Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The rest is silence

We’re going to knock off for a few weeks and let the staff of OTN (reporters, photographers, editorial, research, legal and all the basic-wagers and teams of interns who do so much behind the scenes) take a break over Christmas. If anything world shattering happens we’ll post on it and link it via the OTN Facebook page and OTN Twitter feed. Hope you have enjoyed another year of OTN, we’ll be back on 13 Jan.


You can say one thing about Te Papa (and over the years we’ve said many) it doesn't shy away from answering questions. In fact, on answering a recent set of questions about attendances, Te Papa asked if there were any other facts and figures we thought people should know. That's smart.

We're very interested in how many people visit our art institutions and Te Papa's annual report gives a lot of information. It turns out that there isn’t an official figure for the number of Te Papa visitors under 16. All Te Papa's non-paying attendance figures (including the total attendance figure of 1.312 million) are estimates derived from sampling. In the case of the under 16s, we live in a country (along with the rest of the developed world) where you can’t officially ask a six year old its age without parental approval. Not so smart.

Anyway, Te Papa estimates that 196,732 people under the age of 16 visit the building each year. So, by extrapolation, its total attendance of 1.31 million (3,593 on average every day of the year) is spread age-wise something like this: 196,732 (under 16), 245,260 (16-24), 189,519 (25-34), 189,519 (35-44), 195,093 (45-54), 156,075 (55-64) and 133,778 (over 65)

Incidentally the sampling is kept ‘real’ by “only counting when the doors are open to the public during regular opening hours” and reducing the count by 3.4 percent to allow for staff, people taking a break etc. Te Papa also mentioned that the proportion of tourists in the total visitor numbers (45 percent) was about the same as the Auckland Art Gallery.

Another thing that interested us was by was how well the ticketed exhibitions (aka pay shows) do and Te Papa obliged with the following:
Warhol immortal 48,844 (888 per day)
Game master 67,806 (509 per day)
It also provided sample estimates for non-ticketed exhibitions presented on the fifth 'art' floor:
Angels & Aristocrats 50,889 (519 per day)
On first looking into Chapman’s Homer 27,469 (915 per day)

So taking Angels & Aristocrats as a well-attended exhibition, we reckon by these numbers that Te Papa is claiming the total annual attendance on the fifth floor to be at around 190,000. If you're a regular visitor to the art section you may well wonder where they're hiding.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ring cycle

Peter Robinson has installed a large work at the Dowse Art Museum based on the creation of felt poles. To start with the gallery floor was a giant scatter piece with around 70,000 felt ‘washers’ on the floor in four colour bands. Phase two was to have visitors create felt poles by threading aluminium sticks. As the crowd at the opening spread into the gallery a couple of people remarked how pastoral it felt and one quoted Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. And there you go, the two ends of modern art history, from painting as a celebration of the new opportunities for recreation thrown up by the industrial revolution to sculpture as a recreation in itself.
Images: Top Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and bottom Peter Robinson Tribe Subtribe

Ticket to ride

For some time now the word's been that funding for exhibition making at the Auckland Art Gallery has all but dried up. News then on Friday that $1million had been pumped into the Gallery’s exhibition development fund must have come as a big relief. It's certainly a king hit for new director Rhana Devenport.

Reading the media release, however, you do get the feeling that this is money that will be spent offshore. Although Devenport herself gives NZ a mention calling the funding a chance to “present exceptional exhibitions of international and New Zealand art,” her boss, Regional Facilities Auckland Chief Executive Robert Domm, is not as inclusive. He pegged the money to enabling “the Gallery to foster long-term partnerships with leading museums worldwide." His examples? Three recent AAG international buy-ins: Degas to Dalí, Who Shot Rock & Roll, and California Design.

That makes the million bucks sound more like a international-travel-and-rent fund than one to research-and-curate around our own culture. This is of course in line with how other ticketing organizations in Regional Facilities operate. RF invests in them so they can comb the world for ‘profitable’ events. But putting on a blockbuster at the AAG is much trickier proposition than presenting a successful musical in a theatre (and that's tricky enough). 

The old days of guaranteed queues for the Impressionists or Picasso or Van Gogh are long gone and securing that sort of product is becoming increasingly difficult. Move into the contemporary and it doesn't get much easier. The hot ticket popular attractions like Christian Marclay's The Clock, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Old People's Home and Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project are rare and the competition for them intense. Design and fashion projects can get audiences but the costs are high and there are other institutions in Auckland with a claim. The AAG is certainly going to earn every single dollar of that million.

Images: Top to bottom, Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Old People's Home and Christian Marclay's The Clock

Saturday, December 14, 2013

One way to get the best art from your pupils

How often have we heard the expression that some curator/collector/dealer has got a "great eye”? There've even cartoons about it with eyes on legs strutting around galleries looking at paintings. The NZ artist Boyd Webb as an art student once mocked the idea by arranging for a blind person to slowly go from painting to painting in a large group show, carefully considering each one. Only some people found this to be funny.

All this by way of stating that even in these non-connoisseurial days we can definitely say that Leandro Granato has a great eye. He may not make great paintings but it is a great thing that he does with that great eye. You can watch Leandro’s bizarre do-not-try-this-at-home painting technique here. As Leandro told an interviewer, ‘Ever since I was a kid I knew I had a special connection between my eye and my nose.’ And between his eye and the canvas too, if you ask us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

On the other hand

Soaring insurance premiums, powerful conservation departments and simple competition are making it more and more difficult to transport important works of art around the world (or in our case around the country). Over the last 20 years the mantra of the art museum has become - “This will be the last ever exhibition” to gather together all the works of this or that artist So here’s an idea whose time may have come.

Dr. Mariella Remund, an expert in branding and neuro-marketing, and her partner Hans-Jürgen Gehrke have put together an exhibition of the entire works (123, count ‘em) of Frida Kahlo.  There's just one small catch. They were all made by Chinese copy painters. But before you dismiss the idea, imagine the chance to be in a gallery with everything Kahlo painted. The works would be to scale so think how much closer the experience might come to the real thing than looking through a book with small size reproductions. That's a debate running in the States at the moment. To be fair the debate is not so much about whether or not the paintings are of any quality but as to how the public is being ripped off by something it believes to be genuine.

But it makes you think, doesn’t it. A complete retrospective of Gordon Walters or Colin McCahon is unlikely any time soon but how hard could it be for the Chinese to bang up a couple of convincing survey shows?

Image: Left, Chinese replica and original on the right…or was it original on the left and Chinese replica on the right? (It's definitely one or the other)

DISCLAIMER: OTN in no way encourages or endorses the copying of the  complete works of New Zealand painters for exhibition. Please note the views expressed on OTN are not necessarily the views of the writers, editors, owners or readers and any similarities to material written here and activities in the real world are purely coincidental. OTN reserves the right to dissemble on the issue of copy painting and for that matter original painting when and where it is deemed necessary.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Len of the North

Did no one else notice the spooky reference to Len Lye in this recent photo published in the Taranaki Daily News to show progress on the building of the Len Lye Centre? Does it support those critics who fret that Len Lye will swamp the Govett-Brewster brand or is it just a coincidental arrangement of two slabs of concrete in a tilt slab building? You be the judge.

As you can see from the pic, the back wall is under construction (this will not have the mirror surfaced stainless steel façade) and the beginnings of the theatre. Latest reports are that construction the building is on track and on budget, that track being an opening in mid-2015 and the budget under or equal to the $11.5 million that has been stumped up for the 'build and fit-out'.

Somewhat off track is the Govett-Brewster Foundation who are evidently growing increasingly frustrated over the of the shiny new LL Centre’s potential to swamp the Govett-Brewster’s brand and its role in NZ’s contemporary art culture. We understand they are holding back to give the new director time to get behind his desk but that an April deadline has been proposed to resolve outstanding issues.

In the meantime the Govett-Brewster and the Len Lye Foundation have sent an exhibition of Lye’s work (Len Lye Agiagiā) to the Mangere Art Centre leading the new trend for southern sharing in the suburbs of Auckland. If you want to go to the opening this Saturday you can get a bus from outside Artspace on K'Rd at 5.45pm, back at 8.15pm.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On the QT, and very hush-hush

In what now feels like a Quixotic quest we tried some time ago to get Creative NZ to release the list of who put in a proposal to be NZ's representative at the 2015 Venice Biennale. As you all know Simon Denny was selected but CNZ refused to release who else went for it. Denny was a great choice from our perspective, but how could you know if this was the best choice unless you also knew who else was in the running?

So we asked the Ombudsman whether the privacy of the people who have entered what amounts to a competition overrides the public interest in the range of options available to the panel. That didn’t turn out too well either. We learnt that the Ombudsman’s office has 2,000 outstanding complaints and has yet to allocate 450 of them to investigators. As one of the noble 450 we are not expecting an answer this year (which is just as well because we haven't had one) or most of next.

While this must be a distressing situation for people who have important issues to be considered, it's still annoying when you want a ruling on a point of principle. What's worse in the balancing of privacy and public interest is that our public servants will no doubt be emboldened to keep more secrets knowing there is unlikely to be any speedy push-back for the public.

Let them beware though. Recent research demonstrates that secrecy is bad for you (we’re looking at you too Walters Prize panelists).

Having secrets makes us feel sad: Professor Tom Frijins in the International Journal of Behavioural Development.

Sharing secrets makes you healthier: Professor Anita Kelly  “Revealing Personal Secrets” 

Secrets make us feel burdened: study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science

Our brains won’t let us keep secrets for too long: Assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience Laura Smart

This from Sarah Sloat’s excellent The Secrets We Keep (Are Making Us Sick and Screwing With Our Brains) in the Pacific Standard.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Room service

Imagine for a moment that John Key has to pop down to Dunedin for a couple of days. He’s taking his wife and they'll stay in the best hotel the city can offer. So what’s front-of-mind for the staffers organising the trip South? We know. Arranging for some great works of art to hang in their hotel room. Quick!  Call the Minister of Culture and Heritage (on second thoughts don’t bother, he’ll fill the place with Piera McCarthur #cheapshot #butwelldeserved). Hang on a moment. It was all a dream. An impossible dream.

But not impossible in Dallas back in November 1963 as you'd see if you visited the Amon Carter Museum. For the exhibition Hotel Texas the Museum has reassembled the works selected for the Kennedy’s suite 850 in Hotel Texas, Fort Worth. It was there they stayed the night before President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas . The President's room featured the more masculine oriented works by Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley and Charles M. Russell but ironically the couple didn’t get the ‘theming.’ The President slept in what was intended to be his wife’s room with Van Gogh's Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade.

Images: Top, Hotel Texas November 1963. Bottom left the 'President's room' showing Thomas Eakins' famous painting Swimming and Charles M. Russell's Lost in a Snowstorm and bottom right the suite's living room featuring Lyonel Feininger's Manhattan II, Franz Kline's Study for Accent Grave and Spirit bird by Morris Graves. (source: Guardian)

Monday, December 09, 2013

By the numbers: Te Papa

0       the number of objects irreparably damaged by visitors to Te Papa last year

.5      the increase in the average age by years of the staff since last year

1       the percentage of items in Te Papa's collections that are on display

1.3    the amount in millions of dollars Te Papa spent on advertising and PR last year

3       the number of Te Papa staff members who are paid over $250,000 per year

6.5    the millions of kWh that Te Papa consumed last year

9       the number of publications published by Te Papa last year

13     the number of Te Papa staff who have declared a disability

15     the amount in millions of dollars by which the value of the art collection has decreased over the last year

36     the reduction in the staff headcount since last year

56     the percentage of Te Papa’s income that does not come from the Government

58     the percentage of staff working at Te Papa who are women

60.4  the cost in millions of dollars to run Te Papa for a year

75     the percentage of Te Papa staff members who are European

143.4 the value in thousands of dollars of items gifted or funded into Te Papa's collections

150    the amount in thousands of dollars paid to members of the Te Papa Board last year

338    the value in millions of dollars of Te Papa’s building and land

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Really? The art world described

“A realm of self-proclaimed royalty full of ‘Black lists’ and ‘Grey lists’ and an astonishing chicanery.’
The judge presiding over the Zwiner/Robins suit

“The most opinionated group of people outside the Vatican.”
Richard Armstrong, Director Guggenheim Museum

“I like that it isn’t regulated”
Gerry Saltz, critic

“Although it reveres the unconventional it is rife with conformity.”
Sarah Thornton in Seven days and nights in the art world

"The art world is now a slave of mass culture. We have a sound-bite culture and so we have sound-bite art."
Matthew Collings, art writer and critic 

“It is the real world in microcosim. The same principles adhere, the same passions and sins, There is good as well as bad, and I have met some delightful people, some scum, and one or two who could be called noble.”
Sophy Burnham in her book The art crowd

“The first rule is you cater to the masses or you kow-tow to the elite; you can’t have both.”
Ben Hecht, film director and writer

“Very conspicuous consumption, very private gratification.”
David Zwirner, art dealer

Friday, December 06, 2013

School days

“Instead art school made instant radical changes to the kind of work I thought was acceptable. Rather than freeing me and releasing me into the slipstream of my ideas and giving me the technical skills to ride the current, art school changed what I thought was relevant.”
Megan Dunn in her essay Submerging artist that includes a poignant and soulful account of three years at art school - published by The Pantograph Punch (always a good read)

By the numbers: Venice 2013

Creative New Zealand announced yesterday that 218,000 people had visited the Bill Culbert exhibition over its six and a half month run at the Venice Biennale. Given that it also reports 14,000 of these people came in the first week alone, that’s 1,250 a day for every single day of the following 163 days. To put that into perspective, it’s over twice the number of people who go to regional galleries like the City Gallery Wellington, the Dowse Art Museum and the Govett-Brewster in a full year.

How do they count these people? As it happened we know as we visited the Culbert exhibition and saw the staff member at the door recording everyone who stepped inside. At one second per visitor that’s over 60 hours of work just there.

NZ’s 218,000 total tops Australia’s Simryn Gill presentation (in the Giardini and therefor subject to ticket sales) by 18,000 visitors and means that nearly half (45.9 percent) of the total visitors who attended the Biennale (475,000) went to the New Zealand pavilion. This hopefully also included half of the 4,655 journalists representing the foreign press.

The only other comparative stats we could find on the CNZ site for New Zealand at Venice was that 114,000 people visited the two exhibitions (Upritchard 21,642and Millar 92,914) in 2009.
The takeaway? Location, location, location. A prime spot on the promenade leading to the Giardini not only hooks in Biennale visitors but also gets the added values of tourists doing the stroll thing along the Riva degli Schiavoni from the Bridge of Sighs.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

In which Claudia goes to the Academy

What’s going on at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts? Now that's not a question you'd ask very often and even if you did you may not hang around for the answer. Back in the seventies though the Academy's gallery was the place you went to see some of the best art exhibitions available in Wellington. There were at least a couple of reasons for that - Brian Carmody and Constance Kirkcaldie. Constance was director from 1975 to 1977 but was really running the place from the beginning of the seventies. She got up a programme that featured things like the Ten big paintings show from the Auckland Art Gallery, as well as a slate of exhibitions that included Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Pat Hanly, Jim Allen, Tony Fomison and Terry Powell. 

Since then the Academy slowly reverted to being…er…an Academy again but now it has appointed Claudia Arozqueta as its new director and believe us this is no prints and pots curator. LOL was invented for how you would respond if anyone told you that this would happen even a couple of years ago. Claudia has been director of Enjoy (another Academy? .... just kidding) and before that a highly regarded and very well connected curator in Mexico and Russia. She is also a regular reviewer for Artforum so the NZAFA’s is waving rather a large contemporary art flag here. Go Claudia.

Image:The Selection Committee for the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, voting in 1956. (Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1956/2170-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22659842

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Square is the new pointy

We must have walked by it many times over the last few years but last Friday we actually noticed Rachel Walters sculpture Hau te kapakapa: the flapping wind. In an age of extreme art and in a land of tall pointy sculptures (the lower part of the North Island anyway) a work that sits quietly on the pavement in no big hurry to grab your attention is not common. 

Walters has cast a banana box (a staple for generations of apartment movers and the container of choice for ceramic artists to shift their wares) and set it like a bird trap on Queen Street at the entrance to Myers Park. A couple of bronze birds have already been caught and the work wonderfully provokes a mix of anxiety tinged with comedy. While we were watching two kids got down on their stomachs to try and count the catch, a couple of people took photographs and a passerby told us that she had seen them installing it a few years ago. It’s that sort of art, the kind that gets on with people and starts them talking to one another. There are couple more in the series by Walters nearby in the park.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Always last to know

A reader has let us know (thanks B) that Te Papa has in fact appointed an Curator Historical International Art and a Curator Modern Art. We were fooled by the Te Papa staff list still saying the positions are vacant. Oh that and the fact that if you Google their names you don’t get a news flash or 'Te Papa' in the results.

Anyway, Curator Modern Art
is Chelsea Nichols. She was previously an exhibition assistant at the police museum and then a Research and Development Coordinator at the Auckland Art Gallery helping to “develop new gallery interpretation strategies” for he opening of the new building and then onto ST Paul Street.

Curator Historical International Art is Mark Stocker who is an associate professor in the Department of History and Art History at Otago University. Stocker is a past editor of the Journal of New Zealand Art History. His main research area is Victorian sculpture but he also publishes on Numismatics and was awarded the Numismatic Association of Australia Ray Jewell bronze medal in 2011. You can watch him talking about his favourite painting in Te Papa Zinnias by British artist William Nicholson here.

Your tax dollar at work

The Te Papa score sheet (sorry, we mean Annual Report) is just out with last year’s results.  So what have they been up to over the last year?

ART GOT MORE SPACE. The commitment to an “increase in art exhibition space from
2,500m2 to more than  8,000m2 is being met with the first  650 m2 already open.

OUR PLACE IS NOT NECESSARILY YOUR PLACE. 45 percent of visitors (just under 600,000 of them) are international tourists while 32 percent of NZ visitors are from the Wellington region. Just 24 percent of visitors come from the rest of New Zealand.

GO FIGURE. Even with refurbished exhibitions Te Papa still struggles to raise visitor numbers. In total 65,600 (just over 1,000 a week) fewer people visited than last year keeping Te Papa’s figures stuck at the 1.3 million mark.

UP AND OUT. The number of staff paid over $100,000 has gone up from 31 to 34.  $1,396,535 was paid to 31 people made redundant over the year

MAJORITY RULES. Visitors of European ethnicity are now up to 78 percent, a 5 percent increase on last year.

DON'T PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED. For all the talk of art being important there is still no senior curator, curator of Modern art or historical NZ art, so the publishing is negligible.  2 research papers, 3 conference presentations, 4 ‘popular’ articles and 1 book (The New Zealand art activity book: 100+ ideas for creative kids)

. 8 paintings by men (John Pine Snadden, Gordon Walters, Michael Illingworth, Brent Wong, Allen Maddox, Peter Robinson, Darryn George and Shane Cotton who’s painting is recorded as Contemporary Maori art unlike Peter Robinson and Darryn George), 4 works on paper by men (Eric Lee-Johnson, Edward Bullmore, Michael Stevenson x2) and 2 digital works by men (x2 Michael Stevenson). Then there's 1 sculptural installation (Yuk King Tan), 1 international installation (Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser) and about 96 photographs including around 40 works by Ans Westra and 1 by Bryony Dalefield. New Zealand based and born Bruce Connew filled in as an International Artist with Te Papa's purchase of 5 photos.

Te Papa's Annual Report is also interesting for what it doesn’t tell you: 

•    The number of visitors under the age of 16 (they aren’t separately recorded - maybe they are hiding in the 16-24 year old figures?)
•    The percentage of attendances that were not for museum purposes (i.e. people who were there for conferences, film festivals, Marae functions, weddings etc.)
•    The percentage of involuntary attendances (i.e. school groups etc)
•    The visitor numbers for each of the paid exhibitions like Game Masters, Angels & Aristocrats and Warhol Immortal
•    The number of visitors to non paying exhibitions like Angels and aristocrats

We’ll ask Te Papa all these questions and get back to you.

You can download the Te Papa Annual Report as a pdf here (we found it under Legislation and Accountability).

Monday, December 02, 2013


Watching the efforts of public art museums to attract their audiences often makes apparent the chasm between the marketers and the curators. Tried and true ways to pull the people that seem obvious to marketers are often at odds with the programming strategies of the very same institutions. Its crudest form was to be seen in campaigns like the Saatchi & Saatchi billboards displaying fake McCahons to promote the opening of the City Gallery in Wellington 20 years ago.

To promote its latest tranche of exhibitions Te Papa has taken to art punning duos (‘art warming’, ‘art stopping’ etc.) setting ‘ordinary visitor types’ against art works (striking self portrait by Rita Angus / striking photo of a contemporary woman that looks a bit like her). We didn’t say it was subtle, and a major upside is that the poster pasters themselves can zoom it up, which is fun for the rest of us. 

In the north, Auckland Art Gallery in the midst of its major commitment to showing contemporary art has decided to advertise that it is …. free.  While this is a classic ticketing venue approach (where tickets are usually paid for) it’s bizarre for an institution that rarely charges for New Zealand exhibitions and never does for general entry. And the marketer’s call to action?  “A summer showcase of new exhibitions and special events”.  Exciting. What ever happened to promoting Freedom Farmers as one of the most ambitious exhibitions of local contemporary art that the Auckland Art Gallery has ever mounted? Its title is only included in the smallest of type as part of a photo credit. Art Breaking.

Images: Top TePapa, bottom AAG

Saturday, November 30, 2013

...and on the table

Today seven years ago we started OTN. Here’s a post from each year (you get eight thanks to OTN starting late in 2006)

The list of artists in Contemporary painters volume II December 2006
Here’s a piece of advice to anyone in the publishing business: never call anything volume I unless you are definitely going to come up with volume II.

Trip of a lifetime July 2007
When Helen Clarke threw a paddy over et al.’s selection for the Venice Biennale, Creative NZ made a big decision. Rather than send an artist to the next Biennale it would spend $56,000 sending a committee of five instead. They’d have a look around and see if it was worth going again some time. You can follow the committee and their Trip of a life time via the various links in this post.

My camera mon amour August 2008
Art in the movies, movies and art, what’s not to like.

When good sculpture turns bad December 2009
Our favourite Christmas photo of all time snuck into the ongoing series that looks at the perils of public sculpture

Spam November 2010
A classic sample of the unvarnished facts, reckless guesswork, insinuations and possible inventions sent in by our readers (Thanks to all of you)

Te Papa - go figure December 2011
How do the big institutions count their audiences? On their fingers as it transpires.

Last farewells April 2012
Over the last seven years OTN has been the sad recorder of the passing parade but none was sadder than saying goodbye to William McAloon.

And that is what they did November 2013
How do the the big decisions get made in the art world? Let us help you with that.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Boyd watching

Some of our great art experiences have been outside art museums, so if you're ever in Melbourne there's a stunner in the Arts Centre just down the road from the National Gallery of Victoria. It's the building with the Eiffel Tower-like spire. Go in through the main doors and down the stairs to the box office level except at the bottom turn left instead of right. Here you'll find 16 Arthur Boyd paintings commissioned for this space. When art people claims works are 'museum quality' this is what they're talking about. And the environment is fantastic. No barriers and no glazing. Lots of comfortable seating and the sound of rehearsals drifting in from the performance venues. 
The red and gold décor (it was going to be red marble and red leather) is straight from the glory days of the late seventies and the number of mirrors is extreme but somehow it works out fine. You can spend as much time as you like alone (we had them to ourselves for over an hour) with some beautiful paintings of the Shoalhaven River, Pulpit Rock and a couple of larger works, one called The actor (a crowned figure with a chook slung over his shoulder) and the other a landscape with one of Boyd’s signature dogs. Curiously, as evocative of the Australian landscape as they are, these paintings were made by Boyd while he was living in London.
Images: top, stairway to heaven. Bottom a sampling of the 16 paintings that line the halls.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Old school

You can never have too many art schools. That’s been the general idea in New Zealand over the last couple of decades. Many of the new ones arrived via a pimp-my-polytech craze that accelerated to absorb the increasing numbers of Gen Y school leavers who wanted to 'do something in the arts'. Now at least one of them - Auckland's Unitec - is reverting back to its Polytechnic roots as an industry-based training institution. In the process they are restructuring the 50 staff in the visual art department down to 17. 

Currently Unitec lists 27 lecturers and seven senior lecturers on its design and visual arts staff. There are some well-known and respected names among them including Yvonne Todd, Nicholas Spratt, Marie Shannon, Lisa Reihana, Allan McDonald, Mark Braunias, Edith Amituanai and Susan Jowsey. Will this return to the old-school idea of specific industry training be contagious? Not hard to think of a number of other art schools that may now be wondering just how long they will keep offering the visual arts as their core business.

You can read more about the Unitec restructure and its implications here.

Roger Boyce comments (28:11:13 / revised 2/12/13): A Neo Liberal sadist's game of musical chairs. By the way, the fellow who's orchestrating the 'pogrom' is Leon de Wet Fourie (former Intelligence Officer,rank of Major, in the South African National Defence Force). Can you beat that for Joseph Heller style black humour? 50 folks wrestling for 17 positions. Would make great Japanese reality TV programming. With Steven 'Pugsly' Joyce fat-fingerdly fiddling the tune. Five hundred and sixty students presently enrolled in the department - Unitec has used these numbers to honk about its scale of "real world learning. Honk, honk, huh? Upper management will, reportedly, be hiring yet more managers of departments who have no teaching experience and no research experience. Students will be galley slaves (um, interns) with design firms ... and teaching will be casualized and insecure. Welcome to the neo-Hobbesian world of modern academia. Taxpayers (via the benefit) will be subsidizing the new low-income, part time status of tertiary teaching professionals.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Talking shop

As the boundaries between design and the visual arts continue to collapse, we’re seeing a lot more art product out there. The segue from gallery to shop was started by museums with a blockbuster agenda and art museums got into the act fast. Gift shops became as essential as cafes with books relegated to a support role. Most of the artists were dead so no harm no foul.
But as art products became an essential part of marketing any large-scale exhibition the artists involved often became active partners. Didn’t take too long for some of them to figure out that institutions clipping the ticket was just annoying and so the rise and rise of Hirst, Shrigley and in New Zealand Frizzell and Poppelwell. Now there’s a new art product experience online courtesy of Ruben Paterson. Here's where you can get your Silk and glitter dust flower brooches and headbands, Reuben Paterson for World Badge and Ts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nine years later

Guys, you've got to let it go.


If there was ever an artist whose time has come it’s got to be Patrick Pound. This New Zealand artist who has been living in Australia for many years has evolved his work into a form of idiosyncratic curation building his own (let’s collect a few E’s together ourselves) eclectic, erudite, exuberant and enigmatic museums of thematically linked objects. A museum of white, a museum of holes, a museum of darkness, and for the huge Melbourne now show that fills both venues of the National Gallery of Victoria, The gallery of air.

Pat’s long-term obsession with the power-of-things fits neatly into the current intellectual cred given to the Renaissance idea of the cabinet of curiosities, with MONA in Hobart being one poster child and the last Documenta another.  This combining of artefacts that effortlessly cater for the brainy and the bling addict at the same time is proving irresistible to art institutions on the hunt for bigger audiences.

The gallery of air
has its own room in the NGV. Drawn from Pat’s own extensive collections and objects he selected from the storerooms and galleries of the NGV, the Museum elegantly presents many objects with not a label in sight. There is a booklet that helps you establish what some of the objects are and how they are related to air, but deciphering the puzzle is what it’s about. 

Some of the items in The Gallery of air are: a whoopee cushion, the air filter from a Ford Zephyr, a doll dressed as an air hostess, a small figure with its hands in the air, A F A Schenck’s melodramatic painting Anguish (reputedly the most popular work in the NGV), an air hockey puck, a photograph of someone blowing life into a lilo, an Air Force ribbon, the booklet Underwater air breathing issued by the Standards Association of Australia…you get the idea. Pat claims on the sole wall panel, “I was quite worried that the NGV’s things might not be as interesting as mine but they seem to be holding their own”. Curiously true.

You can see more images from The gallery of air here in the Age and a video of Pat discussing his work here on the Sydney Morning Herald.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Watch the birdie

As part of the run-up to its next big art auction, Webb’s have published an outsize brochure on its major attraction Bill Hammond’s Farmer's Market. Webb’s are hoping to get between $300,000 and $350,000 for this painting (achieving the lower estimate plus commissions would create a new auction record for Hammond) so it's being given a big push.

However unlike most of the other 15 works by Bill Hammond that have fetched over the $100,000 mark in the last decade, Farmer's Market is just four years off the easel. So how do you calm the horses over the traditional fear of later works (the average age of the last decades big dollar offerings is just shy of 11 years old).

Webb’s have done it by coupling critical and art historical remarks with detailed analysis of sales performance creating a new ‘period’ for the work on the block to slip into, 1999 to 2009. Until this year most of the high priced Hammonds at auction were painted between 1995 and 1998. Farmers market, being painted in 2009, is of course the bleeding edge of this follow-up period.

Selling paintings that are all but fresh from the studio is more commonplace than it used to be (the Cotton in this auction is also a recent painting). And there is a precedent with Hammond, an even ‘wetter’ work, the three-year-old Whistler’s mothers, sticks and stones was hammered down for around $135,000, but that was 10 years back.

It wasn’t that long ago that it would have been unthinkable to frame up major paintings as financial assets in this way. Accumulated auction prices were hard to come by so accurate indexing was virtually impossible. A lot has changed. Most auction houses (there are a few exceptions) are very sophisticated in presenting art as analysed by its dollar value compounded with the construction of complex comparisons. The shame in all this is not that some art is seen as a cash cow but that the producers don’t share in the spoils.

Unsurprisingly it was the wealthy that squealed loudest a few years ago when a measly 5 percent was proposed as an artist payback from profits at auction. The idea died without a whimper. Hammond alone has put more than two million bucks back into the pockets of collectors over the last ten years and six million over his auction career. For his trouble he'd be lucky to have got so much as a box of chocolates, let alone flowers. Very lucky.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A tram is a tram is a tram

We've always been big fans of Melbourne artist Rose Nolan. Thanks to Hamish McKay we have been able to follow her work for some time now from the comfort of Wellington. Today in Melbourne on the opening of the exhibition Melbourne now we saw the Nolan tram ("It's Ok to Be Alright") roll by. Brilliant. Melbourne now also has a number of other New Zealanders in it including Daniel von Sturmer, Jess Johnson, Brent Harris, Michael Stevenson, Daniel Crooks, Greg More, Jake Walker, Patrick Pound and Ronnie van Hout. You can see Rose's tram in action here.
Images: Top and middle OTN. Bottom from the Trams Downunder archive

Friday, November 22, 2013

Food for thought

Some ideas are just too good to die and so it is with pasta art. Our own Master of Pasta was John Hurrell back in the early eighties. Hurrell would painstakingly pick out the letters from packets of alphabet soup and build them into texts, many of them from the art world, on paintings. Sticking the noodly letters to the surface with acrylic fixative he skewered the pretentions, boosterism and purple prose of critics and writers. He even managed to find a purple passage in Contemporary New Zealand Painters (an all but impossible task as any fair reader would tell you) and make it the subject of one of these pasta paintings.

Twenty years later pasta is back on the boil in the work of American Scott Reeder who has also reached out to the pasta soup alphabet.

Images: Scott Reeder paintings at the Lisa Cooley Gallery in NY. You can see an example of John Hurrell’s pasta work here in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery

Thursday, November 21, 2013

They walk among us

It’s now 15 months since the last Walters Prize was awarded. That means the clock is ticking on the two-year period from which exhibitions will be considered the next time round.  We figure it's runs from May 2012 to May 2014 so we're a year and a half in. So the secret panel is out there somewhere. Why we can't know who they are is something to do with their fear of being 'lobbied', although you would normally think the more input committees like this had the better.

So far as the public is concerned at least there have been no changes announced to the rules of the Walters Prize. So the big issue over whether they are choosing a specific exhibition or basing their selection on a significant contribution made over the past two years is still in the air. We also assume the who-needs-to-see-art-to-judge-it approach favoured by the last selection panel is still in place.
The next time round may also reveal whether the Walters Prize follows an Olympic or Nobel model i.e. can someone win it twice. We know from Peter Robinson and John Reynolds that you can have at least two opportunities to be in to win and Kate Newby’s installation in Brussels would a contender if a double is possible and you’d have to put Francis Upritchard in there too. And of course the Michael Stevenson yes you're-in-no-you're-not embarrassment will rear its head again thanks to Proof of the Devil at Michael Lett, his Portikus project and the exhibition in Mexico City.

There’s certainly no shortage of great shows to choose from.

Luke Willis Thompson’s Untitled performance as part of the Auckland Art Gallery’s Chartwell collection exhibition Made active

Simon Denny’s All you need is data: the DLD 2012 Conference REDUX rerun at the Petzel gallery in NY and his Dot Com exhibition in Vienna

Fiona Connor’s Untitled (mural design) project at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Joe Sheehan’s  The quick and the dead at the Tim Melville Gallery and his Pataka survey show

Shane Cotton’s touring exhibition The hanging sky

Alex Montieth at the MMK in Frankfurt

Ronnie van Hout's two gallery extravaganza I've seen things at the Dowse

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The one that got away

Every collector you meet has a one-that-got-away story. The best one we've heard was from a couple of LA collectors we met via Giovanni Intra. They had a major collection of  Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work but the work that haunted them was one by Jeff Koons.

The story goes that in the 1980s they had walked into a Jeff Koons exhibition in New York and been transfixed by a stainless steel rabbit. “We both were ready to buy it but for that particular exhibition Koons had more than doubled his prices so we thought we should give it a bit of thought. We were almost back to our hotel when we looked at one another and said, 'This is crazy, we have to buy it’. On the way back to the gallery we met the director of one of the big art museums. ‘Where are you off to?’ he asked us. ‘To the Koons' show,’ we told him. ‘Don’t waste your time. It’s just rubbish. Expensive rubbish,’ he said. And we lost our nerve, turned around and went home.”

You can read some more hunt and miss stories here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Art group V&B (Villeroy & Boch) mash up a Upritchard / Wealleans lookalike for Miami .
via Art Forum

Art in adland: Len Lye

Len Lye was involved with quite a few ads in his time and in 1957 one of them almost won the New York Art Directors Award for best commercial. The one-minute spot was made for Chrysler and features very early (if not the first) examples of fast-paced intentional jump cuts. Thanks to his work with Lye on Rhythm McCann-Erickson ad agency producer James Manilla is known in the industry as the inventor of “squeeze advertising” the one frame shots that paved the way for subliminal advertising. The first ad acknowledged to use subliminal imagery (the words “Eat Popcorn”) was made later in the same year and is attributed to market researcher James Vicary.

The Lye ad Rhythm shows the making of a 1955 Plymouth using an existing Chrysler film Wishes on wheels. You can see a clip from it here including some of the images Lye used.

And the reason Lye didn’t get his Art Directors Award? Chrysler had found the film too abstract and felt that the ‘winking man’ image devalued their product so did not approve its screening. It was only discovered at the last minute (after Lye had been given the nod) that the ad had not in fact played and it was pulled from competition.

Sources: Roger Horrocks' biography of Len Lye, Motor Thrills magazine, McCann Erickson and the forwardlook discussion forums


You can’t stop a good art entrepreneur and when it comes to Damien Hirst collaborating with Alexander McQueen, and looking at this video clip, why would you want to. We've already posted on the forays of many artists into the world of fashion (in NZ Martin Poppelwell and Dick Frizzell are hard at it) but here's Hirst celebrating McQueen’s famous skull scarf ten years on. Be warned, there are major price hikes this time round with $600 for the silk twill and $1,400 for the cashmere. The video and photographs are by London based Norwegian photographer Sølve Sundsbø who also designed the creepy cover for Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head. You can see samples of Hirst's scarf designs here at Designboom.

Other art and fashion stories from OTN
In store
Jenny Holzer
Yves Klein
Mark Rothko
Piet Mondrian
Keith Haring
Richard Serra
Gilbert and George

Monday, November 18, 2013

Auction fever

If you were wondering how NZ's two main contemporary art auction houses differ, Wellington was the place to do it last week. Both Art + Object and Webb’s did the man-in-a-van thing and brought down samplers of what's coming up in their next auctions. One (A+O) showed their wares in the white cube(ish) spaces of 30 Upstairs on Courtenay Place and the other (Webb’s) on the dark panelled walls of The Young up the hill.

A + O promoted their offering via one of their distinctively oversized catalogues while Webb’s returned to a more conventional Sotheby’s-like format complete with a magazine front section.  Both catalogues featured a fold out, Webb’s for Bill Hammond and A+O for Ralph Hotere.

As usual the core offerings are pretty similar. Both include Michael Smither (two sixties domestic paintings), Peter Robinson (A+O four, Webb’s six), Michael Illingworth, Peter Peryer (both offering his portrait of Christine Mathieson, Webb’s with a low estimate of $5,000 to A+O’s $7,000), Pat Hanly, Michael Parekowhai (A+O a couple of photographs and Webb’s a maquette for the rejected 2002 proposal for The Christchurch Square), Don Driver (both including a work featuring sacks spills that could have been made the same day but are in fact separated by 14 years) and  Frizzell (A+O two, Webb’s six).

And the differences? A+O have works by Ted Bullmore and Julian Dashper on offer, Webb’s have half a dozen by Ralph Hotere,  a couple by C F Goldie and six works by Bill Hammond.

Of course the big difference is in sheer volume. Webb’s are presenting 103 lots that they are hoping will fetch (on low estimate) $3.15 million. A+O are going for $1.96 million (on low estimate) from 69 lots. Webb’s are putting up seven works valued over $100,000 on low estimate to A+O’s two.

So 26 November for A+O and two days later for Webb’s. Game on.
Images: left, A+O present Smither at 30 Upstairs and right Smither via Webb's at The Young

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Just in case you think dropping the second post has stopped our love of the trivial, the weird, the did-you-see-that and the hilarious here is a omnibus edition of what we saw last week
Images: top to bottom, thinking about Tessa Laird in Te Kuiti, watching a couple of guys dismantling Choi Jeong Hwa's sculpture in the AAG foyer, spotting names on signs on the Auckland waterfront and haunting the foyers in search of art.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Most times we get to know about artists a few years after they have left art school. Nowadays it might come a bit earlier as the universities promote their graduate shows and dealers roam the halls looking for fresh faces, but the art school process itself remains mysterious to most of us.

We had a great insight into it one year when we saw the final submission of video maker, sculptor and painter Campbell Patterson. His ‘studio’ was hard to find and all that was on the door once we finally found it was a note telling us to close the door after us. The room was dark apart from six or so monitors (which we later discovered were showing the out takes from the videos Paterson had made while at art school) but there was also something looming up the walls. We turned on the lights. There stacked around the perimeter was everything Patterson had used for the three years he had been at art school and on sheets of paper pinned on the walls what looked like a complete inventory of every item in the room.

There's now another opportunity to take a look into the art school process via Richard Malloy’s fascinating exhibition at Starkwhite in Auckland. Malloy has constructed a series of bays in which he shows work from every year he studied at Elam. It is literally the good, the bad and the ugly. You can see Malloy toying with ideas, reflecting fashionable tropes, experimenting with something and dropping it, and always moving on. It’s a gutsy thing to expose yourself in this way but it makes for very entertaining and insightful viewing. Thanks Richard.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Art’s white rhinos

To counter the endless ‘power’ lists Hyperallergic has published its 20 most powerless people, places and things in the art world. This line-up presents art’s threatened species. You can no doubt easily think of more verging on extinction so a prize for the best suggestions sent to OTN. In the meantime, here’s a sampler of Hyperallergic's contenders.

Identity-Politics Curators
“Modest Abstraction” Painters
Artists who aren’t Celebrities
Brick and Mortar Galleries
Political Artists
Artists Riffing on Any Decade Besides the 1970s
Negative Criticism

You can see the full list here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

White drip

Any political cartoonist will tell you that the most likely buyer of the original of a vicious cartoon is the person, ok politician, who it was targeted at. And so it is with art. Coming up at auction this month are art works owned by Paul Holmes, a leader in the art-is-stupid media opportunity. It was Holmes who led the anti-et al. brigade. Rather than offer congratulations to New Zealand’s representative at Venice in 2005 he initiated an outpouring of media rage. Distorted echoes of it still pop up even now. 

Now we discover though that even if Holmes was up for savaging contemporary art in public, in private he was a trophy art collector including the scalps of bad boys Tony Fomison, and Allan Maddox on his belt. Holmes of course went even further. In a classic act of self referencing, it turns out he had bought Ralph Hotere’s painting White Drip II which Hotere had made in a disgusted reaction to Holmes’s racist ‘Cheeky Darkie’ comment.  Let’s hope that this time round White Drip II will go from Holmes to a better home.
Image: Holmes getting stuck into contemporary art

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


How interested should we be in the comings and goings of the admin staff at our public art museums? In the case of the Auckland Art Gallery we reckon, very interested. As the job of our art museums changes and they go after broader audiences, the best clues to how things will play out in terms of resources are to be found at the doorstep of the bureaucrats, not the curators.

We’ve already suggested that Regional Facilities Auckland has its eye on the AAG as a money-spinner to match the rest of its group (stadiums and other ticketed venues). “Better focus capital investment, attract new opportunities and gain operating efficiencies,” is the RFA’s catch-cry.  

Of course one of the markers of the relationship between the RFA and the Gallery is always going to be the role of the Deputy Director. The first one (Viv Beck) had an arts background and while that seemed to work for the Gallery, it was a case of not-so-much for the RSA. So now Beck has been ushered out the door in double quick time, has the Deputy Director job been advertised? Not so far as we know and for the last three months the job has been filled by an acting deputy. 

At the same time, in a very bold move for someone who has just put their feet under the desk, Director Rhana Devenport has zoomed off overseas leaving the running of the Gallery to an Acting Director.

So who is serving as the Acting Director while she's away? The senior curator? No. The director of special projects who has been with the gallery for yonks? No. It’s a guy called Craig Goodall who is the current Deputy Director (acting) and now Acting Director (still with us?) as well. Goodall is a facilities guy who comes to the Auckland Art Gallery via the Edge, North Harbour Stadium, the St James Theatre and opera house and the Hastings District Council. He’s also President of the Entertainment and Venues Association of New Zealand. 

We understand Goodall was also an applicant for the Deputy Director’s job when Viv Beck was appointed. Next time lucky?

Monday, November 11, 2013

One day at an OTN editorial meeting

Editor 1: I’ve got a great second post for today.

Editor 2: What?

E1: It’s sort of a blurry photograph of a monkey painting something that a lookalike of a work we saw in a foyer that was named after an artist.

E 2: Brilliant.

E 1: I love doing the second post don’t you?

E 2: Highlight of my day.

E 1: But it does make you feel a bit guilty, doesn’t it?

E 2: You mean how we could be out there inventing a cure for something or other instead.

E 1: Exactly. Or just lounging around. One of the two.

E 2: We should just stick to one post a day and do the lounging thing.

And from Tuesday 12 November, they did.

Farming news

If you want to see contemporary art Auckland Art Gallery is the place to go. Three floors of it. Has the AAG ever shown as much in one hit? OK, you may not like all of it but for now anyway the contemporary rules on Kitchener Street.

Of course this comes at a cost. How is it even possible that in a brand new building the only way the AAG can put a serious contemporary foot forward is by stripping out most of its historical collections? These are the best all-purpose spaces in the Gallery so how Freedom Farmers curator Natasha Conland persuaded the history curators to let her have the run of them is anybody’s guess. Still now we know the way this is the obvious venue for big contemporary exhibitions such as the proposed Billy Apple survey.

As for the Farmers show, it's certainly a graphic demo of the magnetic attraction of Auckland. Only four of the 20 artists on show were actually born in the city (that’s only one more than the number who were born outside NZ) but 65 percent of them live there. And Elam has had nearly a clean sweep with all but three of the 20 artists having graduated from or teaching there.

Sometimes it's the public programmes that clarify an exhibition's intentions. Freedom Famers quirky title and poppy presentation come together around something called "creative living". The links back to the 1970s (the current hot curatorial decade) and guides like the Whole Earth Catalog will be made material on 1 December via an "Ideas Market" with beer brewing and composting. 

In this out pouring of utopian alternatives viewers may be surprised to find much of the actual work in the exhibition is dystopian to the point of despair. On the other hand, as writer Rose Lovejoy once dryly noted, “Every dystopia is masked by a utopia.”

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Today is brought to you by the letter P

On the road to Auckland channeling the Koons Puppy and Serra's Prop

Friday, November 08, 2013

Step master

If you happen to visit the websites of art museums you'll be accustomed to those stop motion videos of exhibitions being installed. The idea is that we'll feel more engaged because we can see the exhibition emerging. In Japan we saw three of these whizzy shorts given a major promotion and be presented as part of the exhibition itself. It's all getting a bit ADD. Fun for sure but what happened to the art museums' desire to slow down and deepen the visual experience?

So here’s an art event in slow-mo. We found it on Dick Frizzell’s Facebook page. A day-by-day record (17 to 20 October) of his progress on a single painting with the last pic accompanied by a heartfelt “Finished.”

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Art chart

Thanks L

Back to the future

“I dream of an art world without pointless parochialism,” was one response to our suggestion that the selection of only one artist from NZ for the Sydney Biennale was unreasonably low. That got us thinking. Just when you think the global/local argument has died, there it is, dragging itself up out of the swamp. The reason is that for all its global marketing trappings, Biennale art is surprisingly localised. Every artist bio, every catalogue entry, carefully states not only where these artists live, but also where they were born. There's perhaps an element of pay-off for national funders of specific artists but more importantly knowing where someone is from captures a whole lot of context in a single fact.

OK, back to Juliana Engberg's selections for next year's Sydney Biennale. Yes, she is one of Australia’s most dynamic curators and yes, her idea for the Biennale is global enough (“an exploration of the world and contemporary aesthetic experience”), but the artists she has selected are not born and do not live in a very large part of the globe: Russia, Africa, South America, India or China. Sorry BRIC that love affair is being left to Queensland.

This Biennale is local, it's just its local is Europe and down-under. Of the 90 artists 61 live or work in Europe (84 percent of those are from the EU) and 19 are from Australia. The rest: nine Swiss, half a dozen Norwegians, four Chinese one of whom lives in Europe, a Japanese living in New York, an Egyptian a couple of Canadians and a couple from the USA etc. In sum if they’re not in Australia (or the one artist living in NZ) they live or work in the Northern Hemisphere.

As Biennales usually do, this one also emphasises its expansiveness boasting “a vibrant list of more than 90 artists from 31 countries." To put it nicely this is blowing smoke. The closest we've seen to it is the 1979 Biennale curated by Nick Waterlow. That one was called European dialogue.

Image: countries not represented in the upcoming Biennale of Sydney in red.