Monday, June 30, 2014

Second bite at it

When we posted on art movie references last week a reader pointed out we had left out one of the biggies (thanks G). And she's right, Guillermo del Toro had certainly taken a long hard look at Goya’s Saturn devouring his son for his movie Pan’s labyrinth

Bronzed and buffed

Last week we had the chance in Berlin to visit one of those foundries that specialize in turning artworks into bronze. A couple of years back we watched Michael Parekowhai’s full size bronze elephant being poured, pieced together and finally (after a couple of guys removed a dozen or so sheets of corrugated iron) lifted by crane through the roof.

That was impressive of course but no need for a hired in crane at this German foundry.  Its scale was massive and mega-works could simply roll out the door. And it wasn't the typical medieval-feeling blackened workplace either. This foundry was all skylights and electronic hoists and suite after suite of workshops dedicated to particular parts of the process all wrapped up in an elegant purpose-designed concrete complex. 

As to the work the sent out their over large doors, how about life size casts of full-length full-grown pine tree trunks or a bronze sphere that needed scaffolding so two people could climb up and hand polish it (probably for the rest of their lives). And we did get to see a large chain-sawed wooden sculpture by Georg Baselitz and nearly Baselitz himself who had popped in to freshen it up with a splash of paint. It's a real test to dominate a busy workplace and that's just what the Baselitz sculpture managed. Its bronze doppelganger on the other hand was still in bits that were being scraped and welded and filed and polished in various parts of the foundry. Wood to bronze. Foundry magic.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday at the movies

Ok Ingrid Bergman actually said "Sing it, Sam" (ok you can stop emailing - she said 'Play it Sam' as well) but it didn't stop Woody Allen using the better 'remembered' "Play it again Sam" as the title of the 1972 film that included this art in the movies clip.

Friday, June 27, 2014

When artists pose

German artist Michael Riedel.


In the early 1980s Wellington developed an Art bonus scheme. The idea was to take advantage of all the commercial building that was going on and insist that at least a small percentage of the money pouring into bricks and mortar went to art. It was a public sculpture bonanza that got the city some stuff including half a Henry Moore, Terry Stringer’s head and a Robert Jesson’s star fish like wall work. In the end about a dozen works were achieved and there was a lot of criticism that the scheme was simply being exploited by developers to get concessions on added height and reduced public space. 

More recently in LA the same sort of scheme has taken a different and more sinister turn. The pressure to supply developers with more and more sculpture so they could get more and more concessions for their buildings led at least one real estate guy to by-pass the art part of the agreement and get his own public sculpture made. His method was simple. Clip pics of sculptures out of magazines and send them to China to be copied. When his copies arrived he cunningly disguised them by renaming the work from its original Untitled to Human Natures: Many Faces. Now a court case has finally put a stop to the practice but you can understand the attraction. A copy of a stone sculpture based on a photograph can be door-to-doored for $1,250 (the Chinese even offer a ‘three for $950’ sweetener). The same work produced by the artist in America sells at around $35,000. 

Image: One of the Chinese 'versions' of Untitled by Californian based artist Don Wakefield

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The money go round

"We have spared no expense to match his vision”

Adam D. Weinberg Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art speaking at the Jeff Koons survey opening this week

And off to marketing we go

Is there a groundswell against regional museums? Feels like it. With art institutions trapped between trying to offer a satisfying experience and entertaining the hell out of everybody there're going to be some victims. One of the first has been the Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery now relabeled MTG Hawke's Bay. Ostensibly annoyed by 'performance issues' (i.e. that the number of visitors hasn't gone up despite a major redevelopment) the City Council reached for consultants McDermott Miller Strategies. Oh, oh.

McDermott etc. have savaged the place. Has any local museum ever been kicked so hard? Could the politicians of the region have seriously invested $18 million in the project and had no idea about what was being planned? And then when it won awards but wasn't a raging success at the ticket office they've felt free to throw up their hands and unleash the dogs. Everything about the place is subject to snarky commentary and you really get the sense that the consultants were encouraged to hit hard. Maybe it's payback for the embarrassing miscalculation of how much storage space would be required.

And it gets amazingly personal - there's non of that old school loyalty and 'stand by your man' stuff here. The senior staff it turns out are out of touch by virtue of their expertise. "We understand the MTG Hawke's Bay director [Douglas Lloyd Jenkins] is from an academic background and his deputy, [public programmes team leader Eloise Wallace], has a postgraduate museology diploma plus five years' experience in the exhibitions department of a London museum," Oh, oh again.

But thank God McDermott M. have the solution to all this pointy-headedness. Marketing. How do they think of this stuff? According to McDM it’s marketers who best understand how to pick the best shows, placate snubbed audiences,
build numbers, bring in the locals and make up for the limitations of connoisseurship. And they have a plan. Focus on on World War 1. That should do it.

If you wonder how much worse things can get for art museums and other cultural institutions you can read the whole report (well given that it’s 139 pages long you might want to skip a few of them) here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When art goes to

Earlier this year Jillian Steinhauer did a nice piece on Hyperallergic on when art has appeared on the Simpsons. You can read it and see some clips here.

They might be giants

In 1958 when Colin McCahon came home from his first and only visit to the United States, he brought back a expanded sense of scale. Having finally seen firsthand how massive some paintings could be (paintings you could walk past as he described them) he stepped up and made his Northland panels, a sort-of-big painting cobbled together from eight lengths of unstretched canvas. 

Making large scale work in a small country is hard. So difficult in fact that some of the biggest paintings ever made in the country had to be commissioned and sponsored by the Auckland Art Gallery via its Ten Big Paintings exhibition back in 1971. Although there have been some ingenious efforts to make big work like McCahon’s strips, Killeen’s mega cut outs and Robinson working with cheap high volume material like polystyrene, scale in NZ art is more often brought out for special occasions than acting as a regular part of an artist's development.

Last month we saw some immense Julian Schnabel paintings in New York and wondered if that sort of painting were even possible in New Zealand. There’s just not the studio space or the hanging space or the marketing space. If there's nowhere to exhibit large works the ambition to make them has got to be affected. What makes this inhibition a more interesting question is the wave of gigantism that has so engaged the international art world. Stirling Ruby’s land-of-the-giant 'ash trays', the immense installations in the Tate turbine hall, Pai White’s monster tapestries, all helping to fill the endless public and commercial space available for art today. If artists from NZ want to participate on that bigger (in all senses) world, the challenge of scale is increasingly problematic.

Image: Pae White tapestry (detail)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Advice for collectors

Don't lie on the table

Image: art collectors Michael and Seren Shvo

Never mind the movie, what’s the art?

We’ve spent quite a bit of time chasing up art works in movies and movie scenes based on artworks. From the obvious (Alex Colville’s 1967 painting Pacific recreated in Michael Mann’s Heat) to the rather more obscure (Ridley Scott’s Alien being infused with Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion) so here are a few more intriguing examples of when art goes to the movies.

Pacific Rim (along with many, many Japanese monster movies) taking Goya’s The Colossus as inspiration for its lurching destroyers.

Christopher Nolan lifting from Escher for Inception's crazy world

Rene Magritte’s 1953 Empire of Light turning up in spirit in The Exorcist

Other OTN art in the movie stories here

Monday, June 23, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art at work in the foyers of the world

Te Papa plays the blame game

What a difference a couple of months can make. Start of May it was all you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about and reassurance.

Te Papa spokeswoman said the national museum was in a “comfortable” financial position.Dominion Post 2 May 2014

Te Papa chair Evan Williams said speculation over financial problems at Te Papa was untrue.  - 1 May 2014

But six weeks later and it’s the poor old Aztecs getting it in the neck.

“The first half of the year was awful. It was caused by losses on the Aztecs exhibition … and another exhibition called Colour & Light … and by the fact that Te Papa wasn’t operating within its budgets.”Te Papa chairman Evan Williams, Dominion Post 21 June 2014 

Right. Te Papa is in financial straits (down $4 million more than expected even with major operating cuts of $4million) This fact was only revealed after the media forced the museum out into the open.

Like many other museums in the world Te Papa has taken itself into the entertainment business and has had huge success when it comes to whales and hobbits. Getting it right for the visual arts, not so easy. And not so surprising either given that all too often Te Papa's technique for drawing big crowds for art is to drop in second level packaged international exhibitions.

You didn't need specialist knowledge to figure that the 2013 Warhol exhibition didn't have the quality of work needed to attract acclaim and crowds. As for the impressionist potboiler Colour & Light exhibition, dull and esoteric, it never had a chance. The thought that either of them might have been potential blockbusters is risible. And (for the record) Colour & Light was a 2013 disaster (13 July 2013-12 Jan 2014) not one of this year’s.

Then there’s shows like Aztecs: conquest and glory the current whipping boy. While the chair blames it for the latest losses there's a lot more here for Te Papa's Board to think about. There's no doubt that Aztecs contained some outstanding objects but why did Te Papa choose to invest so heavily in this particular exhibition? Its never shown any interest in the Aztecs since its blockbuster (and that one really was a blockbuster) back in 1983. It has no related work in its collections and no expertise on its staff or even in the region. With Aztecs in 2014 we were in cargo cult territory - and we didn't even get to have a belief system at the end.

So what's the answer? The first part of it is having smart curators with great connections and experience in collecting and research and programming. The second part is that you have to give them the time and the budgets to make solid shows, and lots of them. These have to range beyond the institution's own collections so that the visual arts programme of Te Papa can build audiences - people who keep coming back for more. Then there’s getting a new CE. When it comes to getting people through the door and great programmes everyone looks to Tate Modern. It is run by a curator.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Don't touch

That moment when good statues turn on bad people.

Wow that didn't take long. The video was of a very annoying man getting punched by a living statue. We figure it was the annoying guy who had the video taken down. Sorry about that. You can see a tv report about it here with a bit of the clip.

Friday, June 20, 2014

After the fall

You may remember one of our giant sculpture series posts on a massive Marilyn Monroe that stood in Chicago. The photo is of what looks like a Chinese 'version' of the Seward Johnson original. Before being dumped this Marilyn was on display Guigang.

In plane sight

Can you draw something that's invisible? Hard. The moment you draw the invisible it becomes…er…visible. That was the conceit Ronnie van Hout played with in his work The Invisible Man a small model of the invisible man (made visible via clothing and bandages) being videoed. Double visible.

In Istanbul we saw part of what looked like an outline drawing on the pavement. Stepping back we could see that even though part of it was covered by parked cars, it looked like the outline of an aircraft of some kind. And it was. It was part of a project for the Istanbul Biennale in 2012 by James Bridle and it is still there. Under the rubric of the new aesthetic Bridle and his colleagues visualise the invisible and often invisibly menacing presences in our world. The Istanbul drawing was a full-scale outline of an unmanned Predator drone and it was titled Drone shadow 002. You can see the complete Istanbul drawing and other examples here and read more about Bridle’s work. His post about his failure to make a drone drawing in Brisbane is particularly interesting.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In Berlin...

...thinking about Colin McCahon's Singing woman

J is for Joker

If you want to see contemporary nz art, come to Berlin. Probably not since Hotere, Peebles, Hanly and the others went to live and work in London in the sixties has there been such a concentration of NZ artists beyond the Pacific. OK there are NZers working away in other cities but in Berlin they are a real presence. Well, to us anyway. Look at the list (and this is only top of mind) Ruth Buchanan, Ben Cauchi, Simon Denny, Alicia Frankovich, Richard Frater, Judy Millar, Michael Stevenson. It's partly the residency effect. Dunedin has enjoyed it for decades with a significant number of artists deciding to stay on in the city after being brought there as Frances Hodgkins Fellows. In the same way Berlin's NZ population is often given a boost by CNZ's K├╝nstlerhaus Bethanien visual artists residency.

And these NZers are visible in the city too. We posted Monday on Mike Stevenson's participation in the Berlin Biennale, Simon Denny has an exhibition coming up at Portikus in Frankfurt and yesterday we saw Ruth Buchanan's project at the Hamburger Bahnhof working with the Collection
Marzona. This collection concentrates on conceptual work from the sixties and seventies and tends to the archival. In response the presentation is arranged alphabetically. Ruth is the contemporary presence and has been assigned the letter J for Joker. We saw what is to be the first of four parts that will be on show at the HB for around two and a half years, so big exposure. Of course you can also see Ruth Buchanan’s work without all the flying at Hopkinson Mossman in New Zealand.

Images:  top, video presentation which is part of Ruth Buchanan’s work in the exhibition A-Z: The Manzoni collection. Bottom, detail of one of the shelves in Ruth Buchanan’s contribution.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Art chart

Frame of reference from I love charts

Stamp of approval

For an artist who did so much to promote the British postal service it took a long time for Len Lye to get his own stamp but it has finally happened. Oddly, given the graphic nature of Lye’s work and the energy that has gone into promoting him in NZ, it’s not NZ that came up with the idea but the UK. There have been some New Zealand artists honored stamp-wise but the only ones we can think of off-hand are Rita Angus and Colin McCahon. Of course artists like Eileen Mayo, Mervyn Taylor and Leonard Mitchell designed many of our most well known stamps butt that’s a whole other thing. What distinguishes Lye in the stamp stakes is that even though he was not a painter he still got a stamp. Yes, painting rules in most countries although why we can feature 3D images of a rugby cup on a stamp and not have a go at a 3D art work is anyone’s guess #ingenuous.

(Another New Zealand-born artist whose work has been featured on a UK stamp is Ray Ching. His image of a black finch and a limestone fossil of Archaeopteryx, illustrating 'Darwin's theory', was included (26p) in the Royal Mail Millennium Stamps issue of 1999) - Thanks R

Images: Top to bottom, left to right, Len Lye 2014, Rita Angus 1983, Colin McCahon 1997 (you can buy a set here), Georgia O’Keefe 1996, Andy Warhol 2002 and Robert Indiana 1973

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


... 'if you call it a living' statue

Fair go

They’re at it again. Following up on their breakaway art fair a couple of years ago a group of Australian dealers are back with another one. The poor old Melbourne Art Fair must rue the day it went mainstream and allowed this sort of thing to happen. This time the Art Fair you can go to when you’re not going to the other art fair is called SPRING 1883 (14-17 August). There’s a taste of what they’re up to from the list of NZ galleries that have signed up for the ride - Gloria Knight, Hamish McKay, Hopkinson Mossman, Michael Lett and Robert Heald. The dealers behind SPRING 1883 are Vasili Kaliman (Station), Geoff Newton (Neon Park) and Vikki McInnes (Sarah Scout Presents). Kaliman and Newton are also well-known in the NZ art scene from their participation at the Auckland Art Fair and a close relationship with NZ artists.

SPRING 1883 will be held in the historic surroundings of the Windsor Hotel. This grand nineteenth century building was where the Australian constitution was drafted and was known for many years as the Duchess of Spring Street. The art fair’s name SPRING 1883 is said to refer to the Windsor Hotel’s opening date (no it’s not the address) although most sources give the rebuild of the Grand and its reopening as the Windsor as 1884. But given that at least one of the team of three is a known trickster maybe there is more to the art fair name and that date than meets the eye.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Art in advertising

The statue Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro sculpted by Paul Landowski with Gheorghe Leoida on face and designed by a roomful of engineers helps kick of the World Cup on a Berlin billboard.

The known unknown

Last week we saw Michael Stevenson’s work Left behind in the Berlin Biennale. He has used one of those two-sided advertising display cases that rotates posters by turning them on rollers at the top and bottom. As this is Michael Stevenson it involves three poster promoting movies based on the Left behind series of books. The Left behind franchise (a Nicolas Cage version is to be released later this year!) is based on a belief that the end of the world is nigh and prophesies The Rapture. This involves all believers being saved (by ascending naked up into heaven) and the rest of us, and the clothing of the saved left behind. Stevenson has covered one side of the poster with a blown-up page from the now defunct New Plymouth evening paper the Taranaki Herald (a super weird thing to come across in Berlin) and on the other revealed the neon tubes that illuminate the sign and are usually hidden.

The rich and strange history of this work (religious as well as cultural) is tough to figure out from simply looking at it but that's what you've got to do. Throughout this Biennale there are some very basic labels and that's it. A catalogue is supposed to be due in a few weeks and in the meantime there's a brief guidebook.  We could talk with Michael but most people don't have that option.

The Berlin Biennale is suffering from the dilemma facing curators at the moment – to explain or not to explain. At the BB you're on your own. Complex ideas artists had mulled over for months are presented like cargo cult planes and then, OTY.

We talked to a few people about the experience. Most of them said that if they didn’t instinctively like a work they'd just move on to something else. The curator of the Berlin Biennale was of the sink-or-swim school and from what we could see a lot of people were put off even getting into the water.

Images: Top Michael Stevenson in his studio with one of the Taranaki Herald pages behind him,. Middle and bottom Left behind installed at Museen Dahlem

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The sound of one mind counting

Here’s a chance to while away Saturday, and maybe Sunday too, quietly separating the rice from the sesame seeds. This game was made by Pippin Barr in collaboration with Marina Abramovic to support the funding of her Institute the MAI

Friday, June 13, 2014

Eat the rich

“I can see absolutely no reason why every arts organisation in this country cannot raise philanthropic funds. I think that too many arts organisations think, ‘well, we live in an area where rich people don’t live, so they’re not going to back the arts’. I think that is pathetic, frankly.”
UK’s Culture Minister Ed Vaizey on being asked whether it was realistic for all arts organisations to raise private funds.

Grey matter

On Friday 20 September 1989 Julian Dashper signed and dated his painting The grey in Grey Lynn. After some time in a private collection it ended up at Te Papa who purchased it at a Webb’s auction. About a month after Julian finished the painting we were in his studio and he started talking about the painting in one of those obsessive, humorous detailed monologues he sometimes dropped into. As we had a video camera with us we made a recording that recently turned up in one of our files. We’ve put that together with a heap of other information we had on the work in a short illustrated piece that tells you everything we know about that one object. You can check out  all this on OTN/STUDIO in the stories section on the far right of the menu bar.

Image: Julian Dashper holding Pink bananas, behind him The grey in Grey Lynn

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Mel Bochner D1 (Erased and turned) 1996

One day in the office of the auction house director

Director: Wow we are making so much money on contemporary art.

Head of art department:
So much money.

I mean more money than I ever thought possible.

So much more money.

But that’s not to say we shouldn’t make even more money. Is it?

Not make even more money? That’s a horrible idea.

Absolutely and my gut says that more money would be a good thing.

Can you even make too much money? Is that even possible?

So how are you going to do it?


Yes. I want to make more money and you agreed with me. So what's your strategy?

Bacon? Warhol? Richter?

No. I mean more money on top of all that money.

I suppose we could get more people with money to give us… I mean spend more money with us.

That’s brilliant. How would we do it?

Well, we could focus on people with money who don’t know anything about art and teach them how to spend that money on art.

How would that get us more money?

They’d spend it at our auctions.

Nice, very nice. But do you think they'd fall for it?

If we charged them a lot of money I think they would.

Then let’s do it.

And they did.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The man in the hat

Rene Magritte poses for Duane Michals

Pay and display

Anyone who watched the New Plymouth City Council meeting last year when it agreed to go ahead with the Len Lye Centre could see there was trouble brewing. It wasn't just the nine to six vote but the tone of the debate. Then the local body elections at the end of last year resulted in an even more volatile mix on the NP City Council. Committed to "sorting out the Council's financial situation" made the Govett-Brewster's situation even more tricky. Reading the report in the local paper you can feel in the Councilor’s language that there is more than just the Len Lye Centre in their sights.

The new bosses are now starting to express themselves and one of their decisions is to impose entry fees when the Len Lye Centre opens. There's the usual caveat that only out-of-towners will be charged. Govett-Brewster director Simon Rees will certainly be able to demonstrate through any amount of national and international research that entry fees will devastate attendances, even if watered down to an out-of-towners-only charge. And of course these door charges add virtually nothing to the budget.

What can be done? Well the first thing we might expect is for the museum directors of NZ to come out with a strong public statement calling on the Council to rescind its decision to charge for the Len Lye Centre. The LL Centre will have a common entrance with the Govett-Brewster (a much promoted feature). Who'll be surprised when the Govett-Brewster is next to get a door charge imposed? Then watch the dominos start to fall. Local bodies around the country are all itching to apply user-pays wherever they can.

Then there's the government. It already has $4 million dollars of skin in the Len Lye Centre's game (and who knows how much over the years in the Govett-Brewster’s). If Len Lye is a National treasure as we have told countless times then it is surely a National responsibility to ensure it is available free to all of us.

COMMENT: Roy Clare, Director | Auckland War Memorial Museum | Tamaki Paenga Hira 
AKL Museum is free at point of entry for Aucklanders (who pay for us through their rates); but as of last October we have charged overseas visitors $25 and invited donations (unspecified sum) from NZers outside AKL. On average NZers donate $5.27 per head.

We were reluctant to implement this regime, but sustainability is all … the revenue stream is significant for us – and the turn-away numbers have been very low. The new system is also more intelligible than its forerunner – which specified a “voluntary donation of $10” for non-Aucklanders. Excuse me … when is a donation voluntary?

In principle, I agree that public collections should be freely available to the public. But we all have to live in a real world. Tourists have spent $000s flying or cruising here – it’s only fair they contribute to the costs of places of culture/arts that receive no state subsidy.

And all of us who lead these kinds of places need to be sensitive to the brutal evidence that relevance, cost and value are a complex equation in the public minds. We professionals all need to be better at expressing value and relevance. Secure in the knowledge that everyone else will be fluent in expressing costs.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Art is where you find it: Berlin

Never mind the quality add to the width

Talk back

While you were sleeping Creative NZ got a focus group together to advise it on what should be done with the visual arts. It has now released a draft report and wants your thoughts before it writes a final report for the Arts Council.

Ok, all this might seem a little abstract but what ever the Council approves will be put into action from January next year. And at this stage there are some significant changes in the wind.

You can tell who's who in CNZ's world by the make up of the focus group:
4 from art institutions (including Chartwell)
3 from tertiary institutions
2 from the commercial world (dealer and art fair)
1 representing ‘non commercial exhibition spaces’
1 practising artist

Oh, and two more art institution people who somehow joined in the discussions.

So not surprising the key driver in the document is Organisational Leverage. Creative NZ wants to team up with the existing arts infrastructure in NZ (art museums, universities) to spread its money further. Looking at you Artspace and Physics room.

To get to the good stuff check out the series of 'options.' You can read and respond here.

Red flags? A trend to greater centralisation, more bureaucracy and support of the status quo, aka art museums and tertiary education. As an organising idea leverage has one big negative - to reach agreement among participating organisations they tend to support the same projects with the same people around the same ideas that have already been proved successful.

Watch out for:
•    A strong indication that independent art spaces may be under attack for future funding. The options are complex but two possibilities are some kind of centralised organisation to manage experimental work  in non-commercial exhibition spaces and CNZ focusing its visual arts support via regional art museums and artist-run space.

•    Boosted support for international initiatives including artist residencies and the Venice Biennale

•    A proposal for $120,000 king-hit grants over two years for “established” artists

•    A concerted push to give more support to public art museums through artist residencies, curatorial internships, international projects in NZ, publications and organised talking. It's the leverage thing.

•    And most positively the idea of funding being “more tightly targeted towards independent artists who don’t have access to institutional resources, such as studio facilities and research funds for creative projects and publications."

Plus, hilariously “We propose to support a greater level of collaboration between New Zealand institutions”

Good luck with that

Monday, June 09, 2014

Not a Bacon

"It was so badly burned on the secondary market, it was crispy."

Todd Levin, director of New York's Levin Art Group telling Art in America why a Cindy Sherman photograph that had being doing the rounds on the secondary market failed to sell at auction.

Dead reckoning

What is it about rich people and death? Put the average rich person together with a skull or a juicy nature morte or something dead and stuffed and you’re talking happy-rich-person #wildgeneralisation. Start with the never-blink gambler David Walsh in Tasmania. His MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) is dedicated to death as well as to sex as we have written about before. The place is full of the requisite skulls, skins, bones, carcasses, even a time of death wager. Plus there's always the offer of a final resting place for your ashes if you want to stump up for a handcrafted reliquary. And we have discovered what you can find in Tasmania you can see reflected in Berlin, or maybe it's the other way around. The modestly titled me Collectors Room (the me stands for moving energies which will surely come as a surprise to all the cynics out there) is in fact a substantial new building in the centre of Berlin. Its purpose is to display the works owned by another very rich collector, Thomas Olbricht, as well as his international collecting colleagues. With all this money sloshing around you've got an ideal seedbed for lots of death stuff especially in Olbricht's own Wunderkammer. Crucifixes and taxidermy and skeletons are front and centre. So here's an idea. ME and MONA. They’re rich, they're men, they're both deep into death, they should get together. It’s a partnership to die for.

Images: top, death wish at me. Middle and bottom MONA keyring and mummy merchandise

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Mitchell & Webb - Art Warehouse

A bit of grim humour to start off your Saturday. (Thanks P)

Friday, June 06, 2014

Homage to Picasso's Guernica

The inside and the outside stories.
Images: top, random tattoo site, bottom The Satorialist

By the numbers

0         the number of speeches the Minister of Culture and Heritage has made so far this election year

1.6      the percentage of dealer galleries from New Zealand in the total number at Art Basel Hong Kong

3.5      the number of years since Te Papa last had a senior curator of art

6         the number in thousands of dollars of the average Boosted grant over the programme's first year

10       the number in millions of dollars the Government wants spent on new public art on the banks of the Avon River ,while simultaneously announcing it won't pay for it

15       the amount in dollars charged as the entry fee for adults visiting the MTG Hawkes Bay (formerly the Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery)

17       the number in millions of dollars that the Ministry of Culture and Heritage is spending on the celebration of World War One

21       the number of reviews John Hurrell has written for EyeContact in the last two months

47.43   the number in thousands of dollars being spent by the new director of the Govett-Brewster Simon Rees on his first submission of contemporary art acquisitions to the City Council

130      the average number of dollars donated by individual contributors to Boosted in its first year 

213      the number of days community leaders, museum and art experts and iwi and cultural representatives have left to prepare a business case for Te Papa North

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Cover story

Another Virgin in a condom controversy? Well sort of. Super art collector Aby Rosen has installed Virgin Mother by Damien Hirst in his front yard. Trouble is the bronze Mother is nine meters high and pokes up above the shrubbery. The neighbours found the half flayed nude a bit hard to take and asked Aby at the very least to turn the skinned side away from them and facing him. Being super rich Rosen doesn't warm to criticism but in the meantime he has put a sheath over the work giving us a unexpected segue back to the media storm at Te Papa’s opening exhibition.

Image: The VM channeling the VIAC

Paid in kind

In Canada artists get them by legislative right, the Norwegians base theirs on the amount of product and the duration of display, for the Swedes it’s a standard rate and the Poles attach theirs to the average monthly wage. We’re talking artist fees in public art institutions.

Some artist fees are paid in NZ by public institutions (we heard Auckland Art Gallery paid fees of $2,000 to artists included in Freedom Farmers) but they tend to be token compared to real costs. Usually artists are expected to be happy with what the Ministry of Culture and Heritage listed in a recent report as “The feeling of self-satisfaction from producing artworks which exemplify who you are as an artist” and “The value derived from your work being positively viewed by critical reviewers.” Thanks guys.

As usual any debate about fees is fuelled by context. In the museums that show art, staff salaries and conditions have increased phenomenally over the last 30 years. There is now an income and lifestyle chasm between the art professionals (the museum crowd surging ahead) and most of the contemporary artists they show (let's forget the teachers for the moment). Over the same three decades artist fees have stayed pretty much the same i.e. zero except for the odd exception. 

Even when fees are paid they are usually tied to production costs as artists today are expected to fill large spaces with work made for the occasion. Fortunately for the art museums the universities have joined the party with research funding for exhibitions by their staff although that's cold comfort for artists who haven't landed a teaching berth.

So should artists show for the love of it and the value of being "positively reviewed"? Other artists benefit directly from institutional exposure. Musicians get APRA fees and writers get some compensation from libraries sharing their books around. So here's another question. When art museums charge for exhibition entry, why don't the artists get a percentage? Creative NZ could take a lead and insist that any exhibitions it funds have artist fees in the budget.

A recent survey of 18,000 visual artists in the UK found that:
• 71 percent taking part in publicly funded exhibitions received no fee
• Of those, 59 percent did not get their expenses paid

Sounds familiar.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

When artists pose

Could you just hold the zebra head a little higher Mr Freud? Just to get the know. Yes that's perfect. Thank you.


Sometimes great architecture is great because it doesn’t stand out from its context or see itself as a catalyst for a big statement. We saw a wonderful example in Renzo Piano’s reconstruction of the main gates to the fortified town of Valetta on Malta. This is the same Renzo Piano who designed one of the most elegant art museums in the world his poem to ‘demonumentalisation’, the Menil Collection in Houston.

Over the centuries six different gates into Valetta have been built with the pre-Piano one looking like something that one of Mussolini’s architects-to-go came up with on a bad day. Piano looked to the scale and grandeur of the extraordinary fortifications left by the Knights of Malta and inserted forms that connect with them in a way that blurs the historic chasm between the two. It is austere but purposeful. 

Best of all it's opened up parts of Valetta that have been hidden or obscured for years as well as offering sweeping new vistas to the island and to the Mediterranean. Making his structures in tune with the original battlements, crypts and turrets Piano has honoured one of the most beautiful cities in the world in a way it so well deserves.

Images: top, parts of the original fortifications near the gates to Valetta and bottom some of Renzo Piano's additions

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


“I practice the piano; I do not “practice” art. I know “practice” is like a code word for what you do, but I don’t practice breathing, even though I do it.”

Richard Tuttle in an interview with Blouin Artinfo

The Peter principle

In the eighties we curated an exhibition called When art hits the headlines. It traced a long story of outrage, contention, hilarity and humiliation as the public, funders and taste makers set to about who got to decide what was and what was not art, what was and what was not good art and who was going to pay for it. In an age of increased professionalism art controversies are usually headed off before they erupt, but every now and then a Councillor will raise his (usually) head and observe that something is amiss. That’s clearly what happened in New Plymouth last week when a group of Peter Peryer photographs was put in front of a Council purchase sub committee. Councillor Colin Johnson challenged one, "I like art, and I like some of these pictures as well ... but I can't see the point in the carcass one, and I see it costs $2608." 

The Govett-Brewster’s director’s Simon Rees was quick to point out the irony that the ‘carcass’ was in fact a movie prop and (embarrassingly for the Councillor) a prop used in a movie shot locally #gottalovethelocal. While art controversies are often conceived in Council Chambers they are usually delivered by the media. Usually that media is WTFing over art but they're not above turning around and scorning the same behaviour from a local official. This was what happened in New Plymouth.

In earlier decades media flare-ups like this were usually distressing to the artist involved. Colin McCahon's treatment and his response to it are the textbook demonstration of such negative impacts. Today, it's often different. An email from Peter Peryer letting us know about the fuss was gleefully headed, "At it again!"