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