (the last touring exhibition of McCahon was two years ago and the survey show six years before that) at the very time that Len Lye is increasingly being seen as an important modernist figure?

Images: Top, one half of one of the five large rooms that comprise Walther Koenig’s bookshop in Berlin. Bottom, sample of catalogues raisonné available at Koenig’s.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Berlin

Thinking about Peter Madden

The half-dozen laws of animal art

A number of readers have submitted ‘the largest horse painting in the world’ to us as an example of animal art. We have also heard from the horse’s mentor New Zealand painter Billy Wilson. If you go to the TradeMe page that started this whole thing off you will see someone who we assume is Billy riding the big-picture horse.

 The time has obviously come to jot down the basic rules on what constitutes animal art for publication on OTN
  1. Sock puppets cannot be animal artists or, in the case of elephants, part of an animal artist. Animal artists cannot be stuffed or mechanical.
  2. Animal artists cannot be ridden or physically controlled by a human being. The result of riding an inked-up horse over a canvas is about as animal art as a bicycle tire print. The same goes for something like a couple of guys holding up a seal with paint on its nose and using it like a pencil.
  3. Human beings holding up canvases for animal artists to work on is marginal and if the canvas is moved by the human it is not animal art it is human assisted animal art, a category we try not to cover.
  4. Human beings wearing animal costumes, no matter how convincing, are not animal artists.
  5. The jury is still out on zoo animals as artists.
  6. Children, no matter how talented, are not animal artists while ironically, flies are.
Image: The horse Gypsy Rose’s not animal art

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Heavy metal

Further to our post on Richard Serra’s Triphammer, not every museum struggles to show his sculpture. The balanced super-heavy slabs of steel that comprise his work Corner prop are exhibited free of barriers at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, with only a small label warning visitors to “Bitte abstand halten” (Please keep distance).

Coining it

Today Australia’s resale law for art comes into effect. From now on all art sales over $1,000 will have to return 5 percent to the artist or the artist’s estate. As you can imagine, most of the Australian art dealers (like New Zealand’s when a similar scheme was promoted) have decided this will probably mean the end of the world, profitability and careers. New Zealand’s National Government has dumped the idea of a royalty scheme so our art market will probably survive annihilation and our artists will be saved the humiliation of becoming fat and rich.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Winging it

Over on stimulusresponse our favourite comic artist wonders if art's for the birds

Making a mark

British artist Mark Wallinger’s current exhibition brought to mind not just one but two New Zealand artists. It was Wallinger who made the memorable Threshold to the kingdom– a dreamy slowmo single camera view of people emerging from the customs hall at an airport to be greeted by friends and family – and he is also big-horse-guy as regular OTN readers will recall.

In his exhibition at Carlier Gebauer in Berlin, Wallinger organised an array of 100 distinctive chairs and tied them to a single vanishing point with strings attached to their backs. It brought to mind the contentious chaos/order/chaos of the et al./Sean Curham collaboration one-to-many and many-to-one in Auckland. Wallinger’s chairs could not be moved around and he exerted further control by labeling each chair with his name, again in distinct contrast to the struggle over the right words on the chair backs in Auckland. The title of the Wallinger work also declared his authority: According to Mark.

In another Wallinger work, Word, the artist filled a wall with text from The Oxford book of English verse 1250-1918 with all the punctuation and line breaks removed. No prizes for guessing what that reminded us of.
Image: Mark Wallinger's According to Mark (details)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Der mensch

Images of the four works by women among the 244 works currently on display at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. Clockwise from top left. Carolee Schneeman’s Up and to including her 1973-76, Lee Bontecou’s Untitled 1960, Eva Hesse’s Untitled 1969 and Zarina Bhimji’s Waiting 2007.


The bees sneeze and wheeze
Gathering pollen
From the trees

The ants hurried pants
Gathering in everything
They wants

But the flies, quelle surprise,
When Damien comes
They dies

Trad. (adapted)
Image: Damien Hirst’s Let’s eat outdoors today 1990-91 on show at the Haunch of Venison in Berlin

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Image nation

It's Saturday and time for art from Stupid Town.  This week it's Van Gogh with polo shirts. That's right, polo shirts.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Art is where you find it

Godfather paintings for above the couch in a Copenhagen furniture shop

Assistant art

Something you don’t see so much of in New Zealand but is very present here in Europe is Assistant Art. This is the art that is too time consuming or, in most of the cases we have seen, too repetitive for a single artist to contemplate or, let's face it, bother with. 

So when Damien Hirst had the idea for fly encrusted paintings, the discussion probably went something like:

Damien: Well, fuck it Charlie, I want to have the flies at least an inch thick on this mother.

Studio Manager: We’re talking thousands of flies D, maybe even hundreds of thousands. They’ll have to be bred like and … embalmed even.

Damien: Just do it Charlie, get the assistants out into the killing fields, and give them glue and stuff to stick them down.

Studio Manager: (muttering to himself - D has long gone) Ok, that’s like 300,000 flies at about 10 seconds a fly to catch and kill, 20 seconds to prepare and say 30 seconds to glue to the work, right that’s 50,000 hours at 40 hours a week. (Calls the Deputy Studio Manager). That you, Jason? Yeah, like I need 125 assistants full time for a week. What? Oh, killing flies and stuff like that.

And that (maybe) is how we got to see Damien Hirst’s Untitled black monochrome.
Image: Untitled black monochrome (detail)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

In Berlin

Thinking about Simon Denny's Side shot skinny.

Hang ‘em high

When he was working in public art museums, Starkwhite director John McCormack was a champion of the “open hang”. The idea is to give public access to as much of the permanent collection as possible by hanging large numbers of work at the same time. Here’s the concept with knobs on at the National Gallery of Denmark.
COMMENT: I think you do John a disservice. He never hung art like that. It's so not him. And it's not what the 'open hang' was, anyway. Open Hang (no one ever got the idea) was about treating what had been the permanent-collection spaces at the DPAG as room-modules that could be changed individually and at different speeds, which meant no restrictive overarching thematic or chronology. Some modules were collection- based, some had loans; some were one artist, some group; some media based, some thematic; some were artists' projects. It was about creating some space for curatorial play. Open meant 'curatorially open', not visible storage. A better point of comparison for your Denmark example would be Auckland Art Gallery's 1982 Artichoke exhibition, where they hung work salon-style floor to ceiling because they had to clear out the storerooms. Ever popular those shows, unmediated as they are by nasty curators. Robert Leonard

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010

"I have been to Hell and back and let me tell you it was wonderful." 
Louise Bourgeois 
Image: Brassai's photograph of Louise Bourgeois at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumiére, in Paris, 1937. Louise Bourgeois Archive

What’s in that crate?

This time we have resorted to our regular mystery crate theme as a thin excuse to tell you about an exhibition. At the Moderna Museet in Malmo in Sweden, we saw a smart idea for an exhibition of art; an exhibition with no original art in it at all. 

The crates (which for some unarticulated curatorial reason were stacked in the middle of the gallery) had been used to transport the exhibition Diane Arbus: a printed retrospective, 1960-1971 from museum to museum. The exhibition displayed her work as it had been reproduced in magazines, newspapers and other printed forms. The effect was compelling with its combination of functional journalism and Arbus’s own relentless gaze. Often surrounded or underlined by text (sometimes written by Arbus) many of the images gained even more authority through these direct narrative connections. 

This is an exhibition format made in heaven for photographers like Ans Westra, Marti Friedlander and Peter Black. It also nailed the anachronism of the ‘is photography art?’ conversation that still has some play in New Zealand even today. Everyone can relax, the votes have been counted: photography is art when it’s art, in the same way that drawing, painting and carving aren’t art when they're not.
Images: Crates and reproduced work of Diane Arbus

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Martin Creed, Work No. 610 meets Denmark’s Ekspres Bank


R is for Review

They say those who can do and those who can’t teach but in fact they probably review the work of those who can. Peter McLeavey once said that it didn’t matter what anyone said about art as long as they spelt the artist’s name correctly and it is true that a good review can put a few more bums through the door. Most artists claim to not read the reviews and if they do are unaffected by them, but it is probably in the same way that everyone else says they don’t watch reality television. The trick is to remember that even when the reviewer who’s opinion is worth less than an ant at a picnic gives a good review, it is the same ant talking. But even when the review is good, as Dustin Hoffman once said, “it’s just a stay of execution.”