Friday, February 27, 2015


Skin in the game.

New Zealand’s greatest Inappropriator Rohan Wealleans (anyone who was there  must still look at the performance Wealleans's brother gave at the Queensland Art Gallery on YouTube and cringe that they all sat there and laughed) is in Thailand. Wealleans snagged a grant and is using at least part of it to learn Thai massage. So wait and watch for Rohan to return home and let his fingers do the talking.
Vaulting ambition 

 There’s a great Sempe cartoon about art collecting. Wellington collectors Les and Milly Paris used to have it in their gallery and you can see it here reproduced on page two of the auction catalogue of their collection (pdf here). It’s a guy talking to an art collector in a large bank vault full of crates marked Picasso, Monet etc. and he’s saying, “I had no idea you were so passionate about art.” It turns out that David Nahmad is that collector as you can see from the photograph. When asked about his relationship to the art that he keeps in a vault year after year he said, “It’s not so sad, it’s more like having children who live in Asia that I can only get to visit once a year. The important thing is not to see them every day, but to know that they exist.“ So there you are, what the hell do we all know.

Singing the blues  
If you ever wondered what made NZ art different, take a look at these two tarpaulin works. The one on your left was made by the American David Hammons last year and the other by Don Driver in 1978. Lookalikes for sure, but these two clearly come from different worlds. Definitely not feelalikes.

You’re an artist, of course we take you seriously  

 “Abby Tanner is content to live on her mountain creating her beautiful works of art and enjoying the peace and quiet. All of that changes when a strange golden space ship crash lands on it.” Welcome to the world of Paranormal Romance. Why are we telling you this? Because an important subsection of this very important category features artists as heroes and heroines, like Abby. Want to catch up with the cream of this crop? Then get yourself S E Smith’s Abducting Abby (Dragon Lords of Valdier, #1), Christine Feehan’s Spirit Bound: Sea Heaven/Sister of the heart #2 (“Judith Henderson was an artist on the rise—an ethereal, and haunted woman whose own picture-perfect beauty stirred the souls of two men who have made her their obsession”), Soul Catcher by Leigh Briger featuring “the tormented journey of folk artist Livia Belane, who has been stalked through many lives by a sadistic and vengeful demon”. Otherwise you can graze at the top end of this excellent genre with Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife. More (so many more) here.


 Joe Sheehan is in Wellington at the moment working on his Cenotaph project. A couple of weeks before he came down we visited his Auckland studio and the pics are now up on OTNSTUDIO. So too photos of a recent visit to the et al. studio in Henderson where work for a show in the Netherlands was being finished. Then on the way back down the island we caught up with Peter Peryer and, while we’re at it, there are some new artist portraits up too.

Images: Abstracts in the et al. studio


Monday, February 23, 2015

Figure skating

Te Papa is pretty pleased with itself over the numbers for its dinosaur show. The new CE Rick Ellis was thrilled/relieved to announce that the 'hugely popular' exhibition had drawn 'massive crowds'.  Turns out that 120,000 people visited the exhibition over 130 days. Unfortunately there was no mention of the daily average that is usually part of Te Papa announcements of this kind but we can figure that out at around 923 a day. Tyrannosaurs Meet the Family had a long season (over a third of a year), including sucking up the entire summer holidays and probably owes about a third of its attendance to the ‘C’ word – cruise ships. For context here are the top Te Papa blockbuster shows in order of ticket sale matched attendances.

Lord of the Rings (2002-03) 219,539
Monet and the Impressionists (2009) 152,000
A Day in Pompeii (2009-10) 130,000
Egypt: Beyond the Tomb (2006-07) 120,358
Tyrannosaurs (2014-15) 120,000
Constable (2006) 98,328

And by average daily rates-

Lord of the Rings 1770 per day
Monet and the Impressionists 1652 per day
Constable 1035 per day
A Day in Pompeii 1023 per day
Tyrannosaurs 923 per day
Egypt: Beyond the tomb 918 per day

And talking daily averages, let's not forget the performance of a couple of homegrown, free attendance exhibitions: Rita Angus (2008) with 127,812 visitors at an average of 1,374 per day and Brian Brake (2010-11) at 190,000 with a daily average of just under 1,000. And, ok, the giant squid.

So what do these numbers show? Well, while Te Papa has had some solid blockbusters it's very tough to do year after year, and looking at the last five years it’s getting tougher. Audiences have more choices now and maybe the novelty has worn off. But one thing you can read loud and clear from the figures, if you want big audiences, don't even think outside the tourist season.
Sources: Te Papa Annual reports and media releases

Friday, February 20, 2015


Sydney sider
Having been hammered to death from 2007 to 2009 the artist resale royalty popped up again in the Sunday Star Times. Weirdly artist Grahame Sydney came out against it calling its supporters "Greedy. Immensely greedy." He went on to say that a sale was a sale and that as such it was "A firm, final contract between two parties - the implicit agreement being 'I will give you this thing I have made in return for this amount of money I have asked for, or we have mutually agreed is fair'. At that point, as with any sale, I relinquish my ownership rights to it.” Presumably he exempts copyright payments, the other artist royalty system, from this hard line position.

Art chart  A couple of years ago we looked at the male/female ratio in dealer galleries. Has the situation changed at all since then? Well yes it has. It’s not mega but there has been a small increase overall in the representation of women: just one percent up to a still pretty bleak 34 percent overall. In dealer galleries run by women the percentage increase was 10 percent (to 52 percent) with galleries run by men dropping their representation of women by 5 percent. If you want to look at the representative list of galleries we based these figures on you can see it here.

The golden trumpet for stretching description beyond recognition goes this month to New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd for: "The Govett-Brewster is a cornerstone of contemporary art globally.” You may smile now.

By the numbers: Venice edition

0  the number of artists who have used the Marco Polo airport as a venue

1    the number of times we didn’t go because et al. annoyed the PM

2         the number of venues being used by Simon Denny

7         the number of times NZ has been represented

41       the number of NZ at Venice patrons

44       the percentage of NZ Venice participants who have been female

45       the average age of artists representing NZ

33       the age of this year’s participant Simon Denny

56       the number of art biennales that have been held in Venice

75       the percentage of women who had to show as part of a two-hander

80       the percentage of men who had solo shows at Venice

88       the number of countries that participate at Venice

197     the days the Venice Biennale will run in 2015

If you haven’t seen the tiny furniture by set designer John Parker on OTN’s site, it's beyond cute. And for all miniature fanatics this great behind-the-scenes clip of tiny LA being constructed for the movie Earthquake.

Monday, February 16, 2015


The art auction season is gearing up to start again and Webb’s has just released its latest broadsheet to attract lots and tout the benefits of the art market. To read it you wouldn’t think it was possible to lose a dime investing in art. This of course goes against the long-held wisdom of the art world that believes (well says anyway) you should only buy art for love and not for profit. 'We'd never dream of selling” is a commonly heard statement from art collectors (until they do). Even great collections usually find themselves on the market in the end.  Take the stellar selection of work put together by the Gibbs. It's been well published, much shown and seemed set in history, until it wasn't. In that case of course the sales have been paralleled by very generous gifting to public institutions.

Can you make money out of art? Sure you can. Should you? Why the hell not?
Here are a couple of random examples from auction records:

Colin McCahon, Let be, Let be was held in private hands for 14 years and sold for a profit of $38,000 per year for each of those years.

Bill Hammond, Zoomorphic lounge was held for 12 years and sold for a profit of  $10,000 per year.

Tony Fomison Hilltop watcher  was held for 10 years and sold for a profit of  $7,500 per year.

Michael Smither’s Family in a van was held for 26 years returning about $7,500 per year.

And these are two-times-to-the-block resales. As the Les and Milly Paris auction showed, there is also a heap to be made on first-to-auction sales probably around $10,600 a year for the 37 years they owned Gordon Walter’s painting Mokoia.

So you want to make money collecting art? OK. Buy figurative paintings. Always buy the most typical and attractive-looking works of the top-ranked artists.  And remember, there are only ever a very small number of artists who sell for high prices. Forget sculpture and ignore anything unusual. Now fly my pretties.

Friday, February 13, 2015



Upgrade: The Monica Brewster Trust deed has stood the Govett-Brewster in very good stead since the 1970s keeping renegade councillors at bay and allowing the only sensible deaccessioning policy in NZ. So why, you might ask, would anyone fiddle with it when doing that requires going to the High Court? Word is that the G-B wants to change its brand and as a by-product its name. No, not as you might think to the Len Lyceum but, following the Dowse, it wants to cut out that gallery bit and call itself a museum.

Toot suite: A new gallery for Wellington! Ok,well a revamped old one as Suite leaves its attic premises above Peter McLeavey Gallery. The newcomer is in Upper Cuba Street and opens 19 February.


Covered:  You can see what Rohan Wealleans made of the Marilyn statue statue he’s been hoarding and that featured on OTNSTUDIO here on Instagram.

Fountainhead: In the sole funny moment in Adam Curtis’s latest documetary Bitter Lake, an art historian attempts to teach Afghanis about Marcel Duchamp’s influence on contemporary art. “When this art emerged it was partly political,” she tells her bemused audience. “It was designed to fight against the system.”

What artworks see

A while back there was a flurry as the meme ‘What art works see' rushed through the internet. It was simple enough. Take a photo from the point of view of  a sculpture or painting following its line of sight. It was a funny idea and some of the results certainly made you remember The Gaze Wars of the 1970s and 1980s. We of course did a few at the Auckland Art Gallery. You can see them here.

Trust me

The Monica Brewster Trust deed has stood the Govett-Brewster in very good stead since the 1970s keeping renegade councillors at bay and allowing the only sensible deaccessioning policy in NZ. So why, you might ask, would anyone fiddle with it when doing that requires going to the High Court? Word is that the G-B wants to change its brand and as a by-product its name. No, not as you might think to the Len Lyceum but, following the Dowse, it wants to cut out that gallery bit and call itself a museum. 

Pot shot
Sometimes when an exhibition has just shipped out, an artist’s studio can be just plain empty. That was not the case when we visited Daniel Malone's at the McCahon House residency studio after his exhibition had opened at Hopkinson Mossman. The drawings for the show were still there along with ideas for new work and a few relics.  
Image: Daniel Malone in the McCahon House Residency studio with a can of McCahon paint of choice, Solpah paving paint.

It’s been a while since the NZ Herald spent all those column inches on Michael Parekowhai’s proposed lighthouse sculpture. Now there’s a new kid in town to oh-and-ah over. Gregor Kregar's Grey Lynn work Transit Cloud prompted at least two shock-horror stories and this inspired summary on NZH online:
• Collaborative work meant to resemble clouds.
• Locals say it resembles a penis.
• Council says art is controversial and subjective.


I will need words
Here are 27 of the 340 words Webb’s used to describe the highlights from their last sale: captivate, catapulted, celebrated, competitive, excess, exceeded, ferocious, finest, flagship, formidable, galvanizes, high, highest, highlight, important (twice), major, masterpiece, productive, regard, rich, staggering, seminal, significant, strong (twice), surpassed.

Monday, February 09, 2015


You'd think that there are some things so iconic, so distinctive, so rich in historical flavour that a national or  city museum would just have to get their hands on them, wouldn't you? Milan Mrkusich’s house in Remuera  would have to be one of them, Colin McCahon’s library should have been another, and that easel Rita Angus always used. How could you pass up a draft of Wystan Curnow’s essay High culture in a small province, or Theo Schoon's notes and sketches on South Island cave drawings? Some of these have been protected while others have already slipped into private hands. What’s are the odds on anyone discussing with the Mrkusich family the long-term future of the house Mrkusich designed and lived in for so many decades? Low. 

This rant comes to you courtesy of us seeing one of these icons when we were in Auckland last week. The people we were with mentioned they had recently purchased something very cool at an Art + Object auction. Then they showed it to us. And, we kid you not, it was Len Castle’s Pottery notes sub-titled Len Castle's Mixtures. We're talking about the recipes he used to glaze his ceramics and drawings for constructing kilns. We're  no experts, so have no idea how much of his working life it covers, but even as a sample it is a truly wonderful thing. 

How is it even possible that this little notebook with its handwritten and hand-drawn contents is not part of an Auckland institution’s collection? The same couple also picked up (and at an very reasonable price) some of Castle’s library of books on ceramics as well as (maybe best of all) a couple of boxes of stones and mineral samples that had offered Castle inspiration and information. OK, the institutions can’t collect everything. But Len Castle’s Pottery notes? Surely some mistake.

Friday, February 06, 2015


Paper tiger    Is Wellington really the Cultural Capital of NZ? Not if its local paper the Dominion Post has anything to judge by. Its 150-year anniversary history, Paul Elenio’s The Dominion Post: 150 years of news, is defiantly arts averse. There's just one entry with art possibilities, “McDonald’s opening” but it turned out to be just that. Hamburgers. Te Papa gets a couple of pages but only about the building and how Te Papa’s critics were body-slammed into the dust by the first CE Cheryll Sotheran (insert hollow laughter here). Oddly, the line the DomPost has dished up to its readers over more recent years that “Te Papa is losing its gloss” didn’t make it into history.

Bambury cross    Like Dickens' interminable legal fest Jarndyce v Jarndyce the Bambury v Jensen court case won't leave the spotlight. Back in March 2014 the two adversaries (it’s one of those who-sold-what-to-whom-and-when-and-what-happened thingos) were waiting for a slot in the High Court. It now looks like the days of reckoning are at hand so it's probably time for the boys to make up before the legal system really starts piling up the costs. Given the current legal firm charge out rates ($317 an hour for partners according to the Law Society #soundslow) vs dealer commissions and Bambury paintings (top price at auction $36,000, so let's estimate around $60,000 a pop) it’s hard to see how there can be much profit left in the case for anyone outside chambers.
A quick response    The latest round of Creative NZ's Quick response grants listed 20 named artists and one collective in the Visual Arts section. The boys did best (well there were more of them at 12 to 8) getting $68,600. That's an average of $5,716 a grant which was couple of hundred dollars above the total grant average. As for the women, they got $44,304 in total with an average of $5,538. Yes, it's below the men (again) and also below the average amount given over the whole round. #musttryharder. 
You have to strut before you can run   Dealers are experiencing a bit of an income freeze thanks to Te Papa’s mighty struggle to snag a million dollar plus painting by English artist William Strutt from a dealer in the UK. Strutt has been a big thing in Australia for some years now with his epic history paintings so we can expect some NZ content for our dollars. Efforts to get the Strutt into the collection along with a review of the buy-at-any-cost policy that has been operating at Te Papa since it was invented has meant a hold on contemporary purchases. What's causing the trouble is that in the last five years the best price Strutt has managed at auction is around $15,000 (you have to go back to 1998 to find one that got over $100,000 and then just over). Te Papa is no doubt struggling to get independent valuations anywhere close to what the vendors are asking and ends up making offers that don't cut it.  
MC DCNZ    has made some productive connections with curators over the years and one of them is now director of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. Melissa Chiu was born in Darwin and helped found the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney. She was then snapped up by the Asia Society Museum in New York as its first contemporary curator. In 2004, the same year she was made director, she curated Paradise now? Contemporary art from the Pacific in 2004.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Reflecting on art games

If you follow Pippin Barr’s games (and we do) you’ll be interested in this post on his web site. Pippin had an exhibition of prints made from screen grabs of his games late last year. They looked pretty sharp when we saw them at Andrew Baker’s Gallery in Brisbane but for an artist who’d chosen interactivity as his platform, the static nature of the prints obviously left him uneasy. Pippin takes up the story -

“When I went to the exhibition in December 2014 I had the very odd experience of confronting a game (such as the Prometheus scene) remediated as a screenshot remediated as an artwork framed and behind glass on a wall. That was interesting to me because it’s such a strange direction for a game to go in: from movement to stillness, from interactivity to passivity, from jokey meme to official art-on-wall, etc. I actually had a bit of difficulty thinking about the exhibition and my relationship to it, frankly, because of that odd remediation going on. (Although of course the games themselves were on display too.)

So an obvious way to react to this, in my book at least, was to re-remediate the game-as-painting back into a game. I’d taken photographs of the various prints in the show and chose to turn the photo of the Prometheus scene back into the Prometheus scene game. Such that it goes from static photograph of framed print back over to playable game. To complete the strange feeling of standing in front of an “art” I slaved over getting a webcam “reflection” of the player in the “glass” covering the game. So you end up with an attempt to meld the two ideas – it’s still framed and on a wall and “art”, but it’s also a weird playable game.”

And so it is. You look at the image of the print and via the game you are reflected through your computer’s camera and are able to play the game in the print (this is where in the old days you would put a couple of exclamation marks). Read more here and if you want to try it out go here.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Inside out

OTNSTUDIO has only been possible because artists have not only allowed us to photograph in one of their most private places but also make those images free to anyone who wants to use them. A few have not been happy with the idea and have either asked for us not to release photos or not to take them in the first place. We initially thought this would be the default position as the process is pretty intrusive and some of the information (what people are reading, what’s lying around on desks) can be unintentionally revealing. But the cumulative result is incredible as you can see from the 10 photographs taken in various studios Peter Robinson has worked in over the last 21 years (On OTNSTUFF there are some larger versions of these images). You can see more images from these visits to Peter Robinson on OTNSTUDIO along with a new set we are putting up today from 2006. This latest batch of studio shots includes a new artist to OTNSTUDIO the Wellington painter Simon Morris who we visited a few weeks ago in his spectacular Lyall Bay studio. New to the site are shots taken in Lillian Budd's’s studio in 2003, Michael Smither in 1983 and our great friend the ceramic artist John Parker at work in 2011.

Images: left to right, top to bottom, Peter Robinson’s studio 1993, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014