Thursday, February 28, 2013

First Govett-Brewster director slams Len Lye Centre

Frustrated by a lack of progress after a number of meetings, founding director of the Govett-Brewster John Maynard (and the person responsible for setting it on its course as a leader in contemporary art over the last 42 years) has publically called for a halt to building of the Len Lye Centre. 

In a letter to today's Council meeting addressed to the Mayor and Councillors of the New Plymouth District Council, John Maynard claims the current building project of  “over exaggerated cultural benefits and underestimated costs”. The letter calls for the Council “to apply common sense to the problem … send the Len Lye Centre back to the drawing board… incorporate the Gallery extension and insist that the design complies with the architectural brief and the budget.”

Maynard gives five reasons for this Hail Mary pass to stop the plan.
·      The failure of the proposed design to provide the museum standards outlined in the brief.
·      The ongoing costs of maintaining a stainless steel façade (Maynard points to the stained base of Lye’s Wind Wand as an example of the problem)
·      The waste (Maynard estimates around $4million) involved in demolishing the Award-winning 1998 extension as part of the project
·      The risk to TSB and the New Plymouth Council of further commitments if the project runs over budget
·      Under-estimation of the budget

Maynard describes the Patterson-designed Centre as “dull, pompous and self important” and “an empty metaphor for a great artist who was known for playfulness, wit and humour.”

You can read the Council papers here and watch today's 4.30pm meeting on the future of the Len Lye Centre live streamed here

That was the year that was

Here’s some things that are celebrating (well maybe not) their 55th anniversary this year.

Hamish Keith joins a professional staff of five at the Auckland City Art Gallery

Len Lye begins making Free Radicals which he will revise into its final form in 1979

Rita Angus heads to England to study at the Chelsea School of Art for a year

Arnold Wilson takes up his post as art teacher at the newly-built Bay of Islands College in Kawakawa

After a three-month trip to the United States Colin McCahon returns to New Zealand and paints his Northland Panels

The term “Pop Art” is used for the first time by Lawrence Alloway in Architectural Digest

Architect (and photographer) James Chapman Taylor dies in Lower Hutt

The exhibition British Abstract Painting tours New Zealand

Auckland City Art Gallery mounts the first of its touring New Zealand artist exhibitions Eight NZ Painters 1

Arnold Nordmeyer’s ‘Black budget’ puts an end to importing touring exhibitions

Ans Westra moves to Wellington after having arrived in New Zealand the previous year

Milan Mrkusich leaves the Auckland design company Brenner Associates and starts painting full time

One of our Senators is missing.

A reader sent us a pic of a Fomison painting that’s in an exhibition at the Gow Langsford Gallery that opened yesterday. Fomison has titled his painting The Risen Christ Appearing to Three Senators by Tintoretto and it is one of a series of ‘copy’ paintings inspired by his travels in Europe in the late sixties. But hang on a minute, as our reader says, where’s the third Senator? It seems the third man was a victim of composition, a Fomison whim or maybe even canvas size. The original painting by Tintoretto hangs in the Venetian Academy where Fomison would no doubt have either purchased the postcard or recorded it in one of the notebooks he always had to hand. The Fomison version was probably painted later during a stint he had in an English hospital before returning to New Zealand. Not that the dumped politico is big loss. The real drama of the original is the Christ figure making his spectacular cloud-parting arrival. Fomison picked up on the calm indifference of Tintoretto’s senators to this amazing event and pushed it some. The two of them seem more bemused by us their audience than the sudden appearance of Christ.
Images: Top, Tony Fomison’s The Risen Christ Appearing to Three Senators by Tintoretto and bottom, Tintoretto’s The Risen Christ Appearing to Three Senators. (Thanks L)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Art chart

From a reader a day in the life, redrawn by the OTN art department. Thanks G

In the shadows

We’ve mentioned the interests of the current Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage often enough so, post Labour's Shadow Cabinet shuffle, here’s a look at their new line up art-wise. The good news is that both the Shadow spokesperson (Grant Robertson who has often been tipped as a potential PM) and one of the Associates are ranked high. Grant Robinson is number 2 as Deputy leader and the Associate Jacinda Ardern is ranked at 4. The other Associate is Darien Fenton who is ranked at 16. So far as interests go Robertson is positioned in his Labour Party profile as “a keen sports fan, particularly cricket, rugby and the mighty Wellington Phoenix. He is also a fan of New Zealand music and literature, and loves cooking and movies.” Fenton and Ardern’s Labour Party profiles makes no mention of the arts at all although Fenton was once a music teacher and claims some early experience with film. As to the Labour Party's arts policy – well you try and find it on their website we couldn’t. But here it is on The Big Idea. Thanks CNZ.
Image: from top right to left Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Darien Fenton

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


At the opening of a New gallery in Wellington this weekend a small crowd was intently staring at the fireplace. Turns out one of the tiles had fallen off and broken and a repair had been made. But not just any old repair; the tile and its surround had been replaced with perfectly made cardboard facsimiles. Sometimes, even in art galleries, art is where you find it.
Image: Right, lookalike tile and edging second down on the right

Googling on: paint by numbers

In its exhibition WHIZZ BANG POP the Auckland Art Gallery is showing the Damien Hirst multiple Paint by Numbers (edition of 175). Lowering its market value at a stroke, they have taken the title literally and made themselves a ‘Hirst’ by following the paint-by-number instructions (it’s a bit like eating one of Paul McCarthy’s Chocolate Santas). More typically this work would be displayed as it is sold with the canvas untouched revealing its paint-by-number markings for the 90 spots. NOTE: The Auckland Art Gallery has since told us that when the work was purchased the edition had already been opened and the 'Hirst' painted presumably by its first owner. Word is that, perhaps inspired by this professional do-it-yourself spirit, a recent visitor prised open the paint box on display, took out one of the brushes, dipped it into one of the 90 pots of paint and had a go. Presumably their efforts to follow Hirst’s instructions will be conserved out.

Of course Hirst isn’t the first PBN artist. Warhol made a few back in 1962 as Do it yourself paintings (shop here) although now the worm has turned again and you can buy a PBN version of Warhol Campbell’s Soup can. The original Paint by numbers concept goes back to 1950 when the Palmer Paint Company in Detroit came up with the idea. Overall this kind of PBN has had bad press in the art world. It is seen as the painting equivalent of Truman Capote’s great sniff at Jack Kerouac's work, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” Still, if you can muster up some irony you can buy sets here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ralph Hotere 1931-2013

There has been a massive outpouring from the media in response to Ralph Hotere’s death on Sunday. This time the role of one of our important artists has been powerfully and publically acknowledged for his contribution to our culture’s history and development. The irony will not be lost on those who knew Hotere as one of a small band of artists who refused to take part in the media round. He always said that if you wanted answers you needed to find them in the work and he stuck to that philosophy. Hotere quotes are few and far between. 

We had our own experience of the Hotere silence when we asked for an interview back in the late 1970s. “I really have nothing to say to you,” he replied to our note, “but you are more than welcome to come and spend a day with me and my work.” So we did. Hotere was wry and funny and thoughtful never once suggesting that the two Wellington eager beavers might be keeping him away from important work. It was a memorable day and as it turned out not the last. Now that contemporary art by Maori artists is simply accepted as another key part of our culture, it is hard to remember how hard this acceptance was won and what a pivotal part Ralph Hotere played in the winning.
Images: Top left Otago Daily Times front page and right The Press inside pages. Middle, NZ Herald Front page and inners. Bottom Dominion Post front page and TVNZ report.


The closing of Sue Crockford’s gallery after 28 years didn’t exactly make the front page of the NZ Herald (or any other page for that matter) but it is significant. Apart from some remarkable exhibitions in a number of venues Crockford was also one of a new kind of dealer with ambition and international connections. She confidently included artists from beyond NZ on her roster so that Pae White, Daniel Buren, Boyd Webb, Bill Culbert and memorably once Sol LeWitt got to show in Auckland.
This focused style has repercussions for her artists. Along with other dealers many of her artists were solely represented in NZ by the gallery with most of them not showing South of the Bombay Hills. This leaves some big names without NZ representation. Most affected must be Bill Culbert who is representing NZ at Venice this year. Fortunately he does have Roslyn Oxley in Sydney to play pick up and that will matter this year, dealers play a much more important role in the public arena than they are often given credit for. They are the record holders and context setters and, as institutional curators and directors rarely visit artists’ studios, the gatekeepers who help shape our public collections. Sole dealer relationships tends to make their contribution and cooperation all the more critical.
So apart from Culbert who else is up for grabs? There are at least half a dozen younger artist who only have the Sue Crockford Gallery representing them in NZ along with some artists with serious reputations like Peter Robinson (who also shows at McLeavey), Gretchen Albrecht (who now has no dealer representation in NZ), John Reynolds (who will no doubt settle with Starkwhite) and Laurence Aberhart. There’s also a couple of estates. Gordon Walters and Julian Dashper were both key artists and both need commercial fizz to keep their lights from dimming while the public institutions inch toward survey exhibitions (Walters’ last survey was 30 years ago and Dashper has never had one in New Zealand).  The overseas artists probably won’t have Auckland at the top of their wish list but lets hope someone steps up for Culbert. But whichever way you look at it there is a lot to assimilate. The music has stopped, watch those chairs.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday at the movies

It’s Saturday morning so why not settle back and watch this clip from the US TV show Portlandia taking a friendly pot shot at conceptual art.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Talking books

“It's freezing up here. What did you use to keep warm?”
“Indignation, best fuel I know. Never burns out.”
Michelangelo responds in The agony and the ecstasy by Irving Stone

Adze break

While you might have thought Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and the rest would quickly become central to making art, it's taking longer than you might expect. Video followed the same stuttering path until becoming a standard part of the repertoire. The rule seems to be that change takes longer than you expect and when it does come, it happens faster than you could imagine. But it is happening. Take sculptor Joe Sheehan. His work often references analogue communication (Carousel projectors, old TVs, cassette tapes) but he found a recent inspiration for a major work via eBay.

Browsing "remote controls" he found a collection for sale. And we're not talking a couple of old TV channel choosers but 700 remote controls with a photo of a small sample of the Motherload. “They were laid out like artefacts. I still don’t know why I didn’t buy them.” But later Sheehan did snap up a collection of 400 and used their shapes, buttons and markings to carve works in stone that hovered between remote controls and adzes. “The first one I made was pure adze with lots of buttons so the whole project became getting the right side of wrong.” Sheehan titled the first set of these carved ‘artefacts’ The quick and the dead.
Images: Top, Joe Sheehan’s work space. Bottom left, the remote control collection and right, the beginnings of new work. Sheehan paints the stone before carving it to make the drawing visible while he carves.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The difference engine

What a difference 18 months makes in art museum land. Back in September 2011 two of our art museum directors logged up 25 years between them. Now (well in a month or so) only two of the six are with the same institution. Elizabeth Caldwell has started the clock ticking at the City Gallery and Cam McCracken has taken her place at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. That leaves Rhana Devenport at the Govett-Brewster and Jenny Harper at the Christchurch Art Gallery on 6.5 years each. You can check out the situation as it was in 2007 here.


You may well think these are sketches for abstract paintings, perhaps by a frontrunner like Maleavich, or even one of our own, McCahon maybe. But they are in fact margin drawings from the The Codex Arundel a collection of papers assembled by Leonardo and now in the British Museum. If you want to spend your day (ok, evening) going through the entire codex (seriously, they have put every page up on line) this is the place to go.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Good work

One thing has changed in the presentation of NZ at Venice. This time round there is a constant flow of information and insight coming through about the artist and the context of his work. The heavy lifting is being done by curator Justin Paton who is finally answering the often-asked question, “what the hell does a curator do when an artist is making a solo project at the VB?”  Follow the trail here
Image: Bill Culbert's Pacific Flotsam in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery

Buying up small

You don’t have to talk to art museum people long to hear a familiar complaint: they can't afford to participate in the world of art collecting any more. The prices, they will tell you, have gone way beyond their budgets. And if you’re talking about classic Hammond, Robinson or Smither they are probably right. Apart from Te Papa which found just under a million to be the über buyer at the Les and Milly Paris auction and Auckland Art Gallery which was able to shell out hundreds of thousands for an Andreas Gursky photograph recently, many of the institutions have been diverted from their collections. Their priorities now lie more in buildings, staff and marketing than in purchasing art.

We were reminded of this when Webb’s first catalogue of the year A2 Art (the A is for affordable) arrived.  With around $15,000, possibly a little more, probably a little less (based on the middle of Webb's estimates) here’s our pick of ten works we reckon would do any of our art institutions proud. 

WHAT: No. 13 Jeffrey Harris Girl with flower (1970) and No 60 Couple (1970) for $2,400.

WHY: Harris's prices are all over the place but his superb works on paper (especially the early ones) are consistently low. When institutions say 'great art is beyond our budgets' they're telling fibs.

WHAT: No. 45 Alan Maddox Untitled (1975) for $1,500

WHY: Maddox puts the idea of what drawing (and composition) are about to the test and that’s a good thing for art institutions to do too.

WHAT: No. 79 Melvin Day Study of a bull No (c. 1950s?)  for $2,500

WHY: What's not to love about the fact that there were New Zealanders living in Rotorua and struggling with Cubism in the fifties.

WHAT: No. 99. Ian Scott Lattice No 78 (1983) for $1,300

WHY: Ian Scott’s Lattices are the confident eighties personified and make his reticent mentor Gordon Walters all the more interesting

WHAT: No. 85 Colin McCahon North Otago landscape (1961) for $4,000

WHY: This drawing was made at the same time as the Gates and before Necessary Protection. All the iconography is there staring straight at you. A piece of the true cross for under $5,000? Come on.

WHAT: No. 168 Adele Younghusband Still life composition (1963) for $800

WHY: You need to show there were good women painters apart from Rita Angus in the sixties. Oh, and wouldn't you know it, women are always cheaper.

WHAT: No. 177 and 178 Para Matchitt Te Kooti series 3 and 4 (1967) for $3,000

WHY: Because this would be the super-bargain of the night price vs quality wise.

WHAT: No. 234 William Reid Warships in the South Pacific for $1,500

WHY: It’s a nice work that speaks eloquently to our history and our place in the Pacific – well one aspect of it anyway

OK. Go for it.

COMMENT: Andrew Paul Wood: It is particularly interesting that Ian Scott's lattices coincide with the period that Petar Velutic was his dealer. Before and after it's pop, pretty girls and ironic references to art history.

Image: Webb’s catalogue featuring a detail of Jeffrey Harris’s 1970 drawing Couple

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Looking through old photographs

...and thinking about Ben Cauchi

Two’s company

Most of you will know that a great art-in-the-movies-moments was when the creepy Grady twins (played by Lisa and Louise Burns) popped up in front of Danny as he raced around the corridors of the Overlook hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. “Come play with us Danny, for ever and ever.” The two girls were based on the Diane Arbus photograph Identical twins Roselle, N.J. Kubrick in fact studied photography under Arbus but always denied any relationship between his twins and the Arbus pair (good luck with that one).
Arbus photographed the twins (Cathleen and Colleen Wade) in 1967 when they were seven years old and attending a Christmas party for twins and triplets. They have since been tracked down and still live in New York. More about them and other who-are-they? revelations including one Arbus's famous baby shots being of ace TV reporter Anderson Cooper here.
Images: Top left,  Diane Arbus Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J. and right Cathleen Mulcahy and Colleen Yorke (the Wade twins). Bottom, the Grady twins (Lisa and Louise Burns) before and after. 
You can read another OTN Arbus post here

Monday, February 18, 2013

Spot that koru No. 3

Answer here on OTN Stuff

Other STK competitions on OTN
STK No. 1
STK No. 2

What’s the deal here?

Looks like we'll see some changes in the art gallery business this year. Sue Crockford has been doing a Diva like leaving-staying-leaving her space down by the water and has now put her gallery storage space there up for sale. This plus word of artists leaving surely heralds some downsizing at the very least. Also shedding skin is Hamish McKay who is talking about closing his gallery space in a couple of months. Fittingly that will fall close to the gallery’s 20th anniversary and follows long-time artist Michael Harrison taking a walk (part of Ivan Anthony’s you-will-be-mine-oh-yes-you-will-be-mine policy?). Meanwhile a new space (well a new old space previously known as the Blue House) is opening in Mt Victoria to be called 'The Young' with its first show including the (forever young?) Peter Peryer. The mixing of projects and exhibitions (Lett showing Crockford’s artist Albrecht is a good example) and representation is further blurring the who-shows-where-and-who-owes-what-to-who stakes. In Wellington 30 Upstairs claims not to be a dealer because it “will not turn a profit on the sale of artworks.” Say what? Currently it has have Michael Lett (who presumably does want to make a profit) selling his own artists off the floor. Meanwhile off -shore a major auction house has closed itsgallery space while still holding onto the more lucrative private treaty sales that came with it, and there is more talk of the agent/ manager model taking over from the standard white cube display space one. A version of this could well be what McKay has in mind. One thing we can guarantee for the year ahead though - while there might be some closures, there will definitely be openings.
Image:  a sweet mix

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Putting the life back into life drawing

Here’s a chance to get on your bike, learn some anatomy and do some extreme life drawing. Toss a coin, loser wears the suit and rides out front. Muscle skins available here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Before Avatar there was Tretchikoff

Who knows how many reproductions there are of the famous Chinese girl in New Zealand? We had a bunch of them back in the 1980s which hung in Cubewell House and least one other is on the back of a Derek Cowie painting The white one.
There's been doubt over the model for the original painting but now it's official: Monika Sing-Lee. She claims the painting was done over a month with sittings twice a week. For her troubles she was paid around twelve bucks. You can read an interview with Sing-Lee and watch a short video about the painting or buy your own copy of the print.
Images: Left, Tretchikoff’s Chinese girl and right, Monika Sing-Lee

Token sculpture

Probably some of the first sculptures we saw, albeit very, very small ones, were a car with driver, a shoe, a top hat, a thimble, a long cannon, a ship, an iron and a dog. They were of course the tokens used for the game of Monopoly. Being in New Zealand our board was strictly British-based with Bank rather than Wall Street as in the original US version. Over the years the small tokens were changed and once or twice this was done via a public vote. Who was surprised when a bag of money got into the US set for a while? This year on Facebook there was a competition to replace the iron. The winner has just been announced. Let’s hear it for the cat.
More here

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fashion marker

Raf Simons FW08 does Rothko
Images: Left turtleneck by Raf Simons and right No 40 Blue Penumbra by Mark Rothko

Our promise to you

Who wants to develop “an understanding and appreciation of art’s complex role in reflecting and affecting how people relate critically and creatively to a changing world”?

Who feels their role is to “to act as a forum for change” ?

Who believes “The collection is fundamental to the Gallery’s exhibition programme”?

Who are convinced that they have placed their city and New Zealand “firmly on the international cultural map”

Who claims to be the “the home of the visual arts in New Zealand”?

Whose “guiding ethos follows a transparency of ideas in the production and communications of exhibitions and in developing content for public fruition”?

Who intends to find “synergies between the global and local"?

Who knows that “good art can make an immediate and important impact”?

Who has “unswervingly followed a path of presenting leading edge contemporary art”?

Answers here

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Seeing it’s be-surprised-by-the-Pope time here are a couple of Pope surprises served up by the arts. Top left the Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez and right the version done by Francis Bacon who famously never saw the original. Bottom La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) - you may remember the OTN post on an MP rush on this depiction of John Paul II by Maurizio Cattelan being thwarted by guards in Warsaw.

Underground art

The last place you'd expect an arresting art experience would have to be a disused Air Force ammunition bunker. And the name of the place - Bomb Point - would have to be another clue against it. But there in a small buried chamber beneath a dispersal field, we came under this steady gaze. In an era of exhibition spectacle and career competition it was nice to stumble across something done just for the pleasure of it and for those few who might find it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Head turner

It’s hard to believe that had the painter J M W Turner been playing the who-would-you-want-to-play-you-in-a-movie game he would have picked Timothy Spall. Turner’s self portrait shows he had a very different view of himself. The Mike Leigh directed pic is about to start shooting in the UK and Italy.
Images: Top left, Turner’s self portrait and right, actor Timothy Spall


Following the posts on who might be up for the AAG director job and the various senior curator roles around the country, a regular OTN reader has pointed out that a common pool to fish these people from is Australia but goes on to say that this time they (the Australians) have their own stresses. 

It's made for TV.

This week we discover that Tony the guy who starred in the hit show Queensland before Chris got the part is taking one of the core cast with him which means that Chris will have to find a replacement and a few non-core-cast people are saying that he might take someone from the long runninhg show Auckland that he was in before jumping the ditch. That would mean finding a new star for Auckland which would certainly shake up the current plot lines. Then it turns out that Tony also grabbed Max who was the star of Monash so now that show is searching for a new star to play the Director role at exactly the same time as rival show Ian Potter is also casting a Director character for its own show! Can you believe it? And if any of you thought after last night's episode that Victoria was going to be tempted across the Tasman to take up the starring role in Auckland you can forget it. She has just been picked to lead the cast in the independent production TarraWarra and Juliana, who has worked alonside a lot of NZ players over the years, and who might have been persuaded to join the cast of Auckland has been booked for a reality show sometime next year with the working title Oh Sydney

We'll return to our regular programming tomorrow. (In the meantime thanks C)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gloomy bears

“I have tried to come up with a selection that feels good, or conveys a sense of joy. It is an antidote, perhaps, to the gloominess associated with New Zealand art…”
Edward Hanfling in Two hundred and forty years of New Zealand painting.

“There is too much gloomy art in New Zealand.”
Chris Findlayson, Minister of the Arts, Culture and Heritage

"New Zealand. Like a play by Strindberg with music by Mantovani."
Comedian Barry Humphries (thanks V)

The name game.

Auckland Council has advertised for its new AAG director and the good news is that they are looking for a serious art person who has already sat in a director’s chair. For everyone outside Auckland we conducted a highly complex OTN survey (we asked everyone we met who they thought might be a contender and who would be on the appointment panel). No takers on the second question (yet) and the only four names we could rustle up were: Greg Burke: but he has just been scored a CEO job at the new Mendel Art Gallery, so forget that (oh, there was a suggestion that a senior curator from Melbourne might be interested but couldn’t get a name so dropped it from the survey results). The other three were all women (no surprises there):

Jenny Harper
Paula Savage
Rhana Devenport

NOTE: These survey results are subject to the usual margin of error associated with gossip and hearsay.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The ping and the pong of it.

Artists Doug Fridlund and Mikael Alcock got to be Youtube celebs just by making their art. And their art it turns out involves putting ping-pong balls in their mouths and standing next to famous paintings in high end museums like the Tate. No sooner do they start a ping-pong-performance than the cameras are out and the images start piling up on Twitter and Facebook. Ping Pong, art and photographing in art museums. It all adds up to an OTN Saturday movie time special.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Branded (doubly whammy edition): Regan Gentry and Andrew Barber

The moment when artists become brands

Vanishing point

A recent panel discussion at the Auckland Art Gallery apparently prompted just one question from the audience. The panel of three art dealers was asked something along the lines of whether people were prepared to buy online without seeing the work. Dealer Michael Lett said yes, they were, but added that such sales are usually based on the buyer having a pre-existing knowledge of the artist. Dealer Gary Langsford even put some numbers around it. According to him local online art shopping cuts off at around $20,000 an item and internationally it hovers around $100,000.
Of course as Lett suggested sight-unseen purchasing has always been part of the art market. For example auction phone bids often rely on catalogue photographs and discussions with the auction house.  Still, when you add developments online with the suggestion that at least one prominent NZ gallery is thinking of closing shop, you have to wonder just how long bricks and mortar will remain the primary channel for art purchases. And if the worst were to happen, you also have to wonder what the hell we’ll all do with our Saturday mornings.

CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR COMMENTS: "Gary Langsford is not paying attention, or misinformed. In the New Zealand alone Ocula Black has sold many artworks online, entirely through the online auction system, one being for well over $200,000, a number of others for over $20,000. And international online sales have long left $100,000.