Thursday, April 30, 2015


As of yesterday, anyone who arrives Venice via the Marco Polo airport, and that’s practically everyone (including us today), is greeted by the work of Simon Denny. The most spectacular element is the airport floor where Denny has thrown the ceiling of his other venue, the Marciana Library, at your feet and with it any certainty about how to read its famous painted allegories of knowledge. Passengers in a hurry to get to meetings, friends or hotels skimmed across the images in the way we do online.

Those who visit Denny’s other venue when it opens early May will be able to reorient themselves with a quick glace skyward before Denny’s elegant information dump throws everything into the air again.

Images: inbound passengers and part of Simon Denny’s Marco Polo airport installation

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Meanwhile back in Wellington...

... the Board of Te Papa discuss the size of fruit basket they intend to send ex CE Mike Houlihan in grateful thanks for organising the block buster exhibition for WWI.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

By the numbers

Canadian art collector Bob Rennie estimates that a third of the 1400 artworks in his collection rise in value “astronomically.” Another third barely keeps up with bank rates, and one third are unlikely to rise in value. About 140 works represent 75 percent of the total value of the collection. More here on Bloomberg
Image: Rennie standing in front of his gallery featuring a work by Martin Creed

Monday, April 27, 2015

If you build them they better bloody well come

About 10 years ago Te Papa had a destination art gallery designed up by a Dutch firm. The goal was to shut down all the complaints about it never showing art. In the spirit of transparency it was done in secret and never amounted to anything. That was a lucky break. The Dutch came up with a design that was all sweeping vistas, ramps, and aggressively architectural spaces.

We saw the Mothership of this style in Rome in the form of MAXXI the art museum that opened in 2009. If we can pinch a perfect phrase, 'it’s all view and no do'. Zaha Hadid (the architect) said MAXXI was designed to “reflect the chaos of life.”  Thanks Zaha. Even more bleakly the current director described the building as being “based on a very clear vision of neo-liberal capitalism – it’s all steel and concrete and glass; it could easily be an airport building, or a shopping mall”. So you can see this is a museum that is going to struggle when it comes to showing art. A couple of years back it nearly closed but now, thanks to (by the look of it) an endless stream of school students, numbers are creeping up.  Ironically the best exhibition we saw there was Architecture in uniform (architecture in war) shown in a series of conventional display spaces built within a swooping expanse. It was ever so.

The same miserable record seen in its most extreme form at MAAXI pretty much holds in New Zealand, but the good news is the building boom is almost over.
Images: MAXXI

Friday, April 24, 2015

No means no

As we know from his interviews with art curator David Sylvester, Francis Bacon didn’t get to visit Velázquez’s 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X when he was in Rome in 1954. Instead he used a photograph as the source for the famous series of paintings he finished in the mid-1960s. Not being Francis Bacon, we did visit the Palazzo Doria where the Velázquez hangs. Thanks to a reflection on the door we saw the image of the Pope as we walked up to the obligatory ‘No Photography’ sign outside the room, but when we got in there the painting looked a bit off. Yes, it was a photographic reproduction. The original is on loan for a major Velázquez exhibition in Paris. As we left we could hear the faint sound of Bacon sniggering.

Images: left, the Pope's photograph reflected in the door and right, the no photographing photographs sign at the Palazzo Doria

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


When bloggers dream, they dream of a cat post that will get the cat-crowd hits but still be true to the theme of the blog.  That’s why we are more than happy to promote Alison Nastasi’s book Artists and their cats. Meticulously researched and crammed with vintage photographs of … artists and their cats, this is the artist cat book of the year. Pass it on. 
Images: Did we say meticulous? The guy holding the cat is US artists Frank Stella the cat, unbelievably, is unnamed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Get real

The aesthetics of Socialist Realism

• Figures are scaled larger than life
• Compositions are dynamic and dramatic
• Emotions are exaggerated
• Representation is naturalistic but highly idealised
• Subjects are portrayed as dauntless, purposeful, well-muscled, and youthful
• Themes are officially sanctioned by the state to glorify the state

Images: Left hand side Weta Workshop figures for Te Papa’s Gallipoli display. Right hand side top to bottom, Statue Park Budapest, Children heroes statue Shanghai, Soviet Military cemetery Warsaw and Grieving mother Stalingrad

Monday, April 20, 2015

History man

Twenty-three years ago, when Headlands, the last large scale New Zealand exhibition to be sent to Australia (#WTF?), was shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, all hell broke loose. One of the essays in the catalogue, At the Centre, in the Margins started an at times bitter debate about the appropriation of Maori imagery by contemporary artists who did not identify as Maori. The essay had argued that by translating the koru form into a design motif and denying its Maori reference as part of the work, Gordon Walters had ripped off that particular element of Maori visual culture. This was an appropriation too far. The author of the piece Rangihiroa Panoho was roundly condemned by Walters supporters for daring to make this sort of assertion, particularly at a time when we were trying to impress the Australians on their home ground. 

Now wind the clock around a few times. Later this year the same Rangihiroa Panoho will publish his book Maori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape & Theory. The book itself has apparently been on the go since the year Headlands opened in Sydney when Panoho was offered a contract by an Australian publisher. Its by-line is 'how to look at Maori art in the twenty-first century' so still room for someone to tackle the twentieth or even the nineteenth century. 

Even stepping outside the Maori perspective this substantial book won't exactly be entering a crowded field of New Zealand art history. We have shelves full of monographs, group show catalogues, collection spruiking, and picture books, but very few ambitious histories. Gordon Brown and Hamish Keith's book Introduction to New Zealand Painting was published 56 years ago and is still widely cited and Gil Docking's effort Two hundred years of New Zealand Painting (now hilariously called 240 years of New Zealand Painting) in 1971. The nearest to a recent history would be Francis Pound's The Invention of New Zealand from 2009. So anyone with a history of NZ art in the works, let us know and we can all celebrate. But for now we have Rangihiroa's Maori Art to look forward to, it's launching in June. You can follow its emergence here. We can only hope it proves as provocative as his essay all those years ago in Headlands.

Friday, April 17, 2015

We visit the Judd home on Spring Street

                        Don't sit, don't sit, ok to sit

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Walk with me

Yesterday we went on a walk as part of Luke Willis Thompson's contribution to the New Museum's Triennial: Surround Audience.

For half an hour we followed our guide through the Lower East Side passing through Tompkins Square Park. It was a tent city for the homeless the first time we came to New York in the mid-eighties. Even today a haunt for the poor and dispossessed. We rounded the park twice and then headed toward the East River striding past a power station and into the grounds of the Jacob Riis public housing estates. Built in the late forties, the complex was named after Jacob Riis a campaigning journalist / photographer who revealed the terrible living conditions in this area in the late nineteenth century.

Climbing over a small fence our guide turned, reported the performance was over, thanked us and walked away.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Studio news

Here are some new photos taken in artists' studios over the last few years. Oscar Enberg was holed up in the traditional side room of the house getting work ready for the Hong Kong Art Fair when we visited him in Auckland in March. The pics of Lillian Budd’s studio go back to 2002 with the Peter Robinson pics being shot almost exactly 10 years later. The ones of Joe Sheehan a year later in 2013.

On the subject of studios we recently spotted a studio-visit book from a different artworld, the world of traditional portrait and landscape painters. Inside the artist studio comes from the editors of American Artist, a magazine promoting traditional art practice. These are the people who can draw and paint a likeness, two traditional skills that have been put on the contemporary art back burner. And what is the ideal space for a trad stud? Turns out it’s much the same as studios for artists just out of art school back in the seventies, a room at home, in these cases with significant amount of middle class cash thrown at them.

Image: Oscar Enberg

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Facing up to it

Some arty pics of Simon Denny's incredible exhibition at MoMAPS1 over here on OTNFACEBOOK

Monday, April 13, 2015

We’re with stupid

It’s obviously the season for open letters with the latest raising a flaming red flag over Te Papa Press. The new Chief Executive (who’s a TV guy) is pulling the plug on print - what a surprise. The idea is that all publishing will be suspended for four to five years aka indefinitely. And if you aren’t publishing, you don’t need publishers, so the staff will take a hike too, despite the awards they consistently win for Te Papa.

So all that solemn nonsense Te Papa pledged about the importance of research and scholarship, was just that. It’s probably not so surprising that Rick Ellis, a guy who has never worked in a museum in his life, would make a major strategic error like this, but the ones who really need to be called to account are the Te Papa Board. They all know exactly what they’re doing and what the implications are. This is an institution that is supposed to be (according to the Act that established it) ‘a forum for the nation to present, explore, and preserve the heritage of its cultures and knowledge of the natural environment.’ Having failed with this remit for so long now, they are simply going to abandon it.

You may be surprised to know how many of the Board members (and we’re talking about people who want to stop the publication of Colin McCahon’s collected writings among many other projects) are art collectors and like to be known as art patrons. We're talking Evan Williams (chair), Aloysius Teh, Philip Carter, and Dayle Mace.

Tragically, given that Te Papa Press is such an ardent natural history and science publisher, the science representative on the Te Papa Board, Peter Gluckman aka Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand is also involved. 

If you want to do anything about this you have two days. No rush. Or you could just cut to the chase and call a Board member. They could stop this in its tracks.

PS: Someone who has stood up to be counted is Jill Trevelyan without whose powerful letter, none of us would have been any the wiser about Te Papa’s latest debacle. You can read it here.

One day in the architect’s office

Developer: We need some sort of art work for the foyer.

Architect: Why?

D: To make the place look classy.

A: (chilly) Right.

D: I’m thinking abstract but with a figurative feel to it.

A: You’re not seriously thinking of putting something over the polished concrete? Tell me you didn’t say that.

D: Maybe some sort of hanging thing…. A chandelier could be good?

A: (thinking quickly) No way the beams would carry the weight.

D: Really?  OK, sculpture then.

A: Yes …. a … sculpture … might … be ok. What sort of sculpture do you have in mind?

D: David.

A: I thought we’d been through this, I’m Crispin. David is the (withering) Project Manager.

D: No, David the sculpture.

A: Michelangelo’s David?

D: Maybe…is his one big and white?

A: Yes. Too big unfortunately.

D: I was only thinking of the top half. We don’t want equipment issues with the older tenants. Oh, and no arms. Cleaning issues.

A: The top half of Michelangelo’s David with no arms.

D: On a plinth.

And that is what they did.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Going public (not)

By now, many of you (six copies have come to OTN for a start!) will have read the critical letter Christina Barton sent to EyeContact about John Hurrell’s recent review of her exhibition Billy Apple: the artist has to live like everybody else, currently on view at the Auckland Art Gallery. The copies we received showed that the letter had been sent to at least 11 people including Creative NZ,  a dealer gallery and the senior staff of public museums. In her opening paragraph, however, Barton makes it clear that her letter is personal and that she does not feel it is ‘appropriate for a curator to respond to a critique of their own exhibition’. The result is that a topic one of our senior academics feels is worth a dense and passionately argued two-page letter is removed from open debate. To date John Hurrell has followed Barton’s instructions and not published.

Barton makes a number of contentious assertions:

Conflict of interest. Serving as EyeContact’s founder, editor, commissioner and regular contributor all at the same time is a conflict of interest for John Hurrell.

Photographic access. As the Auckland Art Gallery doesn’t publish photographs of its exhibitions, search engines will feature EyeContact as a key point of access to the exhibition along with Hurrell’s review.

The record. EyeContact serves as ‘the record’ so Hurrell is in a privileged position. That also gives him the responsibility to exercise ‘some level of editorial judgment’ and to consider his larger responsibilities to the culture.

Public responsibility. As EyeContact is funded through Creative NZ, it operates in the public sphere with public money. What larger responsibilities, if any, does this entail?

The role of EyeContact. Barton asserts Hurrell doesn’t understand that his role is to ‘perform at a high level’ and ‘lift debate’ and ‘set an example’ and ‘develop talent’ and  ‘shape the discourse’.

So a puzzle within a puzzle. If John Hurrell wants EyeContact to encourage ‘spirited discussion on art and visual culture in Aotearoa New Zealand’ (as he says on the site’s front page), why hasn’t he published Barton’s less-than-private letter? That would be a surefire way to get some spirited discussion going. And, if Barton feels her harsh critique is worth sending widely enough to ensure that at least a 100 people will get to read it, why not take on one of the duties she asserts EyeContact has and lift the debate?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Art chart

Thanks F

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Back story

Webb’s has been through a lot of turmoil recently and is about to have the first art auction in its new premises in Parnell.  This is also the first art auction at Webb’s since the change of rules that are designed to protect buyers by requiring the declaration of more background information on works for sale.

Given Webb’s recent high-profile advocacy of transparency and the value of research, its odd to find virtually all the lots have been stripped of their usual provenance details. The word derived from the French ‘provenir’, to come from, lists the history of where works have been before they came to auction. As an example, Milan Mrkusich’s large work Painting (Meta grey) was once owned by the art dealer Petar Vuletic. It was Vuletic who Wright and Hanfling, in their book Mrkusich: the art of transformation, credited with helping to shift the ‘direction and perception of New Zealand art’. It’s hard to think of a work having a better provenance than that.

It’s not as if art-interested people don’t often know at least part of the history of many lots. For instance, at least three of the major works in this Webb’s auction were previously for sale via A+O’s auction of the David and Angela Wright collection four years ago. We can only presume they failed to sell in the intervening years as there is no provenance to indicate they found a home and are being resold. There also seem to be a couple of works that belonged to Webb’s Chairman Chris Swasbrook. If this is the case, mentioning the connection in the catalogue would be helpful.

Only two standard provenances are given in the Webb’s catalogue this time and both are for C F Goldie paintings. Certificates of authenticity for two works by Andy Warhol and one by Philip Clairmont have been put forward as provenance but as provenance records ownership rather than legitimacy this is misleading.

As the Ron Sang auction and other name collections have shown, buyers are increasingly interested in the links back to ownership that come with the works they buy. They like the stories and, yes, provenance that adds interest and a level of comfort that often results in a premium for the sellers.

Friday, April 03, 2015

OTN is out over Easter

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Good job

This rather bleak summary of museum jobs in New Zealand sent us looking for what’s actually on offer. If you don’t think museums are going through radical change at the moment maybe this will change your mind.

Programme developer
Digital Learning Manager
Project delivery Coordinator
Content Project Technician
Customer Services Officer
Guest Services Agent
Application Manager
Digital Contents developer
Technical Business Analyst
Creative storyteller
Communications specialist
Visitor Host Supervisor