Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Art at work

The ugliest public sculpture in Sydney helps out.

By the numbers: international edition

1    the number of private indoor swimming pools in New York apartments

1    the number of indoor swimming pools Larry Gagosian has in his New York apartment

3.8    the number of dollars in millions paid annually to the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York

7     the number of the 43 security cameras operational in a Cairo museum when a Van Gogh painting valued at $NZ78 million was stolen

11    the number in millions of dollars that Eli Broad will pay for a 99 year lease on the land for his private art museum opposite MOCA in downtown Los Angeles. (He’s also coughing up $284 mill for an endowment and $142 mill to build.)

32.5    the value in millions of dollars that the Phoenix insurance company put on its art collection 

17     the value in millions of dollars that the auction house Sotheby’s put on the Phoenix insurance company’s art collection

310,398     the cost in dollars paid per dollar bill for Andy Warhol’s 1962 painting 200 one dollar bills

Monday, August 30, 2010

Old timer

This note on the wall in Australian artist Brett Whiteley's studio reminded us that artists are working stiffs just like the rest of us.

Go away

Rejected from the Wallace Art Awards? Don't fret, if you still want to get airtime for that china deer nesting in the lime green tree, help is at hand. Ilam honours student Matt Akehurst has set up The Rejected Art Award, a web site that welcomes rejected art from all corners of the we-have-standards world. Some of the entries are tough to argue for but, given the nature of some of the awards themselves, there are a few what-the-hell’s-your-problem rejections. And a special mention for Toby who sends his rejection letter back for comment as a subsidiary artwork, only to be rejected again. 

If you’ve got a taste for it, here are a few of the awards you too can get rejected from: the Toowoomba Biennial Emerging Artists Award, the East International in Norfolk, Anthony Harper Awards at COCA Gallery, The Henkel Prize for Art in the MUMOK Museum in Vienna, Smales Farm Station Artwork Competition and, unfairly, the Artists Wanted Competition in the US. Good luck.

Image: Claire Balfour’s Family ties lashed by the Mapping Me book competition held in Scotland.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hollow victory

As our team of OTN operatives scour the internet for incisive commentary informed by robust theory, they occasionally are snared by the commercial web of TradeMe. This McCahon copycat is for sale. Dare you to buy it. (Closes: Tue 31 Aug, 6:31 pm) Thanks P.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Data show

Long-time readers of OTN will know that we have been crusading for nearly three years to get the McCahon database corrected and upgraded. Poking around the Te Papa press release site we found to our astonishment that the job is now done. Why they didn’t let us - and via us the 1,005 of you currently reading OTN - know is anybody's guess. Anyway, credit where credit is due: the new site is a huge advance on the original. Easy to search, all the errors we pointed out have been fixed and the details from the catalogue written and organised by Dutch art historian Marja Bloem and Australian art dealer Martin Browne have been added. The biography, chronology and exhibition lists from the Browne Bloem publication are also included. One other change we noticed is there is no longer any Te Papa branding on the site and the McCahon Trust appears to have taken over future additions. You can access the revamped McCahon database here.


Back in the days before the art market boomed, when art-interested people talked about korus they probably meant paintings by Gordon Walters; nowadays it’s just as likely to be Air New Zealand’s VIP lounge the Koru Club. Air New Zealand and its Koru Club have always had an uneasy relationship with art, particularly contemporary art, as we have mentioned here, here and here. In the current iteration art has all but gone in the New Zealand lounges although works by Albrecht, Parekowhai, Hammond and others still linger on in the international ones. 

This history came to mind when the latest Koru Club magazine paid a tribute (of sorts) to Gordon Walters' koru by using one of his paintings on the back cover of its Winter/Spring 2010 issue. Apart from giving eye-stopping drama, the painting also served as an illustration for a short article by Webb’s Neil Campbell on investing in art and the stability of the art auction market. Campbell estimates the size of the art market in 2009 as $14.5 million and concludes "the demand for quality art investment opportunities has surged against the tide of economic uncertainty". But then he would, wouldn't he.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


With new legislation on the books to tether back drinking in NZ how about this piece of serious spending to stock up a studio? The American abstract artist Franz Kline goes shopping in 1960 and puts $NZ390 over the counter, a sum that would be worth around $2800 today. The order includes Cutty Sark at around $50 a bottle and as you can see Kline stumped up for half a dozen.
The original documentation is held in the Smithsonian Museum

Mad if you don’t

Watching Scottish actor Tony Curran play Vincent van Gogh in Richard Curtis’s episode of Dr Who sent us on a hunt for other virtual Vinnies on screen. We’ve already featured one of the most famous, Kirk Douglas who played Van Gogh to Anthony Quinn’s Paul Gauguin. Now for seven others who donned the ginger beard and gazed into the sun.
From top to bottom, left to right:
Kirk Douglas in Lust For Life (1956)
Tim Roth in Vincent & Theo (1990)
Martin Scorsese in Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990)
Jacques Dutronc in Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh (1991)
Alexander Barnett in The Eyes of Van Gogh (2005)
Andy Serkis in Simon Schama’s Power of Art TV series (2006)
Arthur McKay in Vincent van Gogh (2008)
Tony Curran in Dr Who: Vincent and the Doctor (2010)

For an OTN summary of artist movies go here

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That was then

"Whether this exhibition achieves its purpose or not, it will give considerable evidence of the vitality of contemporary painting in the Pacific."
Peter Tomory introducing the eighty paintings in the exhibition Paintings from the Pacific in 1961

"roundabout, an exhibition of epic proportions featuring over a hundred works by artists from around the world, including work from India, China, South Korea, Thailand, Bhutan, Australia, Tibet and Japan."
City Gallery describing an upcoming exhibition

Handy Warhol

While we were in Sydney we were shown through the art collection of a central city law firm. It was an eclectic mix but when we made it to the boardroom we found a suite of Andy Warhol silkscreen paintings. Well kind of. As we got a closer to Marilyn, Mao and Grace Jones we could see that the portraits were actually paintings made to ‘look like’ silk-screened works. Hang about. Warhol spent a lot of time trying to make his silk screen works look like they were not paintings and certainly not made by hand. He once famously said, “The things I want to show are mechanical. Machines have less problems. I'd like to be a machine, wouldn't you?” Not if you’re a Chinese copy painter by the look of it. Art in a world of painting mechanical reproduction. Enough to makes your head spin.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bite me

If you’re up for the art food combo you should slide over to Feasting on Art the land of Warhol Tomato Soup Cake, Claes Oldenburg – Wood-Fired Pizza and Cup cakes ala Damien. The site is run by art business foodie Megan Fizell.
Image: Tomato soup cake


W is for watercolour

John Singer Sargent remarked that painting in watercolour was ‘making the best of an emergency.’ That probably rings true for anyone who has given it a go. Being able to knock up a good watercolour was once an essential skill for any educated traveler but, like portrait painting, it was elbowed out of the image bank by photography. Still, as they say, even paisley ties will come back one day and watercolours seem to be having quite a resurgence after long years in the shadows. Any quick tour of dealer galleries will turn up at least one exhibition of impressionistic works on paper created with pigment and wash. As David Hockney once mysteriously said, “Watercolours are wet colours in water.” Er…right.
Illustration: Pippin Barr

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spam: musical chairs division

Anyone who listens to art music will have heard it stop a few times this year as some key artists change dealers. Here’s a few for the record: Jim Speers to Starkwhite, Shane Cotton to Anna Schwartz in Melbourne and Sydney and Michael Lett in Auckland, Fiona Connor, Kate Newby, Daniel Malone and some others to Hopkinson Cundy soon to open in Auckland and Stephen Bambury to Two Rooms. And as an OTN reader has reminded us et al. from Starkwhite to Michael Lett.

Table manners

Stepping into a museum with a camera is always a what’s- it-going-to-be-this-time experience. In the US and Europe most, well almost all, art institutions allow photography without flash in everything but the temporary exhibitions where works are on loan. But you really never know what the rules will be until you get in there. At the Art Gallery of New South Wales we came across another variant, do not photograph the Aboriginal funeral posts (all the other works in the Gallery were ok to snap). This seemed fair enough given their function and significance, but then we saw how the Gallery treated them. It had carelessly arranged a conference luncheon right in front of them and left the tables and barriers sitting there so to even look at these objects (whose importance was highlighted by inclusion in the Gallery collection audio guide) you had to push your way through the clutter. And that’ forgetting the whatever-attitude of visitors feeding their faces directly alongside them.
Image: Tuck-in-time at the AGNSW, The images of Tutini (Pukumani Grave Posts) by Pedro Wonaemirri have been blanked out.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


There are a number of sites where you can make your own Picassos and Pollocks, but this one lets you see the man in action, or rather a strange version who looks like a male nurse in a correctional facility. Odder, from an art point of view, ‘Jackson’ has his ‘canvas’ attached to the wall. Anyone who has seen a picture of Jackson Pollock in action knows he painted on the floor letting the swing of his body help control the flight of the paint. If you can tear yourself away from making mini-masterpieces, you can see the real Jackson Pollock in action here
Images: Top, DIY. Bottom, the real thing. Thanks David.

Friday, August 20, 2010


An Andy Warhol lookalike? No, more ‘looks-like-art’. Setting up for a function in a gallery at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The village people

There’s a knock-out Philip Guston in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a Gerhard Richter that does everything you could ask of it albeit with stolid charm, a textbook Francis Bacon to remind Aussies of their uneasy relationship with the country that forcibly exported them, and a muscular Picasso that has long overcome the derision meted out in the days before his late work was given the respect it deserved. The galleries themselves might be a trifle shabby, but if you focus on the work there are some great moments to be had reinforcing Australia’s position as a grown-up participant in world art. In this respect it is like the good twin of its provincial cousin in Wellington. As we noted a couple of years ago, Te Papa has all but abandoned collecting International art unless it has a certificated connection to the home shores and its short history. 

And so we have no ongoing record of shifts in art as they have swept across the Atlantic, blossomed in New York and burst their banks in Asia. No Ed Ruscha, no Louise Bourgeois, no Andy Warhol, no Donald Judd, no Carl Andre for us, we get a portrait of a half-naked Polynesian for no other reason than she happened to get locked up in a cabin on one of Cook’s ships for a couple of weeks. After this foray Te Papa can forget the “we-can’t-afford-international-art-at-these high-prices” lament that is trotted out whenever the subject comes up. The Auckland Art Gallery on one end of the scale and the Govett-Brewster at the other have both managed to gather some significant international works from over the last 15 or so years. Not a lot, but they’re in the game. Perhaps the new director of Te Papa – who has lived in the rest of the world – will have some idea of its importance to us and re-engage with it. 
Images: One of the grown up galleries of the AGNSW

Thursday, August 19, 2010


You want lookalikes? Well hop over to the smallworlds forum where they spend a lot of time creating their own versions of great art in a small worlds art forgery competition. Some of it surprisingly touching.

advice to artists

Remember that signed and dated drawing you did the other day and then, damn it, someone showed up with the same great idea dated a couple of days earlier? Relax. That need not ever happen again. Next time you’ll simply reach for your Sharpie Liquid Pencil. The SLP allows you to draw and withdraw. Anything the Sharpie puts to paper has a rub-out grace period of three days. After that the ink is permanent. You can get one here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Style section

Handy Te Papa-like thumbprint sculptures. You can stock up or purchase your thumbprint needs here.

Monkey say, monkey do

OTN’s push for better art bookshops in Wellington and in particular at the City Art Gallery might be making headway. Late last week a survey from the City Gallery asks participants to speak up on the type of shop they'd like to see. Ok it’s only a surveymonkey questionnaire but even a monkey can be revealing about what's up for consideration. As you will see, if you give it a go, the survey questions look like a check-up on how we would feel about another general posters-t-shirts-notebooks-jewellery-clothing-umbrella and craft kits affair peppered with art books, catalogues and quality prints. Perhaps the City Gallery (and the Auckland Art Gallery who may also be headed in this direction) would be better off talking to the folk out at the Dowse in Lower Hutt who tried and died with this formula. The effort to please everyone most often pleases no one.

At the time of this posting you can respond to the City Gallery's surveymonkey here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Top, Shane Cotton Broken water, bottom Bill Culbert Off White
In so far as we can thank you, thanks B

Hands on education

If only architects spent more time in art museums and paid more attention to art they could save themselves a lot of trouble. Take the current trials of the Christchurch shop Warren and Mahoney. The news in the Dominion Post this weekend that people are leaving handprints on the copper feature wall in the new Supreme Court in Wellington won’t come as a big surprise to anyone who passed by the old copper-sheathed entrance to the City Gallery. Nor would it come as a surprise to Henry Moore aficionado Billy Apple or to anyone else who works in bronze (commercial bronze in 90% copper with tin added) or copper, or anyone who steals bronze art works for that matter.

Monday, August 16, 2010


You’ve been collecting contemporary art for a long time now. Your friends are always impressed and the local museum has borrowed a few things now and then for exhibitions. One of your paintings was reproduced in a magazine and the art dealers are always pleased to see you come through the door. Then, thieves break into your house one night and strip all the paintings out of their frames and scoot with them. Things couldn’t be worse. You reckon? The next day in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Veteran art dealer Denis Savill said he did not believe the burglars went to the home just to steal the paintings, as they were "minor works by the artists". "It's not a serious collection by eastern suburbs' standards."

Crowded house

When was the last time an art exhibition opening attracted a crowd of protesters? Until last Saturday not recently, that’s for sure. The last time we recall was in 1998 outside Te Papa shortly after it opened protesting the inclusion of a work by Tania Kovat in the exhibition Pictura Britannica. The work was a small statue of the virgin Mary wrapped in a condom, and it was not removed from the show. This time it wasn’t the art under fire. Parents and kids were outside the opening of the James Wallace Arts Trust Collection in Monte Cecilia Park, protesting the possible moving of their school to extend the park’s entrance.
Images: Top, protesters at the opening of the James Wallace collection. Bottom, protesters outside Te Papa

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bad to the bone

Anyone who has recently tried to get into badpaintingsofbarackobama.com will have discovered it has been taken down yet again by the dark forces. Bad art, even when it is lovingly done, is obviously more than the Presidential image can stand. But you can’t keep good bad art down and relief is at hand at the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Boston. While the President might be outside the Pale of inspiration, there's lots more in the online catalogue as well as the usual museum offering of tasteless branded items including mugs and t-shirts.
Images: Clockwise from top left. Mana Lisa by Anonymous, Erin Rothgeb’s Ronan the pug, Shy glance by Dawn Marie Jingagian and Dog bites man by Swedish bad artist Vlademar Cher

Friday, August 13, 2010


stimulusresponse are running hot doing versions of OTN's Big Ears comments. Here's another (this one overheard at the Basel Art Fair) and, by the look of it, there are more to come. You can visit the original home for this drawing here.

Slice and dice

Although it progresses at a snail’s pace, the new funding structures announced by Creative NZ will eventually (this time next year) impact on some of the currently funded arts organisations. It is the same impetus that has seen changes in government funded arts bodies around the world as Eurocentric funders realise the need to open up to a wider range of cultures. The big difference here is that CNZ is being asked to do this on the same or possibly less money. The cake will stay the same but some of the slices will be dished out to different clients around the table. The visual arts organisations are so skimpily funded by CNZ it probably won't make much difference but for individual artists it just gets tougher as institutions serve as the Government’s buffer between the real cultural heroes and the dosh.
You can read more about CNZ’s intentions here.
Sorry to early readers who got nowhere with the link. Our fault, it should work now.

Thursday, August 12, 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.
For others in the series search 'on the road' in the blog search box above.

To the victor the spoils

Wow! What’s in that giant gift-wrapped parcel on the Wellington waterfront? It’s Bill Hammond's painting Traffic Cop Bay. According to the description on Te Papa's web site we're looking at “an ambiguous space filled with unlikely objects and land masses, the bird figures perform various activities which are both familiar and utterly foreign." No surprise then to find it being used to promote Wellington "spoiling itself". While it's hard to tell why the woman who pulled the ribbon to reveal the pic took the wrapping indoors with her, she certainly put on her best face when she found out that there was a painting and not a big stone wall inside the package.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Follow the leader

A follow-up to the what-the-hey-I’ll-pay-I’m-p-mule story earlier this week from an Auckland reader. It turns out that artist Nick Austin, unlike p mule, didn’t want to be upstairs in the exhibition with the work when he gave his artist’s talk for the Auckland Triennial. But the AAG event rep was adamant that that was exactly where he was going to do it and toward the end of the talk broke in on the act and Pied Pipered the audience upstairs (without having to pay - unlike p mule’s crowd) promising that Austin would talk about the work in front of the work. Austin could do nothing but tag along. Auckland Art Gallery exhibitions; can’t talk in ‘em, can’t talk out ‘em.


As you know if you have been with us for a while, we have an intense (some might say creepy) interest in art dealer signs. Two years ago, almost to the day, we were wondering what would happen to the New Vision Gallery sign that Julian Dashper had saved from a skip. This was the gallery that showed Gordon Walters' koru paintings for the first time among many other firsts, but Julian couldn’t find an institutional home for it. We saw the sign at work in the weekend outside the exhibition of Julian’s work wisely curated by Ariane Craig-Smith for the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland. The sign served as a telling reminder of Julian’s love of New Zealand’s art history, and it was great to find it displayed on the steps of the Gus Fisher still doing its job.

Other gallery sign posts from OTN:
Jonathan Smart
Barry Lett
Peter McLeavey

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Advice to collectors

Looking for a way to suggest that your fire sale of art to keep your nose above water is just part of life’s rich tapestry or trying to keep on selling without losing your place on the dealers I-will-sell-to list? You could do worse than try out this excellent piece of positioning via Jerry Hall. The ex-Warhol groupie is selling up some of her collection (Freud and Warhol) in Sotheby’s 10 October sale so she can get on with “simplifying her life.” That's as in, “Why are you selling your Hammonds, Cottons and Hoteres?” “Oh, I’m just simplifying my life.”
Image: Jerry Hall with Andy Warhol back in the day, pre-simplicity.


V is for visitor

As theatres opted for bums on seats, art museums have gone with feet through the door as a measure of success. (click, click) Not that turning up has anything to do with experience, but what’s a poor museum to do? (click) One NZ institution reached out to sparrows. (click, click, click) The Dowse once discovered its high number of visitors was being complemented, well almost doubled, by birds flying in and out of the main door. (click, click, click, click) Local council officials turned over the director’s office looking for kilo packs of birdseed but it turned out the birds were just in it for the art. (click) Besides, unlike the birds, not all museum visitors are voluntary. (click) Kids marshalled in by schools, old people packed into vans, back in the day they were accounted separately in annual totes, but nowadays whatever your motive or intentions, if you're through the door, you're part of the score. (click, click)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Son and ear

stimulusresponse has just published this drawing based on a Basel Big Ears first published here on OTN. Click on image to enlarge

Pay and display

Auckland Art Gallery's New Gallery, as one of the few galleries in New Zealand to charge an entry fee (is it the only one?), has bumped up against a problem for a number of years now without coming up with much of a solution. The thing is that when floor talks are given, the gallery insists that anyone who turns up has to pay to get into the talk. The current solution is to hold the ‘floor talk’ in a room away from the pay-to-see-section. That might do if you don’t need the actual work to serve as an illustration for your discussion, but a real problem if you do. This was the situation of P Mule last weekend slated to talk about the work of Dan Arps, Walters' Prize contestant.

Having made a big effort to have the talk held in the show, P Mule came up with a distinctive solution: to sponsor the admission ticket of anyone who came to listen to the talk. Having purchased a fistful of tickets, P Mule and Dan Arps were able to take the twenty-odd members of the audience up to the show and finish off the talk surrounded by the work. You would think the prospect of an artist stumping up for tickets to take people into the gallery to listen to one of the Gallery’s own events would embarrass an institutional into paying up but in this case, not a bit of it. AAG Director Chris Saines by all accounts enjoyed the talk and the gallery's event organiser congratulated the Mule on its entrepreneurial spirit. Mother was right, you really can’t win.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

15 frames of fame

Sorry to go on about Andy, but if we’ve been asked once we’ve been asked a thousand times, how often have Warhol paintings appeared on the Simpsons? As far as we know, five.
Images: Top to bottom, season 2 Campbell’s Soup, season 10 Campbell’s Pea Soup, season 13 Marge portrait (Munroe style), season 14 Ned Flanders portrait, season 15 Crunchy the clown portrait

Friday, August 06, 2010

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world.

The famous five

Unwatchable it may be, but The Da Vinci Code is art-in-the-movies-central. From its opening scene in the Louvre, it is so jam-packed with lookalikes that the producers could honestly state that ‘no art works were injured during the making of this film’. The Louvre let the movie makers in but would not allow their bright, hot lights on the likes of the Mona Lisa so duplicates (five in all) had to be made (they didn’t worry about matching the frame). To save the visitors from the shock and awe of a large-scale movie crew the gallery sequences were shot at night.

Other art works to be recreated for the pic included polystyrene statues, fake frescos and dummied-up paintings. After the movie was in the can Lincoln Abbey (that had played stunt double for Westminster) put some of the polystyrene tombs up for auction to try and raise some cash. W Cathederal had refused to let the DVC team inside its precincts citing theological issues. Unfortunately for Lincoln there was so little interest in the lookalikes the auction was cancelled. 

They are probably still in the Abbey’s basement so if you’re after something of this kind you could contact Roy Bentham, the Cathedral’s Chief Executive on 01522 561601 or email him at chiefexecutive@lincolncathedral.com

Does making museums characters in movies pull the crowds? Did for the Louvre. General administrator Didier Selles told The Associated Press in 2006 that about 7.3 million people visited the art museum in the year following the release of The DVC, up from 6.7 million in 2004.

Images: Top to bottom, one of the five fake Mona Lisas, night shoot in the real Louvre, opening sequence as shot in a fake Louvre at Pinewood studios in the UK

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sorry is the new black

"I am truly sorry for my behavior. You trusted me and I betrayed you" 
Lawrence B. Salander

You can read more about why this man was sorry here. 
Image: Ronnie van Hout t regrettably no longer available from Dunedin Public Art Gallery. 

When good copycats turn bad

Are there a few fake McCahons out there? Has anyone knocked up a bogus Cotton or put a dodgy Hammond out into the market? Over the years there have been rumblings about works that ‘don’t seem right.’ Just last year art dealer John Gow went public, convinced a McCahon Waterfall painting was suspect and after a fuss the work was withdrawn from auction. That incident aside, genuine fakes, or ones that are brought to account, are fairly rare.

Not so much in Australia where a number of wrong works have been discovered recently and some of them even destroyed after a court order. The preferred artist for copycatting appears to be Brett Whiteley which is not surprising given his prices at auction. The latest it’s-a-fake accusation has been laid at the door of Orange Lavender Bay which was sold for $1.3 million to a …wait for it ….a Sydney car dealer. It gets better. The guy who sold it to him was named Playfoot and he, in turn, got it from a Mr. Gant who was the bloke who sold the three fake drawings (by Charles Blackman and Robert Dickerson) that were bonfired. Like most suspect works, Orange Lavender Bay looks like a lesser version of another original Whiteley painting. It has been pronounced a fake by the Whiteley estate and failed forensic testing.

Images: Top Brett Whiteley Big Orange (Sunset), 1974. Bottom, not Brett Whiteley Orange Lavender Bay

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Souped up

From the ever great blog Letters of note this letter from Campbell's to Andy Warhol offering free soup. You can read LON's background notes here. Click on image to enlarge.

Cementing the deal

Raising money at the moment is about as easy as raising the Titanic – and a lot less interesting – but if you’re a young artist and you want to take up a shared residency at SOMA in Mexico City, art-for-cash is the way to go. In what turned out to be a very generous gesture, artists Fiona Connor, Louise Menzies, SannĂ© Mestrom and Kate Newby offered one of an edition they’d each make in exchange for a contribution to their trip. On their return the four made up the editions and the lucky funders each got a print based on a Mexican map from Menzies, a bronze bottle opener from Mestrom and a hand-painted ceramic cup from Newby. 

And then there was Fiona Connor. Throwing a small sack of cement into a bag along with a wooden frame, some trowels and a large stamp, Connor fronted up to each funder and offered to install a concrete print in a location to be agreed. These slabs are now in the corners of backyards, on the floors of studios and a Wellington street. It was pouring with rain when she mixed the cement and laid ours down but it didn’t seem to worry Conner at all. 

She finished the work at 3.30, caught a plane to Auckland at 4 and was on a flight back to LA by 9.

Images: Fiona Connor Concrete situations on a Wellington street.

Tuesday, August 03, 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.
For others in the series search 'on the road' in the blog search box above.


One of the biggest changes for curators over the last 20 or so years is their increasing isolation from the objects in their charge. Conservators, registrars, designers and technicians have all stepped into roles previously undertaken by curators, particularly in smaller museums. One effect of all this is a disconnect between many curators and the physical nature of the objects they work with. The weight of a sculpture, the flexibility of a canvas, the size of a painting in relation to the human body, these are all things that are learnt by holding, lifting and touching (albeit with white gloves). 

Touching things affects our judgments and decisions. After all, it’s the first of our sense to develop. Joshua Ackerman of MIT did a series of experiments to work out what those effects are but the most relevant here linked weight with importance. Let’s assume that all those clipboards performance artists used back in the 1970s were heavy. He also linked texture to difficulty and harshness and discovered that if you sit on something hard you tend to take a tougher position that if you sit on something soft. Ackerman concluded, “These findings emphasize the power of that unique adaptation, the hand, to manipulate the mind as well as the environment.” So there’s some evidence beyond anecdote that people involved with selecting and presenting art also need to get their hands on it.

The elaborate design process now in place in many art institutions has taken away from curators the ability to make final adjustments to displays. We got a taste of this back in 1992 when we were asked to curate an exhibition from the Paris Family collection. At the start of installation we were surprised to find the designer had placed a line of string around all the hanging walls about a meter and a half off the ground. It was, we were told, the centre line around which all works would be hung. Next a model of the space with all the works already in position was presented. One of its limitations was that the mini-works in the model were all cut-out from black paper. We decided not to use the model and instead worked from our rough sketches and notes. As the exhibition started to take form there was one group of smaller works by Toss Woollaston that were particularly tricky. The designer’s solution was to lay out these work on the floor as though they were on the wall. He then surprised us again by scrambling up a ladder to photograph the arrangement as the carefully measured hanging guide. Which worked to a point.

The fact is you can't really tell when one work goes with another until you see them on the wall. A curators greatest skill used to be the ability to convince everyone that a hung show needed to be taken down and the whole process started again. Try that the day of the opening.

Today 3-D walk-throughs and spatial renditions take the physical experience another big step away from the people who should be able to understand and interpret the work best. Should exhibitions be designed? Sure, but the big question is who should have the final word on how best to present art? Our answer is curators, but we wouldn’t put serious money on them. The importance of building physical relationships with art works has been underplayed for quite a while now. It will tough to get it back.

Image: A technician up a ladder photographs works from the Paris Family collection laid out on the gallery floor in an attempt to represent how they will look on the wall

Monday, August 02, 2010

Upping the volume

TV3’s The Nation gave Art News New Zealand magazine a bit of a leg up on its programme last week. Offering a subscription to the mag as a prize it pictured it mocked up as a book. Obviously the graphics department didn’t think the magazine was thick enough (volumetrically) to foot it on screen. Then strangely they also edited the word ‘news’ out of its name, maybe thinking, in a current affairsy sort of way, they had copyright on it.
Image: Art XXXX as it appeared on TV3

New news on the rumour mill

It feels like time is running out for the New Gallery, the contemporary art arm of the Auckland Art Gallery. As the rebuilding of the main gallery site comes closer to completion, rumours about the fate of the New take on more urgency. An old telephone exchange building, it was converted in 1995 into a bit a space that has had an uneasy relationship with contemporary art. While some of the architec's excesses have long gone (the nutty diving board for instance) the escalator void still condemns the main exhibition space to its walk-the-donut-shaped fate. On the up-side we’ve seen some great work there and it’s been a physical reminder of the generosity of Jenny Gibbs and Alan Gibbs who let the Auckland Art Gallery have the building for a token sum.

Here are the top five rumours about the fate of the New that have been sent to OTN over the last couple of months in order of likelihood.

• The top floor at least will become offices for the staff of the Auckland Art Gallery.
• It will be offered to Artspace as a venue
• Jenny Gibbs will be left to decide its fate.
• It will be returned to the kind of gallery it was when it originally opened (whatever that means).
• It will remain in its present form.