Saturday, June 29, 2013

Googling on: Whirly birds and art

Where would art be without helicopters, especially big art and even more particularly big art in out-of-the-way-places. Want to put a statue on the top of a building? Helicopter. Need to pour a couple of hundred galleons of water over the statue of a thirsty God? Get a helicopter in here. Need to make a big art statement in the air? Where’s a bloody helicopter when we need one?  So here for an uplifting Sarturday morning on OTN is a bunch of helicopters doing stuff with art when cranes just aren’t up to it.
Images: Top to bottom left to right. The most famous helicopter-art combo is filmed from, yes another helicopter, for La Dolce Vita. The statue of Freedom gets airlifted off the Capitol dome for a bit of a clean and restoration and in Trinadad a helicopter is brought in to help out with the ritual bathing of a 26 metere statue of the Indian God Hanumān. A statue of King Neptune in Puerto Plata was stolen, chopped up, found again, restored and then proved too heavy to lift and Ayse Erkmens sculpture airbourne during the 1997 Munster sculpture exhibition. A couple of miscellaneous sculptures with attached ‘copters. It’s art (Robert Doisneau’s as it happens) and it’s helicopters and finally, ok maybe not art, but looks like part of what might be a statue of an elephant airbourne under a helicopter.

Friday, June 28, 2013

She's a dish

It doesn't really matter where you are in the world there is always a Mona Lisa to be seen. This one is on the cover of a satellite dish in Berlin. Many people cover their receivers to give a bit of colour to the neighborhood. The images include football team logos, holiday snaps, pics of the kids, sunsets, waves and the Mona Lisa in this case complete with Turkish moustache.

Cast aside

Hang on, here’s something strange. Over the last three or four months we’ve heard a few people talk about taking life-drawing classes. Is drawing making a come back? If it is someone needs to hot foot it over to the Collection of Plaster Casts of Ancient Sculpture in Berlin.  Imagine thousands of plaster casts of famous sculptures, bits and pieces of male and female bodies, the odd horse and a good range of heads with and without noses. The plaster cast was like a 3D Tumblr. It gave museum visitors around the world the opportunity to see sculptures in the round rather than via books in old time 2D. And art students could hone their craft using models that didn’t scratch themselves or nod off and slump out of pose.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Looking at them looking at art

Left looking at Anish Kapoor and right Martin Kippenberger's 1989 sculpture Martin, into the corner, you should be ashamed of yourself

Fag ends

Back in the late 1970s the Dowse Art Gallery as it was then was offered the opportunity to organise and open the Benson & Hedges Art Award. The Award was well established and had already been won by artists like Richard Killeen and Don Driver so the question “would we be interested?” was responded to with a hearty "would we hell." 

The icing on the cake was that James Mollison director of the Australian National Gallery and purchaser of Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles was to be the judge. To seal the deal tobacco company W.D and H.O Wills who made the B&H brand (known in the Valley as Rothmans after the cigarette made in the Hutt) invited the staff (all two of us) for a tour of the factory and lunch in the management dining room. Somewhere in there they mentioned they were targeting their marketing to get young women smoking. “Really, how interesting.” (Different times, but still the shame of it looking back). There was also a bid to have young women (girls in the Rothmans speak of the day) in short skirts handing out packs of fags at the opening. That we did stand up to.

About 500 paintings turned up to the Rothmans factory in Lower Hutt and they were trucked round to the Dowse where Mollison gallantly looked at them all and gave the award to Ian Scott. It was on this same NZ trip that he visited Peter McLeavey’s gallery and purchased four Colin McCahon works on paper for the Australian National collection (you can see them here 1-2-3-4).

And all this to show you a 1969 Harald Szeemann drawing poking a stick at one of the great cultural sponsor of the time, although incredibly Philip Morris was still giving grants totaling $9.3 million to 295 arts and cultural organizations as late as 2003.
Image: Harald Szeeman drawing done in preparation for the When attitudes become form exhibition in 1969

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Department of LOL

“There is a difference between the ‘dealer’ and the ‘gallerist.’ A dealer matches an autonomous work of art with an individual or institution. A gallerist is in the business of discovering, developing, and introducing art that would not be known otherwise.”
Elizabeth Dee in a Art Basel panel discussion

The ring cycle

Who'd have thought a cultural smack down between two giant fashion houses would take place in Venice? 

In the left hand corner we have Prada with intellectual cred and a curatorial heavyweight. Germano Celant - a past director of the Venice Biennale and the person who first coined the term Arte Povera in 1967 - leads off for Prada. As we've already posted, Prada has filled its entire building with a highly researched recreation of the famous 1969 exhibition When attitudes become form

Then, in the right hand corner we have Gucci (YSL, Bottega Veneta, Sergio Rossi, Stella McCartney etc etc) for the François Pinault Foundation. Director Martin Bethenod is a journalist and previously Chief of Staff for the President of the Pompidou Centre. This might seem a little lightweight but the Pinault Foundation brings into the ring a gigantic installation by Rudolf Stingel at the Palazzo Grassi. Stingel has photographed an oriental rug, enlarged it and then had the enlarged image printed onto carpet. 

But wait, there’s more. Lots of carpet. It's been impeccably laid over the entire 5,000 square meters of the building, floors and walls. It’s about 4800 meters more than we needed.

A knock-out for Prada in the first round.

Images: Top, Rudolf Stingel at the Palazzo Grassi and bottom, a detail from Prada’s recreation of When attitudes become form. Photo: Attilio Maranzano for Fondazione Prada

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Watching the watchers

While we were wandering around the Venice Biennale we took a few pics. You can see them here.
Image: Visitors taking a rest at Jeremy Deller's English magic installation in the British pavilion

Art in the movies: on the matte

Although you’d never convince an art auctioneer that painting was dead, some say it's so. One form of the art though that has indisputably flourished for the last century or so is matte painting. This is the painting on glass that has added dimension and magic to the movies. So now, as it goes into freefall at the hands of CGI, let’s hear it for matte painting - that extraordinary combination of film and paint that has pimped up indifferent locations, created impossible ones and given us a whole genre of how-the-hell-did-they-do-thats? 

The first matte painting was created for Mission of California by Norman Dawn in 1907. A mansion was 'aged' via a painting on glass and the camera rather than the art department having to take an axe to it. Famous matte paintings include the Emerald City and Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz, just about everything apart from the horses and actors in Ben Hur, the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes, a shattered LA in Earthquake, the landing bay in Star Wars, and stuff you wouldn’t see on an average day in Lord of the Rings and Avatar. You can see fifty great examples from the history of film at here.
Images: top to bottom left to right matte painting hard at work in The Wizard of Oz, Ben Hur,  Planet of the Apes, Earthquake, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Then we'll take Berlin

“The enormous space, floored with carpets from Disney hotels, echoes with wild shrieks and howls as the characters fellate balloon animals, cover one another in condiments and bang out drum solos on metal pots and pans.”

Paul McCarthy’s installation White snow at the Park Avenue Armory in New York described by Zoë Lescaze in GalleristNY. There is also a long form NYT Mag article on the project here. Image: Paul McCarthy plays Uncle Walt.

Inside the outside in

A great thing about New Zealand's Walters Prize in addition to the great artists who have won it, is the extraordinary line-up of curators who the Auckland Art Gallery have convinced to fly in to select those winners. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev who in 2012 curated one of Documenta’s most thoughtful and dynamic outings was one, so too was Robert Storr who articulated MoMA’s collections for last decade of the twentieth century. But the first Walters Prize judge was the greatest of them all, Harald Szeeman who virtually invented the contemporary form of art curation with large scale exhibitions on ambitious themes. And of course it was Szeemann who memorably awarded the Walters Prize to Yvonne Todd.

Szeemann’s defining exhibition When attitudes become form held in the Bern Kunsthalle in 1969 has been re-presented this year during the Venice Biennale by the Prada Foundation. This complex venture was a collaboration by the architect Rem Koolhaas, artist Thomas Demand and the Foundation's director Gemano Celant. Their huge challenge was to convincingly present the Bern exhibition in Prada's eighteenth century palazzo Cá Corner della Regina. They did it by laying the floor plan of the kunsthalle over the spaces of the palazzo and creating something like a movie set.

To do this they built walls and recreated Bern details like skirting boards, doors and numbering systems but also left elaborate palazzo details as evidence of the overlap. The works were a mix of loans, reproductions, allusions and in a couple of cases, substitutions. This was not the expansive kind of installation we have become accustomed to but a spirited clamour of works and ideas in a compressed space.

The effect was extraordinary: something like the original exhibition, but with knowing references to the forty years that separate us from it. It was also refreshingly experimental, provocative and intriguing. To top it all there is a terrific (although expensive) publication which draws on the rich Harald Szeemann archives in the care of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. Szeemann was famously a passionate recorder and keeper of the record. Given the enthusiasm over the material presented in the Prada exhibition we can probably count on the Getty publishing more of the Szeemann archive in the future.

Images: Top, Harald Szeemann’s drawing of the layout for the exhibition. Bottom left, Richard Serra’s Sign Board Prop installed on a huge photograph of the original Kunsthalle’s tiled flooring printed on vinyl and right, visitors cross Carl Andre's 36 Copper square to see the rest of the show.

You can read a less favourable response to the exhibition on EyeContact along with more pics of the installation.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


This musicals-about-dead-artists thing is catching. Hot on the heels of Len Lye the opera is talk of a musical based on the short life of Jean-Michel Basquiat. According to Broadway world the show is to be intriguingly called Basquait, possibly with an exclamation mark, although this has still to be confirmed. Eric Lajuan Summers has been slotted for the starring role after his success with Motown.

Friday, June 21, 2013

King Harald

“There are artists who like discussing – they should, there are artists who prefer to be left alone – then leave them alone …. I can only give the opportunity for an artist’s meeting, but I would never have the ambition to make the convocation. I’m only a Museum director. I’m not an artist, but I like freedom and peace.”

Legendary curator/director Harald Szeemann replying to Piero Gilardi’s request for an artist’s meeting after the opening of the exhibition When attitude becomes form in 1969. (Letter held by the Getty Museum)

Dealing with the hereafter

The news that the estate of neon artist Dan Flavin has lifted its “ban on the posthumous production of unrealised fluorescent light sculptures” probably gave the Len Lye Foundation a flutter. As the producers of Len Lye sculptures sometimes controversially based on a few notes and sketches by the artist, the thought that a major Foundation had declared for life after death must have seemed like a lifeline. 

No such luck. The Flavin Estate is not about to make its own versions of Flavin’s work or create new works from info in its archives. It's simply going to fill out editions of existing sculptures. Even this project is still the cause of consternation. Flavin's guardians have shown a serious commitment to the integrity of the body of work in their care and they certainly face special challenges. The bulbs used in some works are no longer in commercial production and substitutes may have to be found. To try and avoid even this variance from the artist’s original concept for as long as possible the Foundation stockpiles tubes as originally used by Flavin.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The medium is the message

We found the local grocer in Venice wearing a 2009 Biennale t-shirt and, with hand gestures and marginal Italian, asked if we could take his photo. “Sure,” he said and then, after we were done, asked “What does it say?”

Record prices

Earlier this month fans of The Chills were able to pick up a copy of the live album Somewhere Beautiful for $6,000. Ok, it’s three double-sided vinyl disks but still, that’s $1,000 a side, even if it is at 45 rpm. The real reason for the real money is not music but art, in this case art by Shane Cotton who has supplied hand-modified prints along with input into the package design. You can get a list of the most valuable records on vinyl here.

Artists have had a long association with the music industry though not usually leveraging the price quite as high as the Cotton Chills - you can get an original Warhol cover for the Rolling Stones for around $190 here on eBay.

Images: Top, Shane Cotton’s work for The Chills already separated from the music and on sale as visual art. Next row and following left to right, top to bottom, Urs Fischer for Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz!, Raymond Pettibon for Sonic Youth, Ronnie van Hout’s cover for the Pin Group's Ambivalence, Japanese photographer Araki’s image for Björk’s 1996 album Telegram, Andy Warhol’s famous ready-to-peel cover for the Velvet Underground, the Red Hot Chili Peppers reach for Damien Hirst, Patti Smith uses Robert Mapplethorpe portrait of her for Horses, and the Beatles' White Album as designed by British Pop artist Richard Hamilton.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


For curators and art writers here, from the Venice Biennale, the ten top hot words for labels and wall texts.

Four on the floor

The Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal has a piece being performed in the Venice Biennale. Two people move about on the floor making language-like sounds, grunting or occasionally singing or chanting. It’s not so far away from work performed at St Paul St Gallery in the last Auckland Triennial back when Sehgal was still being billed as a dancer. He has usually insisted that his work is not photographed but the armed (seriously) guard didn’t make any effort to stop people at Venice so maybe he has abandoned the effort. 

Around the corner and another performance started up. Two young women suddenly threw themselves on the floor and started crawling around between visitors. More cameras came out until we all realised that one of them had broken her necklace and they were grappling for the small  scattered beads. Sehgal would have loved it. 
Images: Left Sehgal gets recorded in Venice and right the performance bead search in progress.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Give us a sign

As you may know Te Papa is committed to “signposting pathways to the future” and “saving the planet” but how it plans to do all this is still rather up in the air. Exhibitions like the Warhol one and the upcoming Aztec spectacular were both organised after these ideas were nailed but they do seem pretty business-as-usual in SPTTF and STP terms.  So too is the thought of creating a replica of a World War I trench some 15 or so years after Auckland Museum’s effort Scars on the heart. Then there is Te Papa's habit of rehiring staff to set their ideas  into action. As we have reported before Jonathan Mane-Wheoki is back and so too are Karen Mason and Tracy Puklowski. They're all in senior management positions joining long-time resident Claudia Orange who has also been shifted into one of the new top jobs.

A clue as to how Te Papa is thinking about how to change the world came from CE Mike Houlihan when he talked at a recent Museums Aotearoa conference on the topic of leadership (you can watch to it here). It turns out Houlihan preferres the idea of leading to leadership (he likens the latter to the style of Germany’s Senior Management team during the Second World War). Institutions can do 'leading' best he explained by being guided by the existing institutional culture. “I am a great believer in the history of the institution,” he stated going on to quote a British study that found “the culture of museums tends not to change from their founding culture.” Houlihan claims to be working “within the culture of the organisation” which may explain the rehires and certainly suggests that SPTTF/STP are rhetorical devices rather than an action plan.  

But is it right to say that the culture of museums tends not to change? Half close your eyes and you can almost see the founding director Cheryll Sotheran steaming at the sight of her radical vision for Te Papa being reshaped into the more conventional museum we now see emerging. Signposting the future? Probably not.

Monday, June 17, 2013


"If you love it, buy it. If you choose well, one day you'll be able to sell it for a profit, and if you choose very well you probably won't want to."
Advice on collecting art from Abigail Esman, art journalist and collector on CNN

Great architecture is where you find it

From a distance it looked like a small observatory. Close up the expressionist spiral turned out to be a small Marian shrine doubling as a lookout. As with so often with vernacular architecture it's been all but impossible to find out much about when it was built or whether its construction was inspired by tragedy or miraculous delivery. But there it is, down at the back of the car park near the Gozo Island ferry terminal in Malta, a small architectural delight channelling Erich Mendelsohn and his amazing Einstein Tower. It’s a bit unkempt (although the statue of Mary, like all the others in Malta, was spick and span) but still a total knockout and a great piece of architectural sculpture. (click on image to enlarge)

Friday, June 14, 2013


An Étant donnés tableau moment in Malta

One is one and all alone

The Artnewspaper has run some numbers on the Venice Biennale's mega exhibition The Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopaedic Palace).

Over the last three Biennales there has been a dramatic rise in the number of European artists included and fall in the number of artists from Asia. Asia did have a brief moment in the Venetian sun back in 2009 with 26 percent of the artists but this fell to 13.25 percent at the following Biennale while the European contingent rose from 44.7 percent to 57.83 percent that year.

This year’s exhibition turns out to be 59.12 percent European artists with a further 26.42 percent from North America. It looks like the roaring back of North America (an increase of 9.5 percent over the last Biennale) is what has put the squeeze on everyone else.

The rest of the world’s 14.46 percent is shared by Asia (yes, we’re looking at you China) at 6.92 percent, Latin America (4.39 percent) and Africa (2.52 percent).

And our own Oceania? The whole region, Australia included, has settled on the shoulders of Mr 0.63 percent Simon Denny.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In Malta

We're thinking about Luke Willis Thompson

By the numbers

2      the number of exhibitions opening this week at the City Gallery in Wellington that have come from the IMA in Brisbane

3      the amount in millions of dollars of funds requested but not granted in the last Creative NZ Arts Board round

12    the number of venues considered for Bill Culbert’s Venice presentation before settling on La Pieta

16    the number of pages in Creative NZ’s Quick Response Application form

35    the percentage of women exhibiting as solo artists in the Auckland Triennial

38    the number of years ago the two photos that a visitor to the Tauranga Art Gallery has just found “repugnant” were taken by Fiona Clarke

100  the number of people who held up cards to make up fake Warhol portraits of Peter Jackson and Alison Mau to promote Te Papa's Andy Warhol exhibition

133  the estimated cost in dollars of an EyeContact review based on the number of reviews last year and this year's Creative NZ grant

180 the number of patrons who contributed to this year’s New Zealand outing in Venice

13,500  the total number of dollars sought by the three visual arts projects currently on the Arts Foundation's Boosted site

20,000  the number in dollars to be awarded for the Parkin Drawing Prize

Friday, June 07, 2013


The latest round of Creative NZ Grants has been published. In the major round of Arts Board Grants the visual arts scored $237,297 – that’s 15 percent of the total funds allocated. And in the visual art grants the biggest chunk (47 percent) went to offshore projects like the Istanbul Biennale ($29,700) and another Len Lye exhibition, this time in New York ($27,500). Publishing did well taking around 28 percent of the funding including $32,500 to EyeContact.

The results of two other funding rounds with a combined value of $358,000 were also released. One distributes on a dollar for dollar subsidy basis and the other funds sector development. Neither funded any visual art projects.

Other numbers:
13  the total number of grants made to the visual arts
53  the percentage of grant money given to males
32  the percentage of money given to females
64  the total number of grants funded in the Arts Board Grants
17,484  the average amount in dollars granted to visual art projects
25,214  the average amount in dollars granted to non visual arts projects

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Andy and 99 in 66

As Warhol hits Wellington here is an all but forgotten Warhol commercial job from the mid sixties that combines the Te Papa show’s interest in personalities, (Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 in the TV comedy Get Smart was a huge star) with popular culture. Felden’s clothes were designed by Gayle Kirpatrick and the photographs were taken by Roger Prigent. Even in the mid sixties and in spite of his growing fame and sales Warhol was convinced he had to keep the commercial work going. Thanks to assemblyplantmarietta for leading the way.