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.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

A merging artist

In earlier days OTN was pretty keen on camouflage and its relationship to art. We posted on camouflaging ships and posted some incredibly beautiful pics of painted helmets. It was all kicked off by a book on camouflage that, if it is ever reprinted, should definitely consider adding the Chinese artist Liu Bolin. These photos were taken of a project he did in Venezuela. You can see more here on Artinfo.


Back in the late seventies one of the smartest people we knew was the education officer at the Dowse Art Gallery. Ian McMillan was also an artist (Te Papa has some of his work in its collection and so does the Auckland Art Gallery) but a lasting memory of him is making hand puppets for one of those school holiday programmes. For about two weeks Ian would turn up at work each day with a hand puppet made from a weird assortment of materials - toothbrushes, kitchen gear, bits of old rope, remodelled gloves - as inspiration for his groups of kids. These creatures were extraordinary, full of character and panache. We were reminded of Ian’s work when we saw a wonderful book about the eccentric puppets Paul Klee made for his daughter. Ian is now living in Queensland and has become, seriously, an international expert on moths. Art, you’ve got to love it.

Image: Puppets by Paul Klee

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


Video room MCA, Sydney

McLeavey sat here

A big crowd turned up at the Matterhorn in Wellington last night. They were there to be with Peter McLeavey for the launch of Jill Trevelyan’s biography of New Zealand’s longest serving art dealer published by Te Papa Press. McLeavey who started selling art in 1966 has put 47 years into the business a stretch that is unmatched in Australasia.

Trevelyan told the crowd that McLeavey had given her free rein and did not ask her to change anything substantive. This is McLeavey’s story as shaped by his relationships with artists and elaborated by Trevelyan’s meticulous research in letters and interviews. The list of artists touched by McLeavey is remarkable. Richard Killeen is there being wonderfully florid describing the artist Merit Gröting painting McLeavey’s chaise longue white as “one of those mafia type, horse-head-in-the-bed sort of situations.” The chaise longue is something of a leitmotif with many people photographed on it from McLeavey himself (both sitting and lying and standing by it with his wife Hilary) to Michael Smither and Derek Cowie.

The chaise longue also poked its nose into the artist dealer relationship when Billy Apple asked to use it in 1990. “I do not wish this piece of furniture to be touched at this stage” was McLeavey’s response. Later that year he wrote again to Apple abruptly terminating their 11-year relationship. The book is full of beginnings and endings, emotions and commitment, supreme confidence and paralysing uncertainty. Colin McCahon is there in his full emotional glory and so too are Toss Wollaston and Gordon Walters and many others.   

Peter McLeavey: the life and times of a New Zealand art dealer is not a hagiography, and more power to McLeavey for letting the cracks show and to Trevelyan for not papering them over. But enough of this, we’ve got some reading to do.

Image: Peter McLeavey and the chaise longue sometime prior to Saturday 20 June, 1922

Monday, November 04, 2013

ten down two to go

in october we announced simon denny as the next Venice artists • were first with the news that another simon (simon rees) was going to get the govett-brewster directorship • discovered the frame detective • got drawn into the naked thing • found globe in Tokyo • promoted promoting prosperityoohed and aahed about billy apple • had our hearts stopped by a great work of art in a great work of architecture • got the low down on ches and dale and dick • found out how much the girls love the boys • wondered how te papa was ever going to change and were surprised at only one nz artists being selected for the biennale of sydney

Mini me

Te Papa is now busy socializing its Manukau ICH (Innovative Cultural Hub) to be built in Hayman Park. The project is still often referred to as Te Papa North, but it’s not. The business plan (#begging bowl) which is to be presented to the Government in December asks for a $33+ mil loan (how Te Papa intends to pay back this money is anyone’s guess as it is already struggling to find funds for the over-due re-do of its own displays).

One rather strange twist is Te Papa’s conviction that it will be able to create a genuinely New Zealand experience for New Zealanders in Manukau. Where have we heard that before? Apparently there is some concern that nearly half of the current 1.3 million visitors to the Te Papa Mothership are tourists. So it’s Our Place again only this time in an economy pack.

Is Te Papa consulting with the local community as it develops this new project? Well the original idea was certainly sprung on them as a surprise leg-up for Len ‘Manukau’ Brown, but no doubt at some stage the roads of Manukau will be clogged by streams of pizza deliveries to focus groups for local input.  As for how this new entity might collaborate with other institutions from what we hear the briefing to the museum profession was a this-is-what-we’re-doing affair rather than a got-any-thoughts-on-how-we-could-do-this-together? 

So the big question remains how will Te Papa deliver Manukau something that will be locally important and develop a presence in the wider region? And all this within a pressured budget that includes allowing for an expensive storage responsibilities.

Still, as everyone said back in the 1980s when the original Te Papa was being developed, “It’s no point just being critical. You have to give them a chance to show what they can do.” And that’s what we all did.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

There's more than one way to copy a cat

For your Saturday entertainment the lookalike site to end all lookalike sites whoworeitbetter. Some of them are accidental, some disguised as homage, more than a few coincidental and others just good old IP theft. 
Image: left, Giancarlo Neri Table and Chair. Right, Robert Therrien No Title (Table and Four Chairs) Thanks as always H

Friday, November 01, 2013

Makes sense

“That task of the critic is to infer the best explanation of what is there, using whatever helps in arriving at an intelligible interpretation.”
Philosopher Arthur C. Danto, who died last week

Art in the movies

If you're not trapped on a plane like we were there's no reason to see Giuseppe Tornatore’s The best offer. This leaden heist movie is full of plodding art references (yes there are scenes based on Vermeer paintings) and the usual auction clichés. The plot involves Geoffrey Rush as Virgil Oldman (it’s that kind of movie) being scammed out of a creepy collection of portraits of women. 

Still there is one game to be played if you’re trapped inside on a rainy afternoon. By cutting and pasting the pictures into Google Images you can identify the originals of many of the paintings in the old man’s (for anyone who didn't get it the first time) collection. A quick session turned up Albrecht Dürer’s Portrait of Elspeth Tucher, Raphael’s Portrait of a young girl and his Portrait of a young woman, La Rêverie by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Jeanne Samary in a Low-Necked Dress by Petrus Christus.

Many other paintings are lovingly presented to a score by Ennio Morricone, Petrus Christus’s Portrait of a young girl is restored and even a Birth of Venus turns up.

Image: top, scenes from The best offer, then cut and paste into Images – BAM - art detective.