Saturday, March 31, 2012

Skin in the game

You like getting naked and you like art? Then you need to make a note in your diary now for Stuart Ringholt’s nude tours of Sydney's MCA exhibitions celebrating the opening of their new extensions. But be warned. Artist Ringholt specialises in putting himself in compromising situations so that his audiences confront fear. His approach has been inspired by his own long illness and drug problems as he worked through “feelings of embarrassment and low self-esteem.” Ringholt’s performance is called Preceded by a tour of the show by artist Stuart Ringholt 6-8pm (the artist will be naked. Those who wish to join the tour must also be naked. Adults only). So don't say you weren’t warned.
Image: Naked tourists take time out with Christian Marclay’s The Clock which will be on view at the new MCA (simulation only)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Robbed 3

A while back we started the series WAAROTD (When Artists Are Robbed Of Their Dignity). It kicked off with a badly mispelt personalised plate and moved through some sculpture abuse back to personalised plates again. OK Chris Saines isn’t an artist as such, but who can resist when you see something like this in the streets of Wellington? Not us.

If you build them…

There was a time when there was really only one art residency for visual artists in New Zealand: the annually awarded Hodgkins Fellowship. Residencies in those days needed a bit of the old pioneering spirit too. We recall Jeffrey Harris shivering in a leaking converted garage that was the Fellow’s studio at the time.

Nowadays there’s every chance that an artist will get to live and work in a place that makes their own digs feel like a student flat. The obvious example in New Zealand is the McCahonHouse residency in the Titirangi bush.

But wait, there’s more. Look at this studio that Kate Newby has landed as part of her residency with the Fogo Island Arts Corporation in the northeast corner of Newfoundland, Canada. The two-story Tower Studio sits at the end of a narrow boardwalk and was designed by local architect Todd Saunders. He has also been responsible for three other beautiful artist residency buildings on the same land.

No need for a Do Not Disturb sign. Once you have landed in Gander, Newfoundland it's a 60-mile drive to catch a 45-minute ferry to Fogo, the largest of Newfoundland's off-shore islands. Newby will take up the residency later this year.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The iron fist in the iron glove

“Seller now in terrible straits and needs cash …. Are you interested in making a cruel and offensive offer? Come on, want to try?”
Email from the Gagosian Gallery to a collector offering a Roy Lichtenstein from another collection. Full story here in the NYT

Cat’s eye

Even with the shortage of customised art-making equipment, animals have managed to pump out a very respectable product. Take the efforts of those damn talented animal artists Cholla, Milo, and Cooper, for example. But still one of the critical problems for animal art remains appropriate equipment. The trunk and the paintbrush are not natural companions any more than the paw and the chisel. 

In France a small team has been working away at this gap in the market particularly as it pertains to cats wanting to become involved with film making and conceptual video work. They have recently broken through what is known in their trade as TOTP (The Opposable Thumb Problem) and developed a video camera for cat (and potentially dog, tiger, armadillo, antelope etc. etc.) artists. 

The camera simply hangs around the artist’s neck and records scenes as per the storyboard or whatever it is that cats and so forth use to organise their shooting schedules. You can read more here and see a sample video here.
 Images: sample scenes shot by an anonymous cat artist

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thanks Alan

If you had any doubts that Te Tuhirangi Contour commissioned by Alan Gibbs for his farm sculpture park was one of Richard Serra's greatest works, you need only go and visit it.


unvarnished facts, reckless guesswork, insinuations and possible inventions that have arrived at • a space has been finalised for bill culbert's venice biennale exhibition and becomes nz’s sixth different venue in the canal city • pbrf (performance based research fund) frenzy has struck the universities with the art schools vying for their staff to be 'A' listed as money-magnets • auckland art gallery looks like it will do the annual-atrium-art thing after all • alan gibbs has won the biggest-standing-upright-tall sculpture competition with a very tall sculpture by french artist bernar venet • the walters prize finalists have been decided so let’s hope the auckland art gallery announces the names soon before they become more common knowledge (our current estimate of knowledge-holders here) • any missed details, indignant denials or additions gratefully received, and any that makes us laugh out loud rewarded with an overthenet painting horse badge.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


We’ve talked before about the iconic status of Neil Dawson’s highwire act Ferns above Wellington’s Civic Square but this tableau brought it home again. Under the sculpture a young girl and her Mum were trying to do the resting-Ferns-in-the-palm-of-the-hand photograph. To get the shot the mother lies down and the child stands on tiptoe. Visual acrobatics - worthy of Neil Dawson himself.

By their surveys shall you know them

If you ever want to find a crack in the tough hide of an institution, try answering one of their surveys. Caught between default secrecy and the desire to hit the sweet spot of popularity, their surveys often reveal more in a couple of questions than a 1000 media releases. None more so than the Te Papa survey we completed this week. 

News of its existence was already on Twitter but in the end the survey found us as we looked around the Te Papa website. Up it popped unannounced. “Te Papa would like your opinion on a selection of potential future exhibitions,” it chirped. “Have your say and enter the draw to win a Visa gift card.” Why the hell not.

It turns out Te Papa is flying three available-for-hire exhibitions up the flagpole. The selection (a fashion show, a European art master exhibition and a Muppet event) is clearly aimed at what Te Papa regards as its key audiences - fashionistas, traditional art lovers and kids.

EXHIBITION 1. Christian Louboutin. This blatantly commercial shoe show (they’re the ones with the red soles) of the high-end designer is “Drawn from Christian Louboutin’s personal archive”. It is currently available for hire from the Design Museum, London.

EXHIBITION 2. Joan Miro: poetry and light. This exhibition is produced and organised by the Arthemisia Group, an Italian company. Its last contemporary exhibition was the display of Damien Hirst’s diamond skull in Florence at Palazzo Vecchio.

EXHIBITION 3. The Jim Henson Retrospectacle is an exhibition about Muppets. It is available for hire from the New York-based Jim Henson Legacy. JHL was established in 1992 by Henson’s family and friends to keep the Muppet philosophy alive and well into the 21st century.

Not much to say against any of them and not much to say for them either. Miro is international flavour of the month at the moment so no surprises there. Christian Louboutin would would be a gotta-see for Sex in the City fans (you can see Louboutin interviewd on the subject here). And as for 'the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, muppetational Muppets'? Right on brand. Gotta love ‘em.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The privacy act

“One should only discuss the price of a work to be acquired up to the point of its acquisition.”

Art Museum director Horst Keller speaking against a Hans Haacke installation that revealed the owners and prices paid over the years for Manet’s 1880 painting Bunch of asparagus. Cited in art Martha Buskirk’s book The contingent object of contemporary


If you were in Auckland last week one of the things you probably heard people talking about was Luke Willis Thompson’s taxi ride. If it had been online it would’ve gone viral. 

The ride and the experience that follows make up the work inthisholeonthisislandwhereiam that Thompson is showing at Hopkinson Cundy. At the gallery space in Cross Street you get bare white walls and a cab in the loading dock. By now (it has been going for a week) quite a few people have taken a ride, but if you haven’t you should definitely try to book a time (call +64 9 55 11 644). You need to reckon on around 45 minutes from when the taxi leaves the gallery. 

No need for a spoiler alert here because that’s all your getting.

Image: The Thompson taxi heading off

Saturday, March 24, 2012

And that’s the point

In his art school days sculpture Chris Booth astonished his lecturers (and the rest of us) by getting ants to make his work for him. The submission was all about ‘point’ and most of us had gone for minimalist paintings with dots on them. Not Chris. He turned up with a box containing an art farm. He had discovered that if you bathed ants in red light (or something like that, it was a long time ago) they would grab their eggs and make a run for it. You guessed it. The white eggs held aloft by scurrying black ants were the point. And for some DIY, if you go here, you will see a short clip that shows you how to paint ants.
Thanks as always for your tireless work on our behalf P.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Visiting Leg of Lamb we found it has been hot on the lookalike trail and come up with this Marini/Wang Shugang combo. For more on Marini's work on OTN go here.

Images: Left, Marino Marini’ 1948 sculpture The Angel of the City, and right Wang Shugang’s Cao ní ma made this year. Thanks Leg

The Artspace age

1987 was a dynamic year for the arts in New Zealand. Colin McCahon died, the stock market crashed and Jorg Immendorff lived it up in the Hyatt after a death threat. In the midst of all that Artspace opened down near the waterfront. 

That was where we saw Choice the 1990 exhibition of contemporary Maori art curated by George Hubbard that introduced us to Michael Parekowhai. His sculpture The Indefinite Article got its first public outing there. Choice only attracted 555 visitors but its 18-day run turned out to be as influential as any exhibition shown in Auckland. We were also at a dinner held in conjunction with Julian Dashper’s Big Bang Theory in 1993, still back in the days when anyone who wanted to was able to sit at the drums and give them a bash. 

Later in its new digs in K-Road we will never forget Francis Upritchard nailing it by ‘filling’ the main space with a single grey haired sloth, its gloved hands decked with Karl Fritsch rings. 

That too was where we saw Parekowhai’s Ten Guitars played, et al.’s effortless reconfiguring of their Venice installation, Peter Robinson’s rambunctious Ack, Fiona Connor’s version of the Artspace staircase and director Emma Bugden lifting and lowering Alicia Frankovich.

And so much more. Thanks Artspace we couldn’t have done it without you.
Image: Watching Alicia’s up and downs (photo nicked from the Starkwhite blog)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Now be nice

“Negative reaction to his sculpture had taught the student a valuable lesson about what was considered acceptable”, a faculty member said.

“While we actively encourage our art students to express and push their creativity, there are ethical limits and boundaries that the Dunedin School of Art adhere to.”

Staff at the Dunedin School of Art teach students how not to upset the public by removing an art work including a dead dog from a student exhibition, as reported in the New Zealand Herald

COMMENT FROM S: Perhaps he should have visited the taxidermist first as David Shrigley did or even got his brother to stuff it as Francis Upritchard did when she exhibited the family cat

Statue of limitations

When the world of lookalikes meets giant-sculpture land, Turkish artist Serkan Özkaya is King. Last week his nine-meter high (twice the size of the original) replica of Michelangelo’s David titled David (inspired by Michelangelo) was trucked to Manhattan. It had travelled from its home in the 21c Museum (it claims to be ‘North America's first museum dedicated 'solely to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art of the 21st century') in Louisville, Kentucky to the Big Apple. Apparently Özkaya’s first attempt at super-sizing David came apart at the seams (literally). Dave is to star at the Storefront for Art and Architecture’s exhibition DOUBLE [copies, fakes and replicas]. Naturally.

Images: Left, the original minutes before collapse and right, David takes Manhattan

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Fashion loves a pattern. But before the popular dot patterns of Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama there was Keith Haring. A quick trip to Google was enough to get an idea of the range available as more hay is made converting into brand.
Images: Footwear by Hilfiger, House of Field jewellery, jacket by Jeremy Scott and a Pletex plate

First Cut

It’s Walters Prize year again. Last time round nominations were announced in late April so we can be sure that as we write the judges are probably working out the best art of the last two years. 

The "award recognises an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to contemporary art in New Zealand in the two years prior." That’s probably in the region of February 2010 to March 2012. 

Here then some of the artists we reckon must be in contention. Send in suggestions and we’ll append them.

Michael Stevenson for his 2011 survey exhibition at the MCA in Sydney. He’s been poorly treated by the Walters in the past and it's hard to understand a) why his first major survey exhibition was mounted in Australia and b) never came to New Zealand, so here’s a chance to couple atonement with a natural prize winner.

Kate Newby’s exhibition Crawl out your window at the GAK Gesellschaft Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen in 2010.

Michael Parekowhai's 2011 project On first looking into Chapman's Homer in Venice and Paris, The far side at Michael Lett and Te Ao Hurihuri at Jonathan Smart in Christchurch.

Fiona Pardington’s Ahua: A Beautiful Hesitation in the Sydney Biennale in 2010, the touring exhibition The pressure of sunlight falling in 2011 and Phantasma at Two Rooms.

Karl Fritch, Martino Gamper and Francis Upritchard’s installation at the Govett-Brewster exhibition Stealing the senses in 2011

Simon Denny for Cruise Line at the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein in Aachen, Germany.

Shane Cotton’s one person exhibition Smashed Myth at Anna Schwartz in Sydney in 2010.

Eve Armstrong's Taking stock for Letting space in Wellington in 2010, her project with Gretchen Albrecht at Michael Lett in 2011

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On the Road

The Ministry of Transport and local Bodies getting together to honour New Zealand's artists.

Sermon on the mount

To give his works on paper greater physical presence American artist Mark Rothko applied them to a sheet of canvas and then stretched the canvas. We remember seeing a moody 1967 untitled Rothko work presented in this way when the Thyssen Bornemisza collection toured New Zealand in 1980. As you approached the work it was certainly easy to assume it was painted on canvas. Oddly circular then to see some Rothko reproductions in an Auckland restaurant dutifully mounted on canvas to lend them added gravitas.

Monday, March 19, 2012


TV3 come in from behind to add to the all but endless list of Last Supper lookalikes with the Almighty Johnsons.

Upbeat downtown

If you had any doubts about the enlivening power of art you would have put them aside if you’d been at the Left Bank on Friday. Not the suave French job but the entirely (with the exception of Robert Heald’s Gallery) grotty Left Bank off Cuba Mall in Wellington. Thanks to a local developer (whom every one was polite enough not to mention was in fact the initial developer of the Left Bank), Massey's Heather Galbraith was able to curate a three person event there that put the space into an entirely new light. Smartly installed in the available space were a videoed performance by Melissa Irving, a light and sound work by Clinton Watkins and a musical performance by Olivia Webb. Watkins’ work even managed to transformed the seedy ‘tunnel’ between Cuba and Victoria Streets into a light and sound show reminiscent of the credits for Gaspar Noe's Enter the void

People turned up too, we reckon at least 200 and probably more. It reminded us of an earlier series of events Concrete deal back in the 1990s when the James Smith car park was used for temporary installations. 

And nice to see Massey coming down off its hill. Last time, after One Day Sculpture, they retreated right back up again. This time, Galbraith told the crowd, they were in the downtown business for the long-haul. 
Images: Left Clinton Watkins' light and sound work and right watching Melissa Irving's video

Saturday, March 17, 2012

No pressure

Fiona Connor is one of 60 artists selected for the Hammer Museum's first biennial exhibition Made in LA. ‘Good on you, Fiona’ you’re probably thinking. And it is impressive. Connor has only been in LA a few years and she is already a regular exhibitor and, if our experience was anything to go by, a bit of a star at CalArts where she studied after finishing up at Elam.

But that is not what the title of this post is pointing at. One of the features of Made in LA is a prize. Now Connor, as one of the finalists in the last $NZ50,000 Walters Prize, is no stranger to prizes but this one is more than double the Walters cash at $US100,000 ($NZ122,000) and also comes with a monograph. In terms of cash in hand this package even edges out the Turner Prize

Unlike the Walters Prize the decision-making process is a little more random. After the initial selection of 60 "emerging and under-recognized" artists, a group of five finalists will be selected by “a jury of art experts.” After that the final decision will be left to visitors to the exhibition. The last bit is a classic marketing tactic, but if Connor beat the odds and won, for once we’d come down on the side of the marketers.

You can read more about Made in LA and its funding here.

Image: Fiona Connor in her CalArts studio 2011

Friday, March 16, 2012

Googling on

What happens when you check out 'art school plaster casts.' Nice.
Image: Heather Tomkins drawing on Taylor White's casts via Boing Boing

Pony up

So shoot us for getting it wrong. There we were suggesting that foregrounding Wellington-based artists on Te Papa’s fifth floor might sweeten the passage of the Wellington City Council’s annual allocation of $2.25 million to the museum. Well that didn't happen. The WCC decided to give the sum a haircut and reduced the allocation to Te Papa to $1 million. Te Papa’s startling response was to tell the DomPost that the WCC's $2.25 million made up more than half its total annual cash sponsorship of $3.81 million. So Wellington ratepayers were stumping up over 59 percent of Te Papa’s total cash sponsorship. Who knew? 

By that accounting, even with the cut, WCC is still a major sponsor with a contribution of over 25 percent of the annual amount Te Papa attracts in sponsorship. As it stands. Te Papa has eight sponsors. Four are government agencies (including WCC) and four are commercial concerns. So the other seven sponsors are putting up an average of $222,000 each making even a reduced WCC contribution of $1 million kind of significant.

NOTE: In June 2012 the Wellington City Council reviewed its decision to cut Te Papa's annual funding and agreed to continue funding as per its original allocation of $2.25 million per year.

Image: Dr. Evil: ONE MILLION DOLLARS! Number Two: Don't you think we should ask for more than a million dollars? A million dollars isn't exactly a lot of money these days.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The write stuff

“I sprinkled about twenty adjectives (‘fey,’ ‘gestural,’ ‘restrained’) amid a small repertory of active verbs (‘explore,’ “trace’, ‘question’). I also inserted the phrases ‘negative space,’ ‘balanced composition,’ and ‘challenges the viewer’ every so often.”
Alice Gregory describing her technique when writing about artworks published in Sotheby’s art catalogues. You can read more of the entertaining account of her days working for the über auction house here.

Gate series

Since graffiti was invented in Wellington the doorway entrance to Peter McLeavey’s Gallery has been a prime location. As it was never cleaned up the site just kept on encrusting. Sometimes it was brilliant, most times it was ... like a graffitied doorway. Now a strangely suburban iron gate has been installed to stop the street artists from applying their trade. Will it work? Watch that space.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Things we hoped we'd never see 2

This time it's American conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner modelling for Ann Demeulemeester. You can see more (it gets worse) here.

The sculpture’s not for kicking

Maybe Scott Eady insisted that his Kick Me sculpture was protected by a flimsy rope barrier in the City Gallery exhibition The obstinate object as added irony, but we’re pretty sure we saw it on show in Auckland with no barriers at all. The written material claims that Eady "makes disruptive and troublesome sculpture” although it's hard to imagine it causing much trouble if the audience isn't even allowed close enough to touch it. Why the caution? What’s the worst thing anyone can do? Kick it?

Other OTN stories about barriers to enjoying art:
Paying the piper in Upper Hutt
A barriers medley

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Not bourgeois

We were a bit mean about the lookalike Louise Bourgeois parked up on the roadside next to Wellington’s Disney-like playground Carlucci Land (home of “mini golf, stone masonry and cherished junk”). Since then the Carlucci staff have excelled themselves with this spider sculpture featuring a real car as the body. Good work.

Putting the down in down under

Colin McCahon didn’t have it easy in New Zealand. His work was strongly supported by a small group but had a rough ride when it entered the public arena. This could come from anywhere: poets (Fairburn’s famous ‘celestial toilet’ comment), local body councilors (“I could do it in my lunch time”) and, when we gifted McCahon’s masterwork Victory over death 2 to Australia, even prime ministers (Robert Muldoon’s stupid remarks). On the other side of that stoush, however, was James Mollison the then director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra who regarded Victory over death 2 as “one of the most important paintings to have been made in this hemisphere in recent times.”

Since then the painting has held pride of place at the Gallery often showing with Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles but now, not so much. The current director Ron Radford is familiar with McCahon’s importance - and where has he hung it? Pride of place, skied above the audio tour pick-up counter. You can see how much attention it's getting there.

OK Australia, so you don’t respect this painting any more. Here’s a thought. Give it back.
(Thanks for the head's up J)
Hamish Keith responds with some interesting background on the gifting of Victory over death 2: the gift was the initiative of myself and Frank Corner. ­James Mollison was consulted at the outset and was given the choice of Victory Over Death or Colin's original Urewera piece ­ he chose VOD - only after that was Muldoon involved. ­ Muldoon's role was ambiguous, cabinet initially turned the proposal down, but Muldoon insisted that it go ahead, possibly because he could frame it for the philistines as a prank played on the Australians. But having had several conversations with him about the gift, I believe more so because of the long term impact it would have. The gift was associated with a visit to Australia by Deputy PM Brian Talboys and the initial and critical talks on CER. ­Both Frank and I emphasized the point that a gift on this scale associated with the newly opened National Gallery would attract major Australian media attention ­ the more so in the wake of the Jackson Pollock Blue Poles row. Muldoon may have been a pig but he was no fool and he got the point.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Driving down the North Island

Thinking about Wayne Youle

Careful what you wish for

The Auckland Art Gallery’s marketing department must have been beside itself. The gaggle of celebrities they'd offered free tickets to paper the $75 opening of Degas to Dali not only turned up but were also happy to mug for the cameras. But the Josie McNaught gotcha story headlined in the NZ Herald will have team marketing hiding under their desks this morning. Turns out that over 40 percent of the tickets for the Masterpiece art bash were freebies. Guess they'll all be hoping against hope that the patrons, donors and other supporters who were asked to pay can’t read.

Image: Liam Fennell, Ben Barrington and Colin Mathura-Jeffree add lustre to Degas to Dali. Photo Auckland Art Gallery Flickr set

Saturday, March 10, 2012

McCahon house

As you know from our ongoing series On the road, New Zealand is dotted with street names honouring New Zealand artists. Now here’s a chance to have one of them on your letterhead or the envelopes that come through your mailbox. Simply by resettling in Rotorua and stumping up $349,000 you can have 30 McCahon Drive (a “modern, quiet cul-de-sac”) in Pukehangi as your own.

Friday, March 09, 2012

On the road

On the road the ongoing series celebrating the Ministry of Land Transport and Local Body support of New Zealand artists.

Dog bites sculpture

There have been some dramatic images in the history of photography. The miracle of a bullet passing through a light bulb, the analysis of movement by Muybridge, the moon rising over Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Now we add to that roster another decisive moment, this photograph of Billy Apple’s dog eating a piece of Peter Robinson’s sculpture at Sue Crockford's gallery. Fortunately dog Macintosh (spoiler alert – Apple connection) didn’t swallow the small cube so there will be no issues with coughing up felt balls. As there is the faint possiblity that the dog was tweaking the sculpture by moving the block we have also tagged this post Animal Art.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Style section

In the continued blurring of high art and popular culture here are skateboards by US artist John Baldessari. The defining difference as we can see it is that skateboarders would probably only buy one, art collectors would want the set.

Hang it all

We are considering a new series on the things collectors say with illustrations by Pippin Barr. One of the first that came to mind was, “We knew we were collectors when we had more work than we could hang.” Of course some people know long before that. 

Anyone who has seen the movie Herb & Dorothy will have noticed the tricks collectors get up to when the art starts pushing them out of the house. The Vogels even went so far as to remove doors and hang works on the jambs so you could see them as you passed through. When our friends Les and Milly Paris found their sofa being pushed further and further into the room as they stacked works behind it, they chose to raise their entire house and build a gallery underneath. 

Another husband and wife collecting team Hans and Martha Lachmann kept a big portfolio of prints and drawings under the couch to be pulled out when interested people turned up to have a look. We even saw a video clip (can’t find it, sorry) of a collector who had moved his bed and all the furniture into the middle of the room so he could hang work on all four walls, top to bottom. Not surprisingly (given the love and avarice factors) most serious collectors end up with homes that look like rooms from the academy, for all their modernist talk.

Images: Top left, Herb and Dorothy Vogel and right John Salt’s drawing Untitled (Vogel Living Room Drawn from Memory) a gift to the Akron Art Museum by Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. Bottom left, Les and Milly Paris’s gallery and right Hans and Martha Lachmann’s living room

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

"My challenge is to keep things exciting for the artists. I like to be involved. The relationship with artists is what drives me."
UK art dealer Jay Jopling interviewed in the Financial Times

We just can’t LEGO

Over the years OTN has developed a strong affection for LEGO and the efforts of LEGOists to recreate art and architecture. Admittedly this latest effort is kind of literal compared to some of the others we have featured but it had enough going for it to send us back into the archive to enjoy past posts. 

Here’s your chance to do the same:
Inside LEGO man
LEGO Snowman

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Style section

In last week's Sunday Star Times magazine fashion follows art in the shoe department.
Images: Left, Soles Gravitation by Mischief Shoes. Right Giovanni Intra Untitled (Studded suit) (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki purchased with the assistance of the Chartwell Trust)

Image nation

The first time we saw a line of cigarette butts on a shelf (apart the back room of a hotel in Blackball c.1969) was at Te Papa in their first international contemporary art exhibition (and the last) Pictura Britannica in 1998. From memory it was a work by Damien Hirst called After Stubbs (or if not it was in the same zone). OK, a terrible joke but still a pretty good work with the butts looking like mini marquettes given their gallery context. So there was a ‘lookalike’ moment when we saw the cigarette butt image illustrating an article on smoking in a recent copy of the Listener. This time it was art’s turn to be subverted as the image on closer examination turned out to be taken from a Damien Hirst exhibition. It has been plopped into a stock image library we assume and from there lifted uncredited to the magazine at the service of an editorial metaphor.
Images: Top, Damien Hirst The Abyss. Bottom Damien Hirst, After Stubbs

Monday, March 05, 2012

art at work

Sitting it out on Mary Louise Brown's Deed to Word


The Auckland Art Gallery will be hoping that its current exhibition Degas to Dali will be a blockbuster on the scale of its legendary 1983 Monet exhibition. These big imported exhibitions are a gamble for art institutions and the risks are even higher when they are packaged on a strictly one venue per country basis. 

The term blockbuster was first used to describe the destruction caused by large single bombs during the Second World War. Even when it made it into the entertainment business it was still more about busting the revenues of theatrical competitors on the block than about long queues winding their way around it. The first New Zealand blockbuster is generally agreed to be the 1974 John Constable exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery. It was organised by Peter Webb - later New Zealand's auction guru - who followed up with the hugely successful Van Gogh exhibition the next year.

As the value of art increased dramatically in the art market’s wonder years (late 70s and 80s), the ability of New Zealand museums to insure it was stretched to the limit. As is common international practice, the Government agreed to step in and take on the insurance risk in a process termed indemnification. Amusingly, when this process was used for the first time in 1980 for the Thyssen-Bornemisza exhibition, the Government also took on traditional insurance, just in case!

Can you make money out of the blockbuster? With originating museum rental fees and rising freight and care costs it is a tough ask today but Rodney Wilson’s Monet made a sackful so it it is possible. Another complicating factor is the shift in audience expectations as potential visitors are much more likely to have travelled overseas and checked out some of the masterworks for themselves. 

If you want some context around the number of people needed to make a show a blockbuster, here’s a few attendance figures for blockbusters of the past. These will no doubt be the numbers dancing in the heads of the AAG’s senior staff as they toss and turn in their beds over the next couple of months.

Mixed artist exhibitions:
67,000 A century of modern masterpieces from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection (Auckland) 1980
72,000 Masterpieces of the Guggenheim (Dunedin) 1991
84,000 Exhibition of the century - modern masterpieces from the collection of the Stedelijk Museum (City Gallery) 1998
152,000 Monet and the Impressionists (Te Papa) 2009
73,170 European masters (Te Papa) 2011

Single artist exhibitions:
36,738 Henry Moore (Auckland) 1956
52,000 John Constable: the natural painter (Auckland) 1973
174,769 Claude Monet painter of light (Auckland) 1985
88,155 Yoyoi Kusama: mirrored years (City Gallery) 2011
135,000 Ron Mueck (Christchurch) 2011

Image: Crowds line up for the 1937 exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). The three million plus visitors made it what is generally considered to be the first blockbuster art exhibition.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


Had to happen. But don't be fooled we are not talking Seven's costume here. What you are looking at is the $3200 Fountain dress designed by Philip Colbert for his Venus in Sequins collection.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Art at work

Art working itself into the ground in the foyers of the world

Germany calling

You may wonder why the Ministry of Culture would support an art exhibition during a five-day Frankfurt Book Fair. After all, it is a trade fair for the publishing industry and the exhibition venue the Frankfurter Kunstverein (in Auckland terms more St. Paul's than Artspace) is a good 40-minute walk from the Fair site. Still, with NZ as "Guest of Honor" (it was Iceland last time round) it is probably part of an effort by the Ministry to show us as well-rounded or something.

NZ's art presence is already fraught. Michael Stevenson (not in the FK show) was invited to exhibit at Portikus (more Artspace than St. Paul's) during the Fair, but once the FK exhibition with multiple artists was mooted, Stevenson's project was edged out of the funding opportunity. Seems tough particularly when you recall the Walters Prize debacle over Stevenson in 2010.

So how is the FK exhibition shaping up? Well don’t look to the Ministry of C&H for answers. In her recent media blitz project director Tanea Heke mentions the architect designed pavilion, the furniture, and (of course) books, but art, not so much. That’s kind of surprising as this is the same Tanea Heke who was project director for CNZ’s Venice effort last year. Thanks to German efficiency, however, the Kunstverein itself tells us about the curators (Leonhard Emmerling, Goethe Institut Munich, ex St. Paul's and Aaron Kreisler, Dunedin Public Art Gallery), the curatorial rationale and some of the 20 artists included. As the Auckland Art Gallery might call it Walters to Ward-Knox.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Rules is rules

“One should only discuss the price of a work to be acquired up to the point of its acquisition.”
Art Museum director Horst Keller speaking against a Hans Haacke installation that revealed the owners and prices paid over the years for Manet’s 1880 painting Bunch of asparagus. Cited in art Martha Buskirk’s book The contingent object of contemporary

Golly goth

A while back in a fit of lookalike frenzy we went on an American Gothic binge. Somehow we forgot the wedding scene in the Rocky Horror Picture Show and of course Green Acres but now a reader (thanks P) has sent us these two pics of the original house and models for the famous painting.

Grant Wood was originally going to do the Whistler thing and use his mother but she was too frail so he swapped her out for his sister Nan. Like a good sport she wore their mother’s apron and a small brooch with her portrait on it. Standing next to her is Wood’s dentist Byron McKeeby. The reaction from the farming community wasn’t that great. When the painting was displayed one threatened to bash Wood’s head in and another, in some sort of weird channelling of Van Gogh, threatened to bite off his ear. If you want to know more about this painting this is the book with all the details.

Images: Top models Nan Wood and Byron McKeeby with Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic. Bottom, the AG house in Eldon.