Saturday, May 31, 2014


No post Monday but to keep you in the holiday mood a few sculptors having a whack at QEII over the years.

Images: top to bottom left to right. Ben Enwonwu, Peggy Walton, cake by Michelle, Madame Tussaud artist ‘updating’, Peter Holland and sand artist Nicola Wood
(thanks G, they all know who you are)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Culture creep

Walking through the large market in Istanbul and - that looks familiar. It was the museum line hard at work keeping eager shoppers safely back from a couple of miniature rugs. The museum line is alive and well in the bargaining center of Turkey. You heard it here first.

In (and out of) the studio

A Julian Dashper exhibition was always a big event at the Peter McLeavey Gallery. Julian had a way of making his exhibitions and the openings into something to look forward to. His exhibition in March 1989 was a surprise. There were none of the hand painted works we were accustomed to and instead the canvases were preprinted commercial patterns like you might see on awnings outside holiday baches or shops.

We have put up some images on OTN:STUDIO of Julian, Peter McLeavey and Ivan Anthony as they set the exhibition up in McLeavey’s Cuba Street Gallery. Also added to this set are some black and white images of Popular Production’s studio in 1990, Neil Dawson’s studio and workshop in 1995, Peter Robinson’s studio in 2004 and photographs of Martin Basher’s studio we took in New York a couple of weeks ago.

Image: Julian Dashper setting up his March 1989 exhibition at the Peter McLeavey Gallery

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Add ons

Artist Etienne Lavie puts art where the ads are.
via Colossal Submissions

The helping of Bacon on the Nostradamus

The death of H R Giger a couple of weeks ago found journalists mostly crediting him with the creation of the alien in Ridley Scott’s eponymous movie. While it’s true that Giger has left an indelible mark on the history of the movies (and that just with that one spectacular effort) for all the talk around his contributions, the nest and eggs, the chest beast and the alien itself, the inspiration of his brilliant monster creation was all but forgotten. 

Giger himself was always the first to acknowledge that the alien in Alien would not have existed without the right hand panel of Francis Bacon’s 1944 painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Although one of his major sources (the screaming nurse on the Odessa Steps in the movie Battleship Potemkin) is in there somewhere it really does look as though Bacon dragged this primordial image up out of his own mind.

Images: top, Giger bottom Bacon

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bedtime story

“If I don’t drink some water I’m going to die.”

The last thing British artist Tracey Emin thought to herself before getting out of the bed that became the artwork My bed which it has been announced will go up for auction later this year

Polite company

There’s a small museum in the back streets of Istanbul that's rather like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. They are each obsessed by history, founded in the vision of one man, and they both play around with the idea of the museum. The Turkish one is built around the novel The Museum of innocence by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk who also created the displays and labels. And what did he call it? The Museum of Innocence, as you probably guessed.

Pamuk has mixed feelings about museums in general and The National Museum in particular. “The aim of the big State sponsored museum….is to represent the State. This is neither a good nor an innocent objective.” He didn't just grouch though, he went on to invent his own museum that is highly personal, richly fictional and enormously evocative of a place (Istanbul) and a time (1950s and 1960s) that is decidedly not state funded.

For New Zealanders the obvious state sponsored museum is Te Papa. Way back in its planning phase it proclaimed itself a ‘neutral negotiating ground’ but that's long gone and was never an affirmation they were able to achieve anyway. Now it avoids controversy, hides behind personal anecdote and carefully shapes its chosen stories into interchangeable modules. History in a series of controlled snapshots.

Take Te Papa's  proposed First World War exhibition opening on the centenary of Gallipoli next year. The big draw card will be an experience of the trenches  designed by the movie folk at Weta that will “bring home the detail and grain of unimaginable horror, the squalid day-to-day existence, the food, and the lice.” As Orhan Pamuk would claim this is neither a good nor an innocent objective. 

Naturally no museum display can come close to the horror of war and so instead works to devalue it. And even if it could represent this experience who in their right mind would want to go to Te Papa to see “unimaginable horror” presumably in the form of bloated bodies, severed limbs, gag inducing stench and the thousand mile stares of the combatants?

What will inevitably be a suitable-for-children-of-most-ages display is just another step along the way as Te Papa skillfully performs its state appointed role to help promote and solidify the existing and acceptable national versions of our stories.

Image: a Weta Workshop Design Studio concept drawing of the WWI display designed to show the “unimaginable horror” of trench warfare

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Last post

Ok we've done a whole heap of Hammond lookalikes (well people with bird heads) and it's time to stop, but what better way to go out than with this great one from Istanbul.

Other OTN Hammond lookalikes:
Egyption edition
New York
Book of birds
San Francisco
Green bean edition
At the movies
Street art, Wellington
Plague doctor Bill

Whirled view

While we're on the subject of artists having their visions created beyond the grave (as per last week’s look at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia), here's a sketch Len Lye made for Water Whirler. It's on show at the Drawing Center in NY and it was a surprise. From the drawing it’s very clear that Lye intended the sculpture to have a specific relationship to…er… the water. The real issue with Water Whirler as presented on Wellington's waterfront, it turns out, is the podium. It's not only over-designed for the simple motion of the work but, more importantly, it alienates Water Whirler from the very element with which it is meant to interact. No big surprise that these sketches are not included in the descriptive panel next to the sculpture.

Image: one of Len Lye’s Sketches for Water Whirler c.1960 in the Len Lye Foundation Collection at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Monday, May 26, 2014

Branded: Joanna Paul

The moment when artists become brands

Turkish delight

It was obvious that he was someone famous. There was a cluster of people around him, a couple of photographers and he was signing books. We shamelessly turned in our seats to get a good look. When they helped him out of the café (he was 85 we found out later) he took a long look at us and didn’t seem to mind us staring back. 

Trying to find out who he was turned out to be tricky (us not having much Turkish at our command) but then we noticed a portrait of him on the wall next to large blown up photos of Istanbul in the 1950s. He was Ara Güler an early Magnum photographer also known as ‘the eye of Istanbul.’ He’s basically Turkey’s Ans Westra with multiple exhibitions, honours and books . If we'd been Turkish we wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find him in the Café Ara. We were in the place by chance. He owned it.

Images: top, Ara Güler (uncredited found image) and bottom the Ara Café in Istanbul

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday at the movies

Looney Tunes: Back in Action showed in theatres in 2003 and bombed losing the studio money. This is only scene in the convoluted plot that attracted any praise, a wild chase through the Louvre into paintings normally scattered around the world in other galleries.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world


The last round of grants from Creative New Zealand indicated a welcome shift. The Visual Arts mopped up 24 per cent of the $1.7 million up for grabs. That's a decent increase on the usual 16 per cent or so.

The King hit is Billy Apple who takes home 16 per cent of the total funds awarded to the Visual Arts. It's interesting to see that the grant goes direct to Apple to produce ‘new work for a survey exhibition’ rather than being channelled to the organising institution, in this case the Auckland Art Gallery. 

How did women do? Total grants to individual women (or teams) came in at just under $101,000 of which $76,000 went to the direct creation of work and the rest to post graduate education. The guys collected $107,000 with $12,000 of it pegged to an off shore post grad course.

In total $142,879 of the grants went to off shore to Australia, Germany, Stockholm, the UK and Canada. And of that 85 per cent went to projects by New Zealand artists living and working outside New Zealand.

One question. Why is CNZ funding tertiary education opportunities? With pressure growing to get higher qualifications this is a bottomless trough industry. For 2013 the CNZ's funding budget was just under $40 million compared to a total tertiary education budget of over four billion dollars. Most of this post grad education is done to keep teaching options open and training teachers is not a job for CNZ.

Top three mine’s-bigger-than-yours grants? Billy Apple ($65,000), the Montreal Biennale to show German based Simon Denny ($39,653) and Stockholm based Amanda Newall ($36,382) to make new work.

And funding for South Island artists and institutions? How did the South Island make out given that is has just under a quarter of the country's population?  Wow, is that the time? Got to go.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Perfect storm 2

Again it's a bronze public sculpture of an artist holding paintbrushes and a palette. What's not to like.
Image: Bust of Maltese artist Mattia Preti

High church

There are a lot of complex artworks around now that wouldn't be possible without computers. Those massive rolled steel sculptures by Richard Serra (including the one on the Gibbs Farm north of Auckland) are a good example. So now there's a new challenge: how to keep the human touch in a work that is in fact controlled by mathematical processes. The other day we had an extraordinary architectural experience that demonstrated what happens when that balance fails.

We last visited Antoni Gaudi’s Barcelona cathedral Sagrada Familia in the mid-1970s. At that time building had been under construction for about ninety years. The main spires were complete but most of the body of the structure was unfinished. Gaudi himself had died in 1926. As most of his working plans had been destroyed the build was guided by impressionistic drawings and geometric principles apparently derived from the master. The construction site was positively medieval with stonemasons chipping away at strange animals including a couple of super-sized snails and plant life. Organic, eccentric, ambiguous, writhing, earthy, those are some of the terms that would have popped up in the Gaudi word cloud back then had such a thing existed.

Not anymore. Walking into the nave of the Sagrada Familia today is like stepping onto the set of a computer game or a blue screened James Cameron movie. The sense of a kitsch virtual space is unnerving. Computers were introduced into the design process back in the 1980s at the same time as efforts to complete the building ramped up. The New Zealander and digital spatial designer Mark Burry joined the venture in the 1990s and is now executive architect. To see computer-based design written so large is astonishing but once you're past the shock and awe, it's surprisingly lifeless. As to Gaudi’s lifelong ambition to ‘follow nature.' Forget it.

Still the crowds of people wondering around at $25 a pop (over two million people visit a year - you do the addition) loved it. It is certainly spectacular but then how could pillars rising more than 100 meters above your head not be? But we’re with a friend who wrote to us recently to say it might have been better left as it was before Gaudi’s organic look and feel was abandoned, a kind of ‘ruin in reverse’.

Images: top left as Gaudi envisioned it. Top right and bottom how the computers realized it

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Thinking about...

... the Christchurch Art Gallery in Barcelona.

Door stoppers

As much as you might dislike having graffiti all over your building there’s not a lot you can do about it. Ok, you can paint it out over and over again but maybe giving way and doing your own version might be smarter. Although any wall on any building is up for grabs there’s still a perverse code that generally leaves  the work of other graffiti artists alone so in Barcelona businesses have taken advantage of this. Many of them hire artists to paint murals on their roller doors in an effort to save being tagged by the my-art-like-it-or-not school. We came across a group of painters hard at work on Sunday and then started noticing these hand-decorated doors all over the city.

Images: top, anti graffiti graffiti-artist sets up to decorate a store's roller door. Below painted doors, Barcelona

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Man Ray moment...

.... in Barcelona

Side bar

We once promised we wouldn’t post any more versions of Gordon Walters’s paintings on OTN. But just when we thought we were out they pulled us back in. This time Walters has been tipped on his side to do the donkey work for the cover of a limited edition cassette tape by American musician Keith Fullerton Whitman. In fact it's more than that. The Walters painting has been ripped apart and pushed around like a piece of low-end clip art. The painting this mess is based on is in the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection. Let's hope someone there will chase them up and tick them off.
(thanks for pointing the way S)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Channeling Bill Hammond...

... in New York

Window gazing

Inspired by MoMA’s Sigmar Polke exhibition we made sure to check out his stained glass windows in the Grossmünster church in Zurich. The windows you usually see reproduced are the cross sections of agates and they are spectacular. Although they seemed audaciously contemporary inevitably we found out later that the technique is an ancient one (#whatthehelldoweknowparttwo). 

Maybe it’s being a long way from home but what came to mind in that grandly austere building were Shane Cotton's windows in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland. They were installed so long ago now (10 years) that many people don’t know about them.  If this is the first you've heard of this commission they are definitely worth a visit. As to Polke's project, the obvious European comparison is the Gerhard Richter windows in Cologne cathedral. How inspiring they were when we first saw them and now post Polke’s rich and idiosyncratic triumph, how chilling they feel.

Images: Left Sigmar Polke window at the Grossmünster church in Zurich and right Shane Cotton in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pattern recognition

There's no shortage of LEGO art posts on OTN. But it is incredible to see how little information you need to recognize the paintings. These ones were rendered by Italian art director Marco Sodano using the new range of colours available in LEGO's press-and-play system.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Jill Trevelyn's book on Peter McLeavey steps out in a somewhat more conventional get-up when it's published into the UK market.
Images: left the NZ edition and right the UK

Cutting the cake

So what does the latest budget mean for the arts? Not so much minus whatever the rate of inflation was last year. Most of the arts money comes via the Ministry of Culture and Heritage with Culture getting the biggest share because it includes Broadcasting and Sport. There’s also about 6 million for general stuff like admin and policy.

The big chunks go to broadcasting with $132 million and sport and recreation with $84 million. High performance sport gets just over 69% of that -- high performance art, not so much. Museums (including art museums) get a fair whack at $53 million. Then there's feeding our national war obsession that's going to cost us $21 million. Presumably this will include the salary of ex Te Papa CE now Special Adviser on Military Heritage Michael Houlihan. There’s also nearly $8 million to write about wars gone by and other history stuff.

OK we have finally arrived at the arts, well Performing Arts anyway. They get $20 million while something called Arts and Film gets $21. We assume these are the two halves of Creative NZ’s funding.

Then it’s Heritage NZ with $13.5 million, Gen Admin and Policy $6 million, Film $4.1 million, Maori $360,000 and Cultural Diplomacy $220,000. Of the last two, Maori took a 72 percent hit on Protecting Taonga and the art diplomacy people who brought you Te Papa's Oceania exhibition a few years ago were slashed 69 percent.

Meanwhile the Australia Council (their Creative NZ) has been cut $30.5 million over four years in their budget announcement. That’s $10.4 million for the first year and about $6.5 million for the following three.

Image: cake cutter 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Judgement day

The Walters Prize judge is Charles Esche, Director of Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Netherlands. He is also co-editor of Afterall and curator of this year's Sao Paulo Biennale (sorry Hans, maybe next time)


"In the wider world the notion of perspective is an inducement to get our heads out of our arses: in the art world it’s just a term associated with a horizon line."

Art curator, art consultant, art writer, art commentator, art collector and artist Peter Ireland bites the hand that feeds him in EyeContact

Home and away

We got lucky in New York and were invited to Kate Newby’s studio in Green Point, Brooklyn. The area is a mix of rapid new development amidst the grand remnants of past industrial enterprises with Manhattan just across the river. Martin Basher, a New Zealand artist who has been working in NY for some time, had offered Kate part of his studio space in a very large building full of small businesses and artist studios (so we got an unexpected visit to Martin's studio too). Martin shows with Starkwhite in Auckland and is yet another example of the many NZ artists now working and exhibiting internationally and still retaining their home connections. 

It wasn’t always so. Back a while the attitude was that when artists left New Zealand they had deserted the ship and they often paid a big price in terms of local recognition. Of course staying in NZ and making an international impression has never been easy. Even Colin McCahon, an artist who most international curators admire, has never managed to make a sustained impact. There are odd flutters of interest and then the art machine moves on. As in his lifetime, NZ and Australia pretty much have him to themselves (not that we’re complaining!). This ramble precedes the announcement of more studio shots on OTN:STUDIO

This time it’s:
Kate Newby in New York, 2014
Don Driver, 20 March 2012
Seraphine Pick, 9 February and March 2014
Peter Robinson, 2003

Image: Kate Newby’s studio in New York

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

You're the Coliseum

Auckland Art Gallery has a Principal Curator, City Gallery in Wellington has a Chief Curator and Christchurch Art Gallery wants a Senior Curator. Applications closed on 2 March, we heard the selection meeting was first thing in April and it’s now mid-May. Ominous?

Clay day

Ceramic fever has already struck New Zealand art schools and taken territory beyond. Artists are presenting ceramics in ways that ignore the conventional divide between art and craft. If you want to see the grip of ceramics in institutional curator land, the top floor of the Whitney Biennial of contemporary American art is probably for you. The Biennial itself is a dispiriting experience packed with archives and arcane tidbits (and not in a good way). It's rather like being trapped on a train listening to half a dozen loud conversations about stuff you know very little about and once you've found a clue to it, the conversations immediately stop.  In this self-involved context the handmade, human-scaled and intimate jump out. While it’s all Americans in the Biennial the ceramic play of NZ artists like Kate Newby, Rohan Wealleans and Suji Park would easily foot it in this company. Who'd have imagined that it would be ceramics that would help return personality and eccentricity into the contemplation of art.
Images: from the top, Pam Lims and Amy Sillman, Shio Kusaka, Stirling Ruby, John Mason

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Looking at Malevich in Basel

 ... and thinking about McCahon’s Jet out of Muriwai

No credit where no credit is due

Rounding a corner in the Kunstmuseum in Basel we came across a very familiar painting only this time it was by Hans Holbein. His unsettling depiction of death was painted about 450 years before the version we are so familiar with painted by Tony Fomison. We checked online and found the Fomison work was in the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection. But wait a minute. Fomison's 1971 painting Study of Holbein's 'Dead Christ' is credited to “Hans Holbein the Younger and Tony Fomison.” Obviously Hans couldn’t be making a version of his own painting in 1971 - he was dead at the time. So why is he up there with Tony as one of the painting's artists? 

Does the Auckland Art Gallery always credit versions and studies with joint authorship? No, as it happens, they don't. We checked out Steele and Goldie’s The arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand knowing that it was directly based on Theodore Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. Did Theo get a credit like Hans? Again, it's a no. And just for the record he didn’t get co-authorship for John Reynolds’s version of Raft of the Medusa either (although he probably wouldn’t have minded so much as it’s more abstract than he was used to). 

What sort of relationship is the Auckland At Gallery suggesting with this silliness? Fomison freely acknowledged Holbein’s contribution to the work in his title. So for the record the painting is pure Fomison and not a Holison or a Fombein.

Image: Hans Holbein the Younger's Dead Christ in the Basel Kunstmuseum

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fair enough

“The fastest collector to run to your booth is not always the best collector”
Art dealer, Emmanuel Perrotin in the Art Newspaper

Post McCahon

If you follow the auction business you'll know that a piece of NZ art's true cross is on the block: Colin McCahon’s Partridge Street letterbox. It's been owned by the artist Paul Hartigan for the past 25 years and at one stage was incorporated into a photograph Hartigan made called Temple (thanks A). While the letterbox may not be art itself, McCahon did choose to sign it, as opposed to just painting his name in block capitals, say (although given McCahon’s history of ‘writing painting’ even that would have caused a flutter). The McCahon box is based on an American classic, the Joroleman mailbox. It was named after American Postal Department engineer Roy Joroleman who designed it in 1915, if the McCahon box is an official American one it will have the words ‘U.S. Mail and Approved by the Postmaster General’ stamped on its base.

In the taxonomy of the museum world objects like this (often offered up for donation) used to be wryly slotted into the “Nelson’s toe nail clippings” category, things that in themselves are only of limited interest but are highly valued by association. Simon Starling alluded to the allure of association when he produced his concatenation of copies based on the Australian writer Patrick White’s desk. McCahon’s letterboxes have their own independent art connection via the Australian artist Peter Atkins who has based at least one of his abstract paintings on a McCahon letterbox.  And while we are free-basing postal associations here, let’s not forget the 1997 issue of McCahon stamps.

But for now, if your heart is set on owning a Colin McCahon letterbox be prepared to stump up at the Art + Object auction (estimates $12,000 to $18,000) on 21 May.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Gordon Walters tattoo

How could it not happen and how could we not share it with you this Saturday.  
via instagram (Thanks C)

Friday, May 09, 2014

Think biggish

"There are no economies of scale in art and expanding the scale isn't going to increase the percentage of good art."
US art critic and writer, Dave Hickey.

Drawing out Len

Len Lye is back in New York! Ok, a bunch of his drawings, films, a few paintings and some photographs are anyway. They're on at the Drawing Centre in Soho and reveal a somewhat different Len Lye from the one we usually see in NZ. Being shown alongside Lebbeus Woods certainly gives the Lye show a very helpful push. This visionary architect was obsessed by transformation and over forty years became a world builder rather than a building builder. 

The connections with Lye are compelling returning him to us as an idiosyncratic idea maker rather than the rather solemn modernist he has calcified into in NZ. Also on show are some fascinating drawings that acted as the basis for Wellington's Waterwhirler. This sculpture has had an unhappy life on the waterfront, but more of that some other time. The Lye exhibition was co-curated by Gregory Burke and Tyler Cann. The new Govett-Brewster director Simon Rees was on hand for the opening so all very NZ/NY. Maybe that should be NY/NP.

Image: The Lye brain at work back in 1938 in a drawing from the Len Lye collection at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery now on show at New York's Drawing Center

Thursday, May 08, 2014

In New York

Thinking about Kate Newby

Before and after

As long time fans of Andy Warhol you won’t be surprised to hear we dragged ourselves out to Queens to see an exhibition based on his controversial commission for the 1964 World's Fair. One of a number of commissions Warhol's did not last long and was quickly painted over (with silver paint).  Thirteen of the most wanted criminals in the US surveying the Fair was just too much especially with the preponderance of Italian criminals and an overtly gay theme. The anniversary exhibition at the Queens Art Museum includes some of Warhol's subsequent Most wanted paintings as well as other works of the time (flowers, electric chair, Jackie Kennedy) plus documentation covering the commissioning by architect Philip Johnson and his dissembling over who was responsible (not me).

Stepping out from the museum and across a small park the New York pavilion that Warhol’s work had been made for is still there. Despite a few additions and a sense of being very much at the back of the building, it is still recognisable.  And so we took an 'after' pic.

Images: The American pavilion, then (1964) and bottom, now.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Over the top

“He’s moving on to a really special national role…. He is doing something that is really, really important from a national point of view”

“We’re very glad to have someone with his skills and expertise involved in such an important project.”

Te Papa chairman Evan Williams (top) and Minister of Culture & Heritage Chris Findlayson (bottom) on the sudden announcement of CE Michael Houlihan's leaving Te Papa to take up the role of ‘special adviser on military heritage’.

Artless maneuvering at Te Papa

We’ve been critics of the Te Papa approach from way back and over the years there’s been little to make you feel any better. Simple story telling, a 12-year-old reading age and heavy-handed design don't play well with the visual arts.  The problems are embedded in the building. There’s never been a purpose built art space, for instance. The top floor corridor gallery was originally pegged for a reception space until the Gibbs generously paid for it to be converted and the current art galleries are modified library and office spaces. Sure you can modify existing spaces to make great art spaces, it’s just that Te Papa can’t.

Then there’s the specialist staffing problems. Extended periods without the right expertise (caused by either a desire to save salaries or the reluctance of anyone with a reputation to work in the place) have drained energy and focus. It’s left to young enthusiasts to struggle with the bureaucracy and without an appointed senior curator for years.

But you do have to feel sorry for the now ex Chief Executive Mike Houlihan. He came to Te Papa with extensive experience in museum practice and the will to make some changes. The trouble was the first big change he put on the table – sorting out the art exhibition problem by developing a new national art gallery – was killed stone dead with no public discussion, and delivered by the PM himself in the Dominion Post: "The Government doesn’t have $1 million to build a new national art gallery." That public humiliation (Te Papa immediately hid itself away in a corporate visioning process for a year) certainly did for the progress thing. 

Now thanks to the abrupt departure of Houlihan more uncertainty and pressure on the staff as Te Papa's Board spend six to nine months searching for a replacement. It's certainly one way to change direction but it will put the heat on an organisation who's track record on filling positions is not great.  Over half of the members of the new Board [link] have a serious commitment to the visual arts so we should expect that to impact what happens next. One thing is for sure, the new CE of Te Papa is unlikely to be a military historian.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world

What the hell did we know?

The last time we posted about the Museum of Modern Art we were bitching about the crowds and claiming they were completely out of control. The airline industry has a wonderful term for those passengers who nudge their way to the front of the line when the gates open for boarding – Gate Lice. Now the last time we were at MoMA it had a big Gallery Lice problem, but they were not to be seen this time. This was thanks to a simple fix: there are significantly reduced crowds if you head in at 3pm on a week day. And then there was the show. 

However much you travel you get a fragmented view of even the most celebrated artists. For us the Sigmar Polke retrospective Alibis at MoMA was a revelation. The exhibition opened with a very smart selection touching on all periods of his career and then offered a compelling view of this restless artist. Polke’s urge to experiment with formats and materials and his conviction that the personal is political certainly tilts your (well our) perspective on what was going on in art in the sixties and seventies in Europe. Not that Polke didn’t do some exceptional work later but those two decades were astonishing to a couple of NZers somewhat blinkered by an American-centric history of post sixties art. Unsettling and exhilarating.

Image: Sigmar Polke’s Plastik-Wannen (Plastic Tubs) 1964

Monday, May 05, 2014

Art is where you find it

Blacked out advert sign, Brooklyn

Street art

A small crowd was watching them work but they were so wrapped up in their music they didn’t seem to notice. There were two of them so when they came down from the scaffolding we asked one of them (“no need to know my name”) how they got into the hand-painted sign business. Did they go to art school for instance? “No, it’s just one of those jobs that you just start doing it and then you're doing it,” he told us as he studied the image they were scaling up on the wall. Apparently these painters come from a range of backgrounds from old-school sign writers to reformed graffiti artists. “It’s a job,” the other one says getting back to work. “I do my own painting, my own art at home. This stuff is commercial you know, the everyday stuff.”

This kind of hand-painted wall signage is making a comeback in New York City, particularly in newly gentrified areas where it's probably part of a turn to the handmade and crafted that is running through high and popular culture at the moment. Most of the work you see on the streets of New York is by one company, Colossal Media and paintings can come in at between $5,000 and $110,000 depending on scale. Of course the American art world already has one sign-painting hero in James Rosenquist who started off high up on the walls of New York painting billboards in the late fifties. Had they heard of him we asked the two painters. “That guy in the museum? Yeah, it’s an inspiration isn’t it.

Saturday, May 03, 2014



Frank Lloyd Wright's convention centre in Madison gave us the chance to see what it would be like driving up the ramps of the Guggenheim Museum.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Sitting pretty

Claes Oldenburg poses on his 1962 work Floor Cone

The office

As a rule curators keep their offices pretty much to themselves. We did get a classic photo of Justin Paton in his Christchurch Art Gallery office (you can see it here on OTNSTUDIO) but when we met up in Sydney we got waylaid by a new Picasso in the storeroom so we never got to see his new digs.  This interest in curator’s offices comes up as a result of an extraordinary story from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Its first contemporary art curator Barton Kestle (trained by MoMA’s legendary Alfred Barr) was caught up in the anti-Communist rage of Senator Eugene McCarthy.  Although Kestle was never formally accused, the stress of the investigations was clearly too much for him. One day Kestle walked out of the building, caught a train to Washington DC and was never seen again. Shortly after his disappearance Kestle’s office was boarded over to create a wall for a temporary exhibition and was forgotten. The hidden room was rediscovered in 2011 and the Institute decided to add it to its collection of period rooms. A perfectly preserved curatorial office from the 1950s has got to be a unique artifact. Too good to be true? It got us for a minute until we noticed a small label announcing the ‘office’ and the cover story were actually the creation of the American artist Mark Dion.

Image: Mark Dion, Office 2012-2013 collection Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Advice to gallery visitors

Can’t see the main attraction? Look behind you.

Images: top, Georges Surat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Middle the crowd-free opposite wall with (bottom) Surat’s drop-dead study for … A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

Sniff competition

They’ve done the finger puppet thing and been down the apron, hat, umbrella road but now the art museums have come up with a new product line: the signature scent. This is a brand rush that went through consumer markets around ten years ago – there was even talk of  Harley Davidson bringing out a line of scented male products. Now, at last, the art institutions are climbing onboard with London’s Serpentine Gallery hanging out with Comme des Garçons and Tracey Emin to produce (wait for it) Serpentine. So in the spirit of art museums being on the scent here’s some suggestions for NZ.

d. paganini
A bracing astringent for the Southern man.

City Gal
A serious scent in a no nonsense atomiser

A’ Agee
A traditional perfume with a contemporary twist

Promise her anything but giver her Suitor

The full on fragrance for all the family

Fighting above its weight to bring the now to your nose

Chi Chi Gal
Available next year