Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Christmas..., seriously. Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday hours

OK that's it for this year, back on 15 January for the 10th year of OTN. We'll post on Facebook and Twitter if anything you really need to know-before-you-die comes up. Have a good break.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


We’ve always been great Géricault fans, largely thanks to J L Steele and C F Goldie’s steal The arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand at the Auckland Art Gallery. Over the years we've chased down parodies, copies and versions of the Géricault original that you can visit (or revisit) from the list below. This post was prompted by seeing the latest Jeff Koons painting show at Gagosian Gallery in New York. Koons has placed his well known, blown glass blue gazing balls in front of an art history top of the pops including Géricault ‘s The raft of the Medusa. The balls sit on small shelves attached to what look like silkscreened images of the paintings. Koons being Koons though, they were in fact painstakingly painted by studio assistants to very different scales from their originals. For example Koons' Medusa work is a mini-version of the 5 x 7 meter monster in the Louvre. Wandering around the vast spaces you can think about originality and the historical nature of painting as a medium and how he chose his masters, or you calculate how many hours it took how many assistants to paint them. According to Koons the tiny image of us reflected in the blue ball as in the photograph above shows our 'desires…interests… participation and relationship with this image'. Treat them gently, it’s nearly Christmas.
Image: Koons does Géricault at Gagosian

Previously on OTN:
Copy that
Flotsam or jetsam?
A raft too far
All at sea
Raft of references

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Non of your damn business

Should we the public know how much Te Papa pays for the art it purchases? Te Papa obviously thinks so, when it suits. It has announced how much it forked out for the ‘priceless’ William Strutt, the full cost of the elements it purchased from Simon Denny’s Venice installation and Michael Parekowhai's piano. So we thought asking for a complete list of last year’s purchase prices would be uncontroversial. And to be fair Te Papa said it would get right onto it. After a month we got our reply. Did the email have a list of purchase prices? No.

The reason is kind of curious. Te Papa told us that although ‘Purchase prices of significant acquisitions have been recently released to the media and we will continue to proactively release purchase prices for high value art works’ (How proactive the releases were would probably raise a few eyebrows in the media). But on other (non significant?) works they will not release prices because, to quote:

1    Releasing this information would impact Te Papa's commercial activities and negotiations
2    It may also impact the commercial position of artists or dealers we purchase from.

So here's a question. Why are the highest value purchases the less sensitive commercially? And here's another one. Why does Te Papa prioritise the protection of commercial positions over public access to some transactions?

Confidentiality while a purchase is being negotiated is justified but once the purchase is finalised you have to wonder why any of the parties needed long term protection.

There's a clue to what's going on in a further comment in Te Papa's response: 'as reasons for providing artworks to galleries and museums are not always financially driven, we feel that providing this information for all artists may be detrimental to their future commercial negotiations.'

OK, there are two options here. Either Te Papa is getting some works cheap or it's paying too much. We'd lean in most cases to the former explanation. While there are obviously public benefits in making deals (it's exactly how some of the great collections have been built after all), keeping the details secret raises a wider ethical problem. Transparency around deal making is crucial for subsequent institutional decisions to be fairly evaluated. We're thinking of who is selected for exhibitions, the level of investment in publications and so on.  In other words, who gets what level of institutional resources. Cherry picking which deal you are prepared to make public based on your own ideas of what is best for the deal-makers undermines confidence in the independence of the institution.

Next year. We’ll keep at it and let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Inside the studio

Here’s a catch up on some new studio shots we have put up on OTNSTUDIO.  The most recent are from a visit to Kate Newby’s New York studio three days ago. Earlier in the year we were in Michael Stevenson’s Berlin studio as he was getting ready for an exhibition in Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen (you can read more about the show here). Judy Millar was also getting ready for an exhibition when we visited her earlier in the year. The sculpture you can see in her Auckland studio was to be installed at Te Uru (some great installation shots of the show here on denizen). And finally, photos from John Parker’s studio in Oratia taken in September last year.
Image: Kate Newby in her New York studio, December 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015


Towards the top of the new Whitney Museum is a themed section of the permanent collection titled Free Radicals after the eponymous Len Lye film. The Lye work, famously scratched into black leader film, was of course on the programme. While Lye's title from the spurt of high energy expressed by uncharged molecules captured something of the spirit of fellow film makers Helen Levitt, Robert Breer and Mary Ellen Bute (among others), it sure didn’t sit well with the very staid paintings by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe or George Bellows that hung nearby.

And if you want to know more about Lye, now is the perfect time. Roger Horrocks' definitive biography (out of print for 13 years) has just been revised and reprinted. Considering that Lye was brought up in a lighthouse, thrown out of Samoa for ‘going native’ and sailed to the UK under a false name with another man’s papers, it's incredible that there isn’t already a movie based on his early life (although in all fairness there was an opera). You can get a copy of the Horrocks book here at AUP.

Images: left, Len Lye's film Free radicals on exhibition at the Whitney Museum and right the long awaited reprint of Horrock's Len Lye biography

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Panel work

The Hiroshima panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki were shown at the Auckland City Art Gallery in September 1958. The show was hugely popular, one of the best attended ever at that time, although the media gave it no coverage, much to the annoyance of Peter Tomory, the Director. Also on staff was Colin McCahon who four years later made his own set of panels protesting against nuclear war. This was The second gate series. There are also echoes of the Hiroshima panels in his 16-panel work The Wake.

Over 50 years later these NZ cultural touchstones are on exhibition at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, New York. So we went to see them. As it turned out just three of the sets of panels shown in Auckland were in the NY set. The work has grown. The entire suite now comprises 15 large screens of which five were painted after the tour to New Zealand. It serves as a reminder of how bold Tomory was in introducing art that dealt with contentious politics, ethics and memory into Auckland at that time. The trauma of the Second World War would have still felt close in 1958 and the reported high attendances show he got it right. With the Hiroshima panels he helped lift our sights to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


It’s not been a great time for public sculpture over the last year or so. In Wellington it’s been lightning strikes and repair work, in Hamilton jockeying for choice sites among competing sculptures (seriously) and in Auckland a general disinclination to have anything new. Now Tauranga is at it giving cat guy Gareth Morgan a no-go on his proposal to install a Phil Price sculpture in front of his house. As an old campaigner you'd have to wonder why Morgan agreed to a project that required two Pohutakawa to bite the dust so that his sculpture got some leg room (ok, arm room). Although Morgan told the council he'd plant replacement Pohutakawa, there's no sign of them on the artist's impression of the work. As to the argument that the removal of the trees is about ‘allowing the sculpture to move freely’, it seems a bit specious given that one of the trees has to be removed so that there's any space at all for the sculpture. The Tauranga Advisory Group claimed that ‘it was a great piece of art' and 'No aspect of the work is objectionable’ but you probably couldn’t convince the trees of that. Public sculpture, can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
Images: artist impression of Price installation and bottom nervous trees

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Seven things we've been thinking about this week

 1  Art museums without collections are always going to be on the back foot. This Jackson Pollock exhibition of over 30 major works was a collection show! Everything was either purchased by or gifted to MoMA. 

 2  Shocked yet again by the old museum practice of stamping items that came into the collection. In this case it was the Metropolitan Museum ‘owning’ a page of illuminated manuscript showing David in prayer with the initial letter M by Girolamo dai Libri painted in 1501.

 3  Nice surprise to see Christchurch's cardboard Cathedral on the cover of Philip Jodidio update to his book on architect Shigeru Ban. Now that was a very bold move by Christchurch.

 4  There’s a lot of completion out there. This guy spent nearly half an hour sitting in this gallery at the Met totally concentrating on visual imagery, which was more than anyone else that entered the room even came close to. 

 5  Some great artists have also been great designers. You can still purchase one of these Noguchi baby-minder speakers. The speaker was called 'Radio Nurse' and the receiver 'Guardian' (almost worth it for the names alone). Noguchi designed them in 1937. An almost new set was sold this year for around $NZ6,000.

 6  Remembered seeing this painting Duchamp’s A network of stoppages in the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch back in 1967. If we'd seen that Matisse, that really would have been something.

7  Thought how similar the pose of Michael Parekowhai’s Captain Cook sculpture is to this Gustave Courbet portrait of the singer Louis Gueymard from 1857. While Parekowhai's Cook is based on Nathaniel Dance’s 1776 painting of him it certainly has more drama. Parekowhai destablilised the figure by making its support a sculptor’s work tripod. Gueymard would have appreciated the theatrical gesture.

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Money Train on platform one has been delayed, passengers should seek alternative transport

For a few years now the government has been signaling that it's expecting the private sector to stump up with more of the cash and services needed to run the arts in NZ. This follows the UK example where severe cuts to arts organisations and grants have been made to try and shock the private sector to put its money where the government’s mouth was.
Last year the main source of Creative NZ funding, the Lotteries Commission via its Lottery Grants Board, suffered an unexpected 17 percent cut (from $37.379 million in 2013-14 to $31.074 million in 2014-15). It caught Creative NZ by surprise but by digging into its reserves it managed a successful 2014-15 financial year. For the coming year the cuts in Lotteries funding will be even harsher and Creative NZ is expecting funding that will be ‘materially lower’ for the forseable future. So we could be talking 25 percent down, even 30 percent. That's not good. 

Creative NZ's strategy to counter the sharp drop in funding is to build fund-raising capability. That is, by teaching institutions (and we presume artists) how to increase the funding they receive from individual donors, businesses, trusts and foundations. They call it Creative Giving. And it would need to be creative as there isn’t much on offer to make philanthropy/sponsorship attractive or worthwhile for the givers. Unlike most countries NZ only accepting cash contributions to registered charities for tax breaks cutting out a lot of services, and gifting of course. 

One organisation that is already off into the über commercial world is Te Papa. It looks to be in the process of converting itself into a production house with private sector wunderkinds WETA to build and flog exhibitions (no, Jennifer they won’t be art exhibitions, now go to bed) to the museums (read Asian) of the world.

Now arts organisations can make do and cut back but the real worry about this growing reduction of government investment is more insidious. In the UK art institutions are already talking about the ‘freedom’ they will achieve by being supported via the private sector rather than by government. This is deeply deluded as anyone who has worked in a corporate communications office will know. Even in the arts, nothing is for nothing.

So you might ask why doesn’t Creative NZ rally the troops, go public and push the government to increase its spend? Hang on, rather than ask CNZ it's probably better to email your local MP and copy the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage (it’s Maggie Barry).

Friday, December 04, 2015

One day in the Creative NZ offices

Communications officer 1: Oh no. What a disaster!

Communications officer 2: What….has the Lotteries Commission pulled the plug?

CO1: No, I’ve just got the final attendance figures for Venice.

CO2: That’s good, isn’t it? Simon Denny was a huge success, every major curator in the world came to see it, the party was the talk of Upper Italy, we had more art world publicity than we’ve ever had, it was right up there on every don’t-miss-it list, and the work sold faster than a speeding ticket.

CO1: So?

CO2: So that’s a good thing….isn’t it?

CO1: It would be if the numbers were better. The fact is fewer people went to the Denny exhibition than the last time we went to Venice.

CO2: How many fewer?

CO1: Around three sixths of the amount it cost in dollars to get those climate change protesters off the Parliament building a few months ago.

CO2: (thinks) That means Denny got only .91743110 percent less than the time before.

CO1: People will see it as a complete disaster. We need a way to present it so it doesn’t jump out.

CO2: But it was the most spectacularly successful thing we…. have…. ever….done….

CO1: (cold, hard stare)

CO2: Oh, ok. …..I’ve got an idea, how about, 'More than half a million people attended (the Venice Biennale) this year and around two fifths of them visited the Secret Power installation….'

And that is what they did.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Look and feel

One phenomenon of the last ten or so years has been watching photographers reshape their work to fit better into traditional art categories. At the same time photography has been absorbed by artists as an increasingly important visual tool. No matter how many times critics or curators or anyone else has declared that photography is art in its own right, it's taken some adjustments to let it take the spotlight in the most prominent spaces of art institutions.  The exhibition Ocean of images: new photography 2015 made it to the first floor of MoMA so it seems like the right place to go to look for trends. Following up on our list of how to make big art on smallish budgets, here are 10 ways photography is making itself ‘feel like art’.

1   Print big

2   Add a video screen or multiple screens

3   Present work as free-standing cut-outs

4   Cover wall with duplicate images

5   Exhibit images as piles of giveaway posters on the floor

6   Add a sound track

7   Use many eccentrically shaped frames

8   Make small objects, photograph them and present both

9   Print images as a book and then display multiple copies open at different pages

10  Go high concept. Build an environment, like a shop, as an exhibition space within the exhibition space

Images: top to bottom left to right, Indre Serpytyte (8), Edson Chagas (5), Yuki Kimura (10), Mishka Henner (9) and DIS (2)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

A is for Apple

The Walker Museum based in Minneapolis recently mounted the exhibition International Pop. It's showing in Dallas at the moment and Apple is a member of the cast. OK, maybe not core cast but, given his significant place in Pop’s coming of age, it’s great to see him get some credit where credit has been kind of overdue.

It’s taken a long time for Billy Apple to get written into the Pop Art story. There's been some recognition, of course, but maybe because Apple was so focused on the conceptual, work that could be fitted into the history of Pop was somewhat obscured. For instance in the catalogue for International Pop Apple’s 1962 canvas, a reproduction of the 1962 Young Contemporaries exhibition label, is featured as an early example of Pop Art. But, given its date it could also be put forward as an even more impressive example of conceptual art. In art history, dates matter. 

And how about Apple’s neon work A for Apple being considered in the same breath as Joseph Kosuth’s iconic One and three Chairs (a chair, a photograph of the chair and enlarged pic of the dictionary definition of chair)? What a concept.

Images: Top Billy Apple with David Hockney in New York and bottom left, Billy Apple's A is for Apple

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Room to move

Where do you go to see some contemporary NZ art? Los Angeles is one place thanks to a project being run by artist and cultural entrepreneur Fiona Connor. In her space Laurel Doody (ok front room) in midtown LA, she has presented some outstanding projects and developed an intimate style of conversations around art that is all her own. Laurel Doody has attracted a surprising amount of attention and commentary in LA with its casual seriousness. The mode tends to installation but graphic designers, film makers and writers are in the mix and the windows are determinedly kept wide open to the street in case something interesting blows by. 

Kate Newby certainly made the most of this inside-outside (and very LA) flow. When we were there a few days ago a wind chime was suspended between the tree outside and the kitchen window, the front of the main room was partly covered in a couple of hundred ‘Newbyed’ bricks, and honey-coloured wax stained with pollen from stamens puddled on the floor. Connecting other artists to facilities, materials and conversations is what Connor prides herself on. She and Newby worked at the last remaining brickworks just outside LA making custom bricks for the Laurel Doody work. Bricks were taken off the production line to be drilled, scraped, inset with glass and metal, chipped, abraded and then returned to the line for firing. The results are fluid as the various materials react to each other and leaves and bugs from outside find new places to settle. Next month Nick Austin has the space. 'So where do the 200 bricks go?’ we asked Fiona. 'Nick’s show will be rad', was the answer.

Images: Kate Newby installation at Laurel Doody

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pay and display

If you're looking for some indications of where Te Papa is going in the future, don’t expect answers in the Chief Executive’s message in the latest Annual Report. He’s looking to the past, to about 100 years ago to be exact. That is when his Granddad went to war. The only concession to now and the future is a call out to the Te Papa's audiences: 'We also run a line out to the future. What will New Zealand look like a hundred years from now? What are the stories we will capture and create for the future?' Not the greatest conversation starter for Te Papa's most important debate.

On to the numbers. Annual attendances are significantly up thanks to two exhibitions: that war again and Air NZ's PR version of its history. Watch out for more of these soft sell corporate initiatives. One result of the war and flying guy thing was an increase of over 10 percent in the proportion of male visitors over last year. 

Rather uncharitably there is no mention in the CE’s introduction of his predecessor who pushed the year’s figures up by a massive 21 percent over the previous year. His ghost will haunt the current year's figures too.

The ethnic mix of Te Papa’s visitors remains much the same with Europeans creeping up a percentage point to 79 percent (they are only around 63 percent of the NZ population). One big shift was a drop of 50 percent in Pacific peoples attending Te Papa over the last year. As with Maori attendances, these audiences are highly responsive to specific exhibitions and events of interest to them.

Some good news on attracting younger audiences, on the other hand, with visitors between the ages of 16 to 34 up 13 percent.

And what have the art people been up to? Not that much. Work from the collection has been rehung a couple of times but there have been no catalogued exhibitions.

Contemporary art is mentioned once in the Annual Report and the word ‘art’ 21 times (the same number as the word 'Gallipoli').  Oddly, Te Papa’s new buzz-word ‘digital’ only appears nine times.

Purchases of contemporary and modern art: don’t hold your breath (full list here)
Historical NZ Art: a Fred Taylor, a D K Richmond and the two million dollar William Strutt.
NZ contemporary photography: the usual suspects (full list here)
International art: a couple of prints and a painting by John Quincy Adams

As for the research undertaken by the art curators: nine peer group research articles, eight of them on art pre 1950 and coins

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The best art is business art

Another in our continuing series of CEOs sitting in front of art. This time it's Goldman Sach's NZ CEO Andrew Barclay and a painting by Karl Maughan in the NZH

(Thanks Y, keep 'em coming)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Showing off

How often do you hear art museums explaining (or, on odd occasions, complaining) that they can only show a tiny proportion of their collections? Almost as often as they promise to make the works in store accessible to the public by turning some galleries into what they call ‘open-store’. But yes, occasionally it happens. In the eighties you couldn’t go into a public art museum without seeing hundreds of paintings double, triple and even quadruple hung, but the fever has passed. The Dowse pulled out a few cabinets last year and rather than displaying objects in them left them just as they were in storage. People liked it. OK you couldn’t see the objects 360 degrees but you got the idea and it was 100 percent better than not seeing them at all. Te Papa has opened its physical storerooms for a few tours but their promised permanent open store has never eventuated.

Today we saw the most cynical version of open storage at the new Broad Museum in LA. After the promise of the architects' over-heated metaphor for the Broad of 'the veil and the vault', we were expecting something special in the way of access to the collections. What we got were a couple of windows opening onto the art store. 'Look,' they seemed to be saying, 'here's all the stuff we have that you can't see.' Tiers of racks, a couple of paintings on view and tantalising glimpses of the staff going about their business. Open storage, so near and yet so far away.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cast of one

The decision-making process of the selection panel for the Venice Biennale is not open to the public. We've never heard a convincing reason as to why this should be necessary, but this year, with 10 members, it started opening up anyway. By piecing together bits of information a picture of what went on can be suggested.

It was always going to be tough to get a decision out of such a large and diverse group of panelists. The mix was four curatorial, one artist, two fund-raisers, three arts council members, and a commissioner (a former chair of Creative NZ) who had the casting vote. In past years the curatorial voice was more dominant and in some memorable instances the commissioner just cut to the chase and made the call.

Our understanding is that this time there was a fifty-fifty split among the panelists and that a long and stressful debate ensued. There was always going to be mixed opinions about how a work so focused on eighteenth century colonisation was going to play in a Europe nearly two more years into coping with ongoing waves of refugees, leaking borders and terrorist assault. One version of events has at least one panel member so upset by the process they left the room.

Given the weighting of Creative NZ representatives and doing some arithmetic, we suspect that the fund-raisers probably voted for a different project. Getting money in is a huge and growing challenge for NZ at Venice. It was why there were two fundraisers/ patrons on the panel after all. The government contribution via Creative NZ is only part of the story. For instance, for the Denny outing it was the dealers who coughed up for the crucial networking party, the lavish catalogue as well as other costs along the way. In past years the ever-generous Jenny Gibbs has offered strong financial support so all eyes will be on Alastair Carruthers who apparently secured Reihana’s place with his casting vote.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bang on

We are going to be in the US and Canada for a few weeks so posting may be intermittent. In the meantime here is a link to digital game artist Pippin Barr’s latest work A series of gunshots. It’s not hard to play but has a real punch to it. You can read a rave review here on Boingboing. #parents

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Song of praise

For the November auction season three houses offer thee,

11 Ralph Hoteres
9 Bill Hammonds
7 Stephen Bamburys
4 Allen Maddoxs
4 Michael Parekowhais
3 Shane Cottons
3 Peter Peryers
3 Peter Robinsons
2 Gordon Walterss
2 Pat Hanlys
1 Donald Binney

and at A + O a pic from Jae Hoon Lee

Catalogues: A+O, Webb's, Bowerbank Ninow

Monday, November 23, 2015

Slim pickings

The recent wrangling over money and who-did-what-to-whom by Stephen Bambury and his ex dealer Andrew Jensen was revealing about how the artist dealer relationship works. (You can now read the full transcript of the judge’s findings here.) Word is that Jensen will appeal so more to come.

In the meantime, the case reminded us of a document sent to us over 40 years ago by Philip Clairmont. It sets out the financial details of an exhibition Phil had in 1974 and demonstrates how complicated the art business can be and why artists often feel aggrieved by their share of sales. Bear in mind that the commission taken by dealers in the 1970s was 33/3 percent and not the 50 percent most ask for today.

In this case two of Clairmont’s paintings were sold from an exhibition for $290.00. As usual the dealer deducted a commission of $96.67. To complicate the situation though, a month or so before the show opened, Clairmont had sold a painting to a public art gallery for $370.00. It had been promised for the gallery's exhibition so feeling that it had missed out of the sale and the commission, the gallery deducted $61.66 from its payment to Clairmont for the exhibition sales. This amount was half of its standard commission if it had been given the work to sell. Some gallery costs were also deducted including mailing, printing invitations, catalogues and wine (at $2.50 probably not so great) adding up to a total of $42.60. And then there was a loan for some materials deducted (hessian at $5.00, hardboard and cardboard at  $17.89) plus the cost of returning a painting at $7.50. Another loan of $5.00 for fares so Clairmont could attend the exhibition opening was put aside.

So after the wash-up, Phil's cheque from the gallery was for $58.67. In 1974 that was the equivalent of 13 hours work at the average hourly rate.

Friday, November 20, 2015

King for a day

First, the fulsome praise bit. Potton and Burton has just published another of their high quality art books. This time round Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney have dealt to the Wellington commercial artist and painter Marcus King who was hard at work from the 1930s to the 1970s. As with the other books from P&B, it's a stylish presentation of the artist's work, the context in which it was produced and an extensive selection of photographs and well researched information. If you want to get a sense of how NZ's tourist industry was shaped or how the idea of New Zealandness was forwarded, this is the book for you. 

Moving on.

What's going on with Colin McCahon? It is an embarrassment to anyone seriously interested in New Zealand contemporary art that a formidable volume on Marcus King is available and the equivalent on Colin McCahon is…um…not. The McCahon record is dispersed over exhibition catalogues, Gordon Brown’s book Colin McCahon Artist (published 31 years ago with primitive reproductions), a scattering of slimmer volumes following individual interests, and an online catalogue database with deficiencies that we've written about before. The most substantial recent effort was Marja Bloem and Martin Browne's A question of faith produced over a decade ago and published by none other than Craig Potton (now Potton Burton) with the Stedelijk Museum. Producing the fundamental tool of a catalogue raisonné still seems to be beyond the ability or interests of NZ art institutions or academics, but even so, how about a serious publication delivering Colin McCahon on the same footing as Marcus King? Come on.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Post Len Lye

One of the great New Zealand fashion/artist combos for our money (Amour wind breaker) was when Workshop worked with John Reynolds. This time the reach is right into the grave with Lim Bowden’s Deadly Ponies taking on Len Lye. DP have looked at Lye’s Trade Tattoo from 1937 and Rainbow dance made a year earlier, ironically made for the Post Office Savings Bank - a little off brand for Deadly Ponies.  The new line of wallets, bags and scarf were produced to coincide with the opening of the Len Lye Centre. The fashion company says it has, “re-created the energy from Lye’s work” sadly something that didn’t happen with the latest iteration of Fountain. Bowden told Urbis magazine that one of his own favourite artist fashion designer combos is “Valentino’s recent collaboration with Canadian artist, Christi Belcourt. It is inspiring because neither of the participant’s work was diluted; only made more beautiful through working together”.

Images: left Len Lye and right Deadly Ponies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peter’s place

Today we have loaded up some photos from 147 Cuba Street onto OTN STUDIO

A Requiem Mass will be held for Peter McLeavey in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill Street, Wellington today at 2.00pm. It will be followed by a private interment at Taita Cemetery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


If you were in Sydney early in 1992, you're in for a bit of déjà vu all over again at Te Papa. As part of their new re-hang of the national collection, the curators have made an elegant homage to an earlier exhibition. This exhibition was part of their own history back when they were known as the National Art Gallery. The last time Julian Dashper’s Mural for a contemporary house and Lillian Budd’s Modern world were coupled was in Headlands

It was the opening exhibition for the MCA in Sydney (kinda amazing for an Australian institution to launch with NZ art, and hasn't been done again) and curated by the National Art Gallery's Robert Leonard. Ok, there was a curatorium (why don’t they use cool names like that any more? … oh, that’s right, we remember), but it was Leonard’s exhibition, and the Dashper Budd combo is about as pure Leonard as you can get. There are other more subtle echoes of Headlands in the Te Papa hang in the selection of artists (Dawson, Derek Cherrie) as well as the title of this section (Mod Cons in Headlands, Open Homes at Te Papa). So if you want to experience something with more than a bit of the flavour of Headlands, head to Te Papa, but don't expect to see that history acknowledged. Nowhere on the signage or labels is there any link back to the MCA, Leonard or Te Papa's own connections with these objects. Seems a weird way to participate in art history. Or maybe the similarity in the selections is just a coincidence and George Santayana was right, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Images: top Headlands 1992 and bottom Te Papa 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Peter McLeavey 147 Cuba Street

It was never hard to find Peter McLeavey, he'd be sitting at his desk at 147 Cuba Street. If you stayed for a few minutes in the first larger room looking at the exhibition, he'd get up from his desk and come in to talk to you, whoever you were. Everyone has their own Peter McLeavey story but they usually start with one of these conversations because Peter was, before anything else, the great salesman of New Zealand art. And Peter wasn’t just selling the art works he might have in the Gallery at the time, but the whole enterprise. It included the artists he didn't represent, as well as the ones he did, the exhibitions at public institutions, the other dealers, the writers, and the wildly different audiences art attracted. When he did sell work from his own stock or exhibitions it was always with great finesse, quietly revealing to collectors (prospective and actual) the potential of their own choices. And what choices we all had from the exhibitions we saw over the decades: Colin McCahon's Walk with me, the large Woollaston landscapes painted on a full sheet of hardboard, Peter Peryer’s portraits of his wife Erika, Michael Smither’s cross-shaped homages to Rita Angus, Robin White's incisive portraits of Sam Hunt, Jacqueline Fraser's remarkable string maze, Peter Robinson’s percentage works, Julian Dashper’s deconstructed frames, Gordon Walters' Korus,  Billy Apple’s interventions .... the list is long, it is extraordinary, and it is Peter's legacy.

Openings at 147 Cuba Street were a magnet to anyone keen on contemporary art. Peter would pour famously astringent wine and on occasion step up onto a small chair to deliver a brief speech usually concluding with his familiar self-deprecating grin. But we're not talking about a man lacking in self-confidence here. For all his much-admired eccentricities, Peter ran a very tight ship indeed. When you were buying a work on time payment, monthly invoices arrived exactly on time. The envelopes were most often addressed in green ink in the well-known McLeavey hand and the accounting, even when tracing the most complex arrangements, was always 100 percent accurate. As he might have said himself, that was the McLeavey Way.

The McLeavey Way was also about creating a sense of excitement and mystery around the work in the Gallery. A painting might be tucked away in the store room, but with the door left open just enough to give a tantalising glimpse. How often were paintings left leaning face against the wall taunting you to have a look after noticing Peter was conveniently in the next room. Countless collections reflect Peter's ability to coax great works out of the studio. 'I must do more for my artists,' he'd often tell Gallery visitors and the artists, knowing they had a champion, sent great works to Wellington.

Peter has been unwell for some time and we've witnessed him slowly withdraw from the world he so dominated for nearly 50 years. That his daughter Olivia has taken over the Gallery must have been a great delight to him for it was also a family affair. Anyone who visited the Peter McLeavey Gallery regularly would have come to meet his wife Hillary and his other two children Catherine and Dominic. We are thinking of them now and what never again seeing Peter at his desk at 147 Cuba Street means to us all.

1974. Peter McLeavey puts down the hammer, steps back and gives Colin McCahon's The Song of the Shining Cuckoo a long appraising look. Turning to a regular visitor watching him he says, 'Terrific isn’t it?' It was. And so was he.

Image: Peter McLeavey, September 1989. The painting is by Julian Dashper

Friday, November 13, 2015

Peter McLeavey 1936-2015

Peter McLeavey, Wellington's great art dealer has died.

Takes two to tango

It’s not too often that you walk into a public art museum and experience a bout of hyperkulturemia #stendhalsyndrome. Yet in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery last week we saw two very familiar paintings in an unexpected juxtaposition of great personal meaning. One was Julian Dashper’s large painting Rural Sheraton. As we'd lent this painting to the Gallery ourselves there were no surprises there (although we were pleased to see it hanging again) but it was the company it was keeping that caused the reaction. The last time we saw Colin McCahon’s Series D (Ahipara) it was hanging on the far wall of the smaller room at Peter McLeavey’s Gallery in Wellington. That was over 40 years ago. Back then we had placed a hopeful second option on it, but it was never going to happen. As far as we know it went overseas with its new owner who many years later put it on loan to Dunedin. 

To see these two works together showed just what public art museums can do that is so particular to them: putting great things together to create new ways of seeing and thinking. The chances that Julian’s painting would ever sit next to this great McCahon were never high and if it were to happen it could only ever be via a public collection. In a couple of weeks at Wellington's City Gallery there's going to be another pairing of McCahon and Dashper in another public institution, Wellington's City Gallery. This one will be something that Julian always hoped would happen: his Here I was given alongside Colin McCahon’s Here I give thanks to Mondrian. Now that is going to be something to see.

Images: Left  Colin McCahon’s Series D (Ahipara) and right Julian Dashper's Rural Sheraton at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Having a ball

Has any New Zealand sculpture become as iconic as Neil Dawson’s Ferns? Over the years we have posted a number of examples of how the work has come to symbolise Wellington. It was a bit of a shock then when it came down and it was reported that a replacement would be required rather than a fix-up. So good news when visiting Neil Dawson’s studio last week to see a small model of Ferns on his desk and Neil working on how to produce a more robust version of the sculpture. That's not going to be as easy as you might think as there's a lot of pressure to have the replacement look as much like the original as possible and Neil is determined to retain Ferns' lightness and ethereal grace. There are certainly some complicated design problems to sort out. Coincidentally, driving up the Island yesterday, we saw the original Ferns where it has been stored.  When you see it on the ground, the size and the weight are pretty dominant and the memory of it serenely hanging in space above Civic Square even more impressive.

Images: top, Neil Dawson’s studio with the original model for Ferns at the back and an experimental design model resting on the table. Bottom, the original Ferns in store in Wellington

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Drawing lots

The first catalogue of the Auckland-based auction house Bowerbank Ninow is now online. It’s a small selection with some interesting finds among the 44 works as well reasonable sounding estimates. The et al. installation Mule Table (On the difficult problem in the phenomenal world) would be something of a bargain even at its top estimate of $12,000. They've winkled out some auction favourites too with three works by Shane Cotton, four by W D Hammonds and a couple by Colin McCahons. Photography has been mixed in with Peter Peryer, Yvonne Todd and Michael Parekowhai all represented. Of special interest are three photographs by Mark Adams of Tony Fomison getting his pe'a from Samoan master tattooists. Tony could only endure so much of this demanding process at a time so the full tattoo was created over many venues and many months. We were present at one of the ‘sessions’ that took place in painter Tony Lane’s Island Bay living room with Sese Lemamea in charge of the tapper and chisel. The last two lots are intriguing drawings made by Edward Bullmore for some of his Astro form paintings. This is the series that appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s film Clockwork Orange so some fascinating associations there. As we've posted before, Bowerbank Ninow intend to return a small percentage of the hammer price to the artists.

Images: left, Edward Bullmore sculpture as seen in A Clockwork Orange and right, Edward Bullmore drawing up for sale at Bowerbank Ninow’s auction.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Your tax dollar at work

Anyone looking at the latest round of general Creative NZ grants was in for a pleasant surprise. The majority of the funding for the 15 visual arts grants has been gone to women, 68.5 percent of it in fact.  And most of those grants (seven of nine) went direct to the artists concerned. That meant they received $271,965 all up plus another $25,000 to galleries for two publications. The guys got $95,680 (24 percent) although it was kind of supplemented by a separate $50,000 to the Serpentine Galleries for Simon Denny’s exhibition via Creative NZ’s International Presentation category. For some reason a similar grant of $26,160 to the IMA in Brisbane for a Luke Willis Thompson exhibition was included in the general grants.

There also seems to have been a significant rule change around the funding of university staff. Since the university art schools decided making art was ‘research’, the funding of their staff through Creative NZ was covered by a double–dipping rule (i.e. the same activity being funded by the state through both the tertiary sector and through Creative NZ) and they were specifically excluded in many circumstances by the following clause:

“employees of tertiary or other educational institutions, if the arts activity for which they are seeking funding is part of their job to include a written statement from your Head of Department, or the equivalent position, confirming that the activity is not part of your job”.

It was always hard to understand when their art making was not part of their research and hence their job so it will be interesting to see whether this change is bureaucratic (simplifying processes) or strategic (accepting the dominance of the tertiary sector over the contemporary art scene in NZ). While there is a case for staff at smaller educational institutions without much in the way of research resources to be funded, it's hard to understand in some other cases. In this round, for example, why couldn't a university the size of Massey stump up with $49,000 for one of its well-paid Associate Professors to prepare for a PBRF-rich public art museum exhibition?

You can see the former Creative NZ rules in full here on the Wayback machine (Let's hear it for the internet).

Monday, November 09, 2015

Painting up a storm

It’s always fun when art curators put themselves on the line and make a list of who they think are the most important in their field. It’s an old tradition. MoMA’s Dorothy Miller famously did it with her contemporary Americans series (mainly painters) although, as we once posted, these best-of-the-bunch picks are usually only good for around a decade, and sometimes less.

This year the Auckland Art Gallery has decided that 'painting has arguably never been stronger in our contemporary cultural environment’. Now that might sound pretty contentious but the Gallery is launching with rather a lot of fanfare later in November Necessary distraction: a painting show. What sort of mix has curator Natasha Conland come up with? Encouragingly, over 50 percent of the artists included are women. Interestingly, the majority of the exhibitors were born in the 1970s. Unsurprisingly, the majority make abstract paintings. And predictably, most of them studied at Elam and nearly all of them live in Auckland. For some reason the Auckland Art Gallery is describing current painting as a ‘static form’ which will come as something of a surprise to at least one of the artists, painting machine guy Simon Ingram.

Some more numbers:

20 painters are included in the show
9 are male
65 percent studied at Elam
5 were born before 1970
13 were born in the seventies (9 after 1975)
2 were born after 1980
25 percent show with Hopkinson Mossman
3 are represented by Ivan Anthony
11 are represented in the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection
2 were in Natasha Conland’s Freedom Farmers exhibition in 2013
72 is the age of the oldest artist and 29 the youngest

Image: cyclone Josh hits land

Friday, November 06, 2015

Second life

As far as we know, an invitation yesterday to Robert Leonard’s exhibition Julian Dashper and friends at the City Gallery, marks just the second effort by a public museum to present a substantial body of work by this important artist since his death over six years ago. What's exciting is that this will be a different sort of exhibition to anything that could be curated during Julian's lifetime. When artists aren't around anymore, curators can often take a freer hand in developing their own interpretations and exhibiting styles. A distinctive feature of Dashper's career was his enthusiasm for working with curators, writers and other artists. This tendency is, of course, reflected in Leonard’s title for his exhibition and it also emphasises the importance of Dashper's personal energy and relationships. And it's another good reason for us to post a few photos. Some of them already appear in OTNSTUDIO but they could do with an outing here too. You can see photos taken in Julian Dashper's studio over the years via these OTNSTUDIO links 1985 | November 1986 | May/July 1988 | 1989 | March 1989 | January 1993 | November 2011

Images: top, Julian Dashper and Robert Leonard in Shane Cotton’s studio in 1994. Middle, Julian Dashper, Peter McLeavey and Ivan Anthony hanging work in Dashper’s March ‘89 exhibition at the Peter McLeavey Gallery and bottom, Julian Dashper and Mary Barr looking at Big Bang Theory paintings in his Grey Lynn studio, January 1993

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Open door policy

There must have been many, many times over the past years when the staff of the Christchurch Art Gallery wondered whether they'd ever open again. Unfortunately, although used as a time for the Civil Defense Headquarters, the building had been seriously damaged and the restoration has taken nearly five years to date to complete. On 19 and 20 December, however, the Gallery will open again, sort of. You'd never guess it looking at the construction site that is the current state of the building, but a lot of people putting in a lot of effort into a mother of all clean-ups are determined to get it done. 

One other bit of news is that art works are beginning to be installed. Art in an art gallery, that's got to be a good thing. Touchingly the first work to go up was a John Gibb painting of the Otira Gorge which happened to also be the first to be taken off the wall after the earthquake closed the building down. 

Then, yesterday a chilly afternoon was shattered by the shrill noise of some sort of super-saw that was separating the main body of the building from its base foundations (we kid you not) so that the whole damn structure could settle on top of its fancy base isolators. Ok, some of you may have dropped off there but it looks a lot more incredible than it sounds. Martin Creed’s work ‘Everything is going to be all right’ looks like it might be right on track.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Horsing around

Usually when you think about horse art you have in your mind the image of a horse, paintbrush in mouth, knocking up something abstract on a canvas. Not in Hamilton. Another city obsessed with celebrating the shambles that was New Zealand’s inclusion in WWI, Hamilton has reached out to the horse to side-step the not-another-dead-man option. 

And there is some reason to do this.  Of the combined 25 million deaths in that war it was horses that represented over 30 percent. So, Hamilton was on the money when The Warhorse Charitable Trust invited art consultant Paula Savage to go global. Savage homed in on Mimmo Paladino known internationally as the go-to horse guy. He even has a horse sculpture 'at the entrance to the New Town Plaza in Hong Kong' according to Savage. So with one lot of horses safely in the funding pipeline, what about all the people in Hamilton who like ‘horses that look like horses’? 

Enter the Waikato Equestrian Memorial Board. It has come up with a drawing of a horse that fills the h-t-l-l-h requirements and offers a few irresistible add ons that can prove a challenge for much contemporary art - ‘child-friendly, able to be climbed over and sat upon.’ Now it too is out there raising money. It's horse of course will be easier to source (sorry) with lots of sculpture businesses up and down the country poised to knock up a full sized bronze one for anyone with cash. Exhauted? We’ll leave you with prescient Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock who was ahead of us all: 'without thinking' Leacock wrote, 'he flung himself upon his horse and rode off madly in all directions.'

Images: top left, exploring sitting-on possibilities, top right, on the big side for a horse that looks like a horse but could be dramatic in the right place at the right time. Middle, the sort of bronze horse you can order from China at if you want more than one. Bottom left, not realistic enough to fool the kid on the left and bottom right, the more abstract approach

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Sannd man

New Zealand’s most incompetent art thief, Ricardo Romanov (aka Ricardo Genovese aka Anthony Ricardo Sannd), has just been served up seven years for pinching a limited edition Ducati Desmosedici motor bike. This is the same man who stole James Tissot’s painting Still on Top from the Auckland Art Gallery back in 1998. Although the crime certainly turned serious, it began comically enough with Romanov (known as Sannd at the time) reconnoitering the Gallery decked out in a false wig, fake beard and dark glasses. The following month he entered the Auckland Art Gallery wearing a motorcycle crash helmet and holding two firearms including a double barreled shotgun. After knocking a security guard to the floor he took Tissot’s painting from the wall, removed it from its frame, rolled it up and left. He made his escape on a motorbike of course but not before firing the shotgun into the air when approached outside the Gallery. It only took the Auckland police eight days to find Sannd along with the ‘dramatically damaged’ painting that had been rolled up in an old sack. And all this before he could sell it to a supposed Hong Kong business man who he claimed had ordered up the robbery offering $800,000 in $100 notes for the painting. Sannd got 16 years and nine months for his efforts and was released in March 2012.
You can see a video here on the theft and restoration work required on the Tissot

Monday, November 02, 2015

Sold to the gentleman with the tea cup

As expected, for all the talk of renewal, Webb’s has been sold subject to some details being confirmed. The new owner is Mossgreen Auctions. It's based in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale in an old movie theatre with a business model not dissimilar from that of the recently start-up Bowerbank and Ninow on K Road. That means dealer gallery exhibition functions and auctions mashed together. In Mossgreen’s case high tea has also been added to the mix for collectors who like to get close to a well-made scone. ‘It brings in the type of people we’re likely to do business with.’ Along with art Mossgreen also focuses on jewelry, oceanic and tribal art, stamps, coins and postal history. Sound familiar? Unsurprisingly, given the success such events have been over the last ten years, Mossgreen also specialises in single owner auctions in art and design. How Webb's debts were sorted out is unknown but the handover is expected on 1 January next year. LATER: Webb's is to be sold for a potential loss at $800,000 which will be half on agreement and the remaining $400,000 in quarterly instalements.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Moving pictures

When we walked up the stairs to Peter Robinson’s studio a couple of months ago it was for the last time. Not for the first time gentrification has honed in on previously unwanted spaces rented out for artist’s studios. The Robinson moved was forced by the renovation of the building into expensive apartments. In New York the transformation of the areas artists have lived in-moved onto- and moved-on-again from have become some of the most sought after residential property in the world. August / September was obviously moving time here too. Andrew Beck had just moved from Auckland to a new space in Wellington, Dan Arps had taken Andrews old space in Henderson and Oscar Enberg had just returned to an old studio he had left the year before. As always OTNSTUDIO pics are available for use. If you’re using them for something significant let us know first so we can tell the artists and give you bigger files if you need them.
Images: materials packed up and ready to move out of Peter Robinson's studio

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The shock of the new

The artists selected for the 2016 Sydney Biennale have just been announced and it looks as though there are just two New Zealanders, Dane Mitchell and Joyce Campbell. Great news for Mitchell who will be showing in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Campbell whose venue is still to be announced but (yes, there is a but) this is sure as hell not the six or so NZers you might reasonably expect to be in a regional exhibition like this. It used to be pretty standard that five or six NZers would be included but this is the second time New Zealand has been virtually ignored by the Sydney Biennale curator. 

This time round it's Stephanie Rosenthal who has done the lack of honours. If all the artists were listed without their originating countries you might find such a concern provincial but that's not the case so the Biennale is certainly counting. The weird part is that the Biennale has been running an active campaign in New Zealand to raise money for the event. It the blurb it even claims to 'showcase New Zealand artists in our region'. Well yes, we are certainly in the same region, but for our artists to be 'showcased' they have to be seen. The selection of one NZer in 2014 could be described as a misfortune, to have just two in 2016 feels like carelessness.  

LATER: GREG BURKE tempers the shrill cry of injustice: "In my short time at CNZ there was one biennale with just one Kiwi (Peryer) and one with a record 6 for the time (including Campbell). Prior to that the record had been 4, but was more likely to be 2."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trash talk

How many art works have been tossed in the trash by cleaners who thought they were just that? NZ's benchmark has got to be Billy Apple's Neon Accumulation which was once swept into a carton for disposal at the Govett-Brewster. Stick ‘cleaners throw out art’ into Google and you get at least seven different incidents without having to try. Yes, along with high prices, theft and forgery, art-as-trash is a go-to media stand-by. 

The latest in this long line does make you wonder though about art in museums and museums and art in general. This time the cleaners at the Museion museum in Bolzano did their thing with the installation We Were Going to Dance Tonight by Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari a set up of discarded post-party champagne bottles and detritus. Fortunately the museum was able to swoop in to the rescue while the installation was still in rubbish bags waiting to be taken to the tip. 

And then it gets weird (given this was an installation representing the aftermath of a wild party) as the museum announced that it will 'try to put it back as it was, using photos to help us.' [italics added] It might have made more sense, and perhaps been a touch more authentic, simply to throw a party, celebrating the recovery and show the leftovers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Close shave

Not sure if it's official yet but it seems common knowledge, well common among a pretty large group of people anyway, that Billy Apple has a solo exhibition at the Serpentine in London lined up for 2016. So some solace there for missing out with Misal Adnan Yıldız on the Venice thing. As it is he'll be the second NZer to show at the Serpentine within a year with Simon Denny opening in November. 

You can figure (not that he’ll be complaining) that Apple would have dearly loved this exhibition to have been slated for April 2014. That would have been exactly 40 years after his last Serpentine exhibition that showed 14 years of his work. Realistically though Billy Apple’s not going to wait another eight years just to land the 50th anniversary and it's pretty damn cool to be able to do a show like this at 81. Typically Apple’s birthday is said to be the last day of each year - all very tidy as you'd expect. 

The curator of the Serpentine exhibition is Hans Ulrich Obrist who has previously included Apple into one of his Museum in Agency of Unrealized Projects and has also interviewed him as part of his Interview-everyone-in-the-entire-world project a few years back. As far as we know the only other New Zealander to have had a solo exhibition at the Serpentine was the sculptor John Panting in 1975. And all this to let us get away with a dodgy lookalike between Barry Bates (pre-Apple) Lathering, Alicante Spain, April 1960 and Philip Larkin just having a shave in 1957 (from the Independent)

Images: Left, Philip Larkin, right, Barry Bates