Friday, July 31, 2015


With a low value catalogue comprising just 42 works and with the top estimate at $60,000, Webb’s couldn’t have expected a big win last night. On the other hand, it could hardly have imagined the disaster that unfolded. Nine works sold subject and 26 lots attracted no bid at all so there was a lot of pressure on the remaining 17 percent. The top bid of the night was $20,000 for Colin McCahon’s Kaipara Flats. As the work had a low estimate of $40,000 it was sold subject so there’s a long way to go to get a sale in the morning. The highest bid that realised an actual sale on the night was $16,000 for Toss Woollaston’s The Double Maungatapu. It scraped in just over the low estimate of $15,000. Part of the problem was there were only 22 people in the room. Even with those stalwarts and some phone bids, only around $50,000 worth was actually sold on the night. Even Chris Swasbrook’s two entries failed to get any bids. So a bad night for Webb’s. One good thing that can be said; the auction was only 37 agonising minutes long.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

On your marks....get set.....

A big change for New Zealand’s representation at the next Venice Biennale. Creative NZ has released the rules around who can submit a proposal and how the process works. There's also a much clearer statement about the Venice context, expectations of the event and why NZ should participate. Many of the Proposal Guidelines have been cut and pasted from earlier documents but their clarity and detail is a huge improvement on previous years. The biggest shift?

International curators can now be part of the team
The biggest difference is eligibility. The set of eligibility clauses outlined in the 2015 Venice document have been dropped completely. This time round international curators will be considered along with curators who are New Zealand citizens or permanent residents of New Zealand.

Foreign artists a possibility?
Curiously, it also appears that with the eligibility requirements gone there is no longer any stated conditions that require the artist to be a New Zealander. Creative NZ has assured us this is not the case but, just for fun
look at these two confusing 'and/or' phrases that appear to allow foreign artists in. Test your logic – if you can stop your head from spinning.

The panel will individually asses the proposals against the following criteria:
1   The artist(s) and curator have significant exhibition records in New Zealand and/or internationally and they are considered by the sector to be at the ‘top of their game’. 

2  The artist(s) and/or curator have established profiles within the New Zealand contemporary arts sector and internationally. 


A non-NZ artist would be very contentious, of course, and seriously, where would you find a panel with the nerve to try it on?

The Commissioner rules
Yes, the Commissioner has been elevated and centralised. The word 'lead' is sprinkled about especially in the assertion that the Commissioner 'will have a leading role' in the selection process.

Invitation process formalised
The Wild West we’ll-just-pick-whoever-we-damn-well-feel-like approach that was used for Upritchard and Parekowhai has been ruled out. Now if the proposals submitted are not considered up to scratch, Creative NZ, on the advice of the Commissioner and the panel of course, can issue a specific invitation.

And one other new change:

One step processThe requirement for artist/ curator teams to submit an expression of interest first has been dropped. Projects that don't fit the criteria or are not suitable will be eliminated based on a short discussion with CNZ before the proposal stage saving artists and curators a lot of wasted time and energy. Once that is done a proposal form will be sent out.

(sound of starting pistol)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Webb’s struggle to stay in the game

One of the most interesting art auction stories at the moment is centred on Webb’s and it’s taking place via the NZX. There have been some dramatic changes. Chris Swasbrook has withdrawn from his management position at Webb’s. It was Swasbrook (a collector himself with two works for sale in Thursday night’s Webb’s auction) who engineered the bold move to Parnell. Now as Acting Chairman of Bethunes the parent company of which Webb’s is a trading subsidiary Swasbrook has just informed NZX, that they intend to raise up to $2.87 million to try and save the well known auction house.

The capital will be raised to pay off
a current debt of $1.5 million accumulated by Webb’s whose current business is described as ‘volatile’. $120,000 of that debt is via investment in a new web site and another $69,000 is owed to Chris Swasbrook’s company Elevation Capital.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘S’ words get an outing, as in reducing Webb’s debt ratio to make it Sustainable and Solvent. Swasbrook has blamed the auction house’s shortfall on ‘extremely vigorous’ competition in the art category. An annual shareholders meeting this Friday will announce plans for the future.

Image: happier days

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The race for the bottom at Te Papa

“Look for the Minimum Viable Products that will satisfy the audience.”

These are the words of the new Chief Digital Officer of Te Papa Melissa Firth. She was explaining in a PowerPoint presentation how to select the best projects for an incubator very similar we assume to the one being set up at Te Papa. Firth would have come across incubator-biz at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) so no no big surprise her turning up at Te Papa to work with another ex ABC staffer Rick Ellis who is now Chief Executive. At the ABC the incubator business was pretty much creating fun apps for kids so watch out for ‘Catch the giant squid’ and Hack Days.

Firth’s declared passion is ‘working at the intersection of commercial strategy and innovation.’ At Te Papa she will be using those skills to generate income by financing the development of entrepreneurial ideas
(the ABC give its entrepreneur $40,000 each), or gambling as it’s known in Silicon Valley. Spot an idea you think is promising and invest, mentor, and make a fortune. Not exactly core business and high risk so hard to know why the Board who has just staunched one major money bleed is so keen on the idea.

Monday, July 27, 2015

See ya

To celebrate the Govett-Brewster reopening as New Zealand’s leading shiny thing, here are some other buildings around the world that use a mirror surface to attract attention, vanish from sight and generally reflect what’s going on around them. More here on Dezeen
Images: top to bottom left to right, Frank Gehry’s  Neuer Zollhof in Düsseldorf, random sky scraper in Beijing, Mirror Houses by Peter Pilcher in Italy, Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors’ Centre by Charles Wright Architects and Tham and Videgard's Tree house

Friday, July 24, 2015

Best, better, Beastist

It being a very, very slow news day, consider how often, when you are just about to do something important, you find yourself thinking, “I wonder what happened to Beast Jesus?” Well, here’s an update.  It's close on three years since Cecilia Gimenez took to Elias Garcia Martinez’s painting Ecce Homo. After an outcry by the professional cultural industries, the public started to vote with their feet and BJ (that’s Beast Jesus not Baby Jesus) became a major tourist attraction with the local version of PWC figuring it was bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of income. From the get go everyone who visited in the first few months paid .80 Euro and that alone brought in just under $NZ 200,000. Other news? Not so much but the digital Beast is kind of cute and didn’t want you to miss out on the coffee BJ or the BJ doll.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Going Dutch

It’s like watching someone channeling Julian Dashper on the catwalk only the deconstructed canvases here were created by Viktor & Rolf for the last Paris Fashion week. V&R are Dutch arts chool grads who famously claimed “If you’re overdressed, you feel ridiculous. If you’re underdressed, you are ridiculous”. Julian Dashper on the other hand always used to say “Everything is interesting in its own way”. You can see more of V&R’s canvas works here and more of JD's here

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The good, the rad and the ugly

If you want a real hit of NZ art you need to get yourself to Auckland and the AAG. We've never been big fans of the new building but now some thoughtful and entertaining shows are taking advantage of what is often a confusing series of galleries, staircases and corridors. There’s a lot of work on display and you can't get away from the fact that the Auckland Art Gallery collections are the most impressive in the country and they are able to dig deep into our culture. The provincial problem remains of course but it's probably time to accept we tell our own stories best and enjoy the bits and pieces that are airlifted in every now and then. That aside, the Auckland curatorial team is obviously taking on a far more disciplined approach about the way it is stages and interprets its holdings to the public. 

Take the collection of works on paper that can serve as background notes to Lisa Reihana’s hugely successful In pursuit of Venus (infection). Rather than Joseph Dufour’s hand-painted wallpaper and associated prints being subsumed by the contemporary work, they are presented on a separate floor on their own terms - to be discovered rather than explained away.  So whether you see this handsome grouping before or after the Reihana work, it retains its own richness and independence making a response to both more complex. There are also some excellent juxtapositions to clearly show how influences have seeped in or sometimes overwhelmed our artists. And there's some humour too. Now it's been done it feels kind of obvious to put Michael Stevenson's savage satire of Jörg Immendorff and the result of the German artist's stay in Auckland but don't remember it having been done before. 

As for the jewelry show Wunderrūma, good on the two guest curators giving over space to rarely seen works from the Gallery’s collection, but when they started to hang them higgledy-piggledy on the walls, someone should have stepped in and said, “No, enough’s enough.”

Images: top, Ronnie van Hout and Kate Newby. Middle left, the Englishness of New Zealand art and right, Michael Stevenson and Georg Immendorff. Bottom WTF.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


unvarnished facts, reckless guesswork, insinuations and possible inventions that have arrived at in the tradition of creative nz the person with the most knowledge of how to organize nz representation at the next venice biennale is leaving the organisation • one of japan’s most prominent art collectors, founder of naoshima, the famous art destination island, and nz resident made a recent tour of auckland dealer galleries; any purchases have not been revealed • ngahiraka mason is leaving  her position of indigenous curator, maori art at the aag • missal adnan yildiz of artspace and robert leonard of city gallery had a very public spat and elizabeth caldwell told them to behave • the dom post no longer has any expertise on reporting the arts with the departure of tom cardy • the te papa out source cyber think tank is going to be called an ‘incubator’ • rhana devenport is the front runner in the race to be the next nz commissioner for the venice biennale • reuben friend ex city gallery is taking on the directorship of pataka in porirua • any missed details, indignant denials or additions gratefully received, and any that makes us laugh out loud will be richly rewarded

Monday, July 20, 2015

Shrink rap

Looking at the latest Webb’s catalogue is a bit of a shock. This is the time of year the auction houses usually reach again for the big-ticket items after the March auctions in what Webb’s called its ‘Winter flagship event’ last year. For its 30 July sale this year though Webb’s is only offering 42 works with an average price of just $15,000. This time last year four paintings sold at Webb’s for more than it hopes to achieve for the whole July offering (and that’s based on high estimates). What’s the strategy then? With such a small number of lots it’s clearly not turnover Webb’s has in mind, and with a total of well under three-quarters of a million expected (on high estimate), it’s certainly not a high end game. And more surprisingly there’s no sign on Webb’s site that the top end of the market will feature in any future sales this year either. Perhaps this is the beginning of Webb’s walking away from the contemporary art market, although they have said repeatedly that this is not the case. Where it is that it might be walking to though is anyone’s guess.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The wheel thing

“In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.”
Marcel Duchamp

Now you can take a turn too, thanks to this interactive site. Go here and take a spin. (Thanks P)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Don’t play with matches

At OTN we are very careful about keeping at arm’s length from PR and attempts to manipulate sales through vague associations. So when the Christchurch band The Trancendents attempted to align the cover of their latest EP Lay Where You Collapse to a recent OTN post we sent it straight to Legal. While the issue is tied up in the courts, you can listen to The Transcendents excellent and nervy track Ed Ruscha via this video. The American artist is sampled on the track although his love (and ours too) of gas stations is given rather brutal treatment. PopLib said the EP is “somewhere between Ry Cooder’s atmospheric “Paris, Texas” soundtrack and UK post-punk song disassembly masters This Heat". That got us listening. Thanks PL and thanks to you to TT.

Image: left, OTN pic and right cover for Lay where you collapse by The Trancendents

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A change is as good as a holiday

Te Papa has recently published what it intends to do over the next year or so. It's of special interest this time round given the new Chief Executive Rick Ellis's talk of big changes He's said many times that those changes will centre on digital delivery although he's not shared anything specific so far about ideas and content. The word is it will be a digital hub of some kind with a public presence inside the building that feels like more Wellington based commercial fundraising than the physical and digiatal distribution of the collections through the country. But at this stage who can tell? In the meantime, we've picked through Te Papa’s published performance expectations.

So what’s different from this time last year?

Last year (and the year before that) Te Papa North was 'a key priority’.
This year (four years after the initial announcement) the project is ‘still under consideration by Government and no decision has been made.’

Last year one of Te Papa’s strategic intentions was ‘Saving the planet’.
This year Te Papa has dumped this as a strategy.

Last year the Te Papa Board, in line with Government philosophy, was ‘leading work to increase philanthropic giving to support Te Papa’s activities’.
This year the word philanthropy does not appear in the document.

Last year the key measurements for engaging audiences were ‘the amount of time people spent at Te Papa’ and ‘reported learning experiences’ that demonstrated ‘levels of engagement.’
This year the amount of time spent at Te Papa has been dropped as a measurement.

Last year internet traffic numbers were based on site visits.
This year they’re based on page hits.

Last year the philosophy of mana taonga was ‘led and embedded in Te Papa by the Kaihautu’
This year the Kaihautu is not mentioned in the document.

Last year digital ‘access’ was to be ‘improved online and on mobile devices.’ 

This year creating a digital ‘experience’ will be ‘a major focus’.

Last year Te Papa operated within its set level of funding from government.
This year Te Papa warns that ‘redeveloping the fixed exhibitions and investing in digital requires some trade offs’

Sources: Te Papa Statements of performance expectations 2014/15 and 2015/16

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Crime watch

It’s got to be said that art crime in NZ doesn’t feel like a growth industry. The biggest one in our history has got to be the large-scale removal of Maori taonga in the early days making everything since pale by comparison. When it comes to recent ransacking, people with contemporary art on their walls are unlikely to find it’s been included with the swag. Of course there have been some famous examples, the theft of the Tissot from the Auckland Art Gallery, the kidnap of Colin McCahon’s Urerewa mural, the life-sized nativity nicked from Taihape and never found, Christchurch’s painting Psyche by Solomon J Solomon. Some sculptures have been melted down and a few works have been poked, written on and spat at over the years, but the tally isn’t huge. There are always forgeries of course or at least talk about the possibilities but it’s probably at the low end of challenging the criminal justice system. Anyway, this is to let you know that a symposium organised by Louisa Gommans titled ARTCRIME2015 is going to take on this subject and give it a shake in September. You can find out more about it, speakers etc. and register here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Art and money, money and art

“ I got addicted to being a philanthropist.” So said art forger Mark Landis who took taking art museums to the cleaners to new heights. “I went on philanthropic binges in mother’s car.” His idea was simple. Instead of selling his forgeries to museums, he’d donate them. He figured that the museum folk would be so keen to get that Picasso or Lautrec or Cezanne into their collection that they wouldn’t look too hard at the provenance or, indeed, at the art itself. He was right. “He knew right where to hit us, our soft spot art and money.” Leininger rather wonderfully calls the reproductions that he copies his work from the ‘originals’ and, for all the deceit, he turns out to be surprisingly humble. “I’m not really an artist,” he insists. “I like to do arts and crafts in front of the TV.”

We posted on suspicions that Landis (dressed as a priest) was up to something like this back in 2010. Now a documentary by Sam Cullman tells the full story. Art and craft follows Landis as he meets up with his nemesis, an equally obsessive registrar from the Cincinnati Art Museum. You can find out more about Art and craft here.

Image: Mark Landis in Art and craft

Monday, July 13, 2015

Noodling on

At Webb’s auction on 14 July you can bid for one of New Zealand’s odder art works and even get yourself some of our writing to hang on your wall. In fairness, most of the words belong to Dick Frizzell and were part of a short essay we wrote on him for Contemporary New Zealand Painters back in 1980. In those days we were ‘writing’ on an IBM Selectric (aka the golf ball), a genius electric typewriter that had an amazing correct feature using a white tape located inside the machine. In this period John Hurrell, evidently driven by masochism, mixed painting and Italian food products and ‘typeset’ around 1300 letters to recreate our Frizzell text on canvas using alphabet pasta. Each word was pasted down one letter at a time and must have taken (at say 10 seconds a letter) at least four hours. Unfortunately Hurrell only had access to capital letters and no punctuation so much of the brilliant literary flavour of our text is lost, but you can get the general idea. At the time Hurrell was making a point about the limitations of this sort of art journalism but, ironically, thanks to the power of pasta and the auction system, he has made it live longer than all of us, Dick included, might ever have imagined.
Image: John Hurrell's painting Frizzell soup 1983. Click on the image to enlarge

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Andrew Barber gets channeled on the floor as Te Papa draws the line at touching his work.
Images: left Andrew Barber at Te Papa and right a Barber work shown at Hopkinson Mossman (turns out the HopMoss work is by Oliver Perkins...which makes it all the weirder...channeling Oliver Perkins with lines around a Barber painting - how strange is that?)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Security alert

One thing you can say about Rick Ellis (Chief Executive of Te Papa), is that he’s bringing a bit of discipline to the place. The thumb people with their meeting, greeting and generally being nice is all very well, but what if things get out of hand? What if people find their way to the fifth floor where the valuable and vulnerable art is kept? And what about misbehavior in the kid-focused Discovery Centers since the staff who used to look after them were let go? (A sad little notice in one of the abandoned Centers asks lost children to make their way down to the first floor information desk. It should have added ‘good luck’.) To sort out problems of this sort Te Papa has called in Simply Security (they also stand guard over WETA). The SS web site shows its staff smiling happily, looking for all the world like cheerful bouncers early on Saturday night. In the flesh the Te Papa versions look more more like off duty prison officers in their green uniforms and red epaulets. The problem is as Salman Rushdie put it, “There’s no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity.”
Image: security briefing, Te Papa

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Window shopping

What are the chances? Walking down Wilshire Boulevard the day before we leave LA, we look into an empty shop front. Making the usual comment about what a great art space it would make we then do a double take. It’s like Hopkinson Mossman has been transplanted in LA. On the far right hand corner is a sink with a very familiar splash of paint behind it. Turns out we have fluked on the site that Fiona Connor used to replicate one of the key pieces in her last HopMoss exhibition Can do academy.  Ok FC lives in the neighborhood, but still.

Images: top, Wilshire Blvd and the empty shop front. Bottom left, the ‘original’ sink and right, Connor’s version Can do academy #3 now in Te Papa’s collection

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

LA story

So we’re having coffee in Starbucks (it happens) and the guy next to us sees we have copy of  Erling Kagge’s book A poor collector’s guide to buying great art and asks if he can tell us a story. OK. “I used to work in advertising, for Young & Rubicam”, he tells us. “We had the Life Saver Corporation account (true enough, that’s what it was called, we checked), and I was asked to come up with a campaign for them. I decided to do a lithograph of a Life Saver pack with a smart tag line, and that’s what I did. A few days later I get a knock on the door - this is in 1956 or maybe 1957 - and it’s a guy called Andy Warhol who I’d seen around in the ad business. He tells me he’s heard of the campaign and could he see the litho. So I say ok, but ask him to keep it to himself you know ‘cause we aren’t showing it to the client for a couple of weeks. Then, years later, I see the same ad as a Warhol print and it’s selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Art and advertising, what can you say?”
Image: Andy Warhol print from the portfolio Ads 1985

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Erling rules

Once a year or so the local papers send out a junior reporter to ask art dealers and the odd collector for tips on how to collect art. As a rule the dealers all give their own artists as the best bet for starting a collecting binge and the collectors mutter on about having to love what you buy and never buy to make money. The other day though we came across some advice from Norwegian art collector Erling Kagge. Strangely enough he is best known (famous really) as an adventurer and explorer. His advice, which he offers in A poor collector’s guide to great art goes like this:

• There are no rules, only deals

• Love the piece not the price

• Collect strange work rather than fashionable work

• Realise that sometimes the best purchases won’t make commercial sense

• Be obsessed

.... so there you go.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The returning

The new Bowerbank Ninow Gallery (set to open late November on K-Road) is promising a return to artists on the hammer price of works it sells at auction. Back in 2007 the attempt to legislate a return to artists on resales fell over in New Zealand after some forceful lobbying from dealer galleries. EU countries (including the UK) have had schemes in place since 2006 and Australia introduced its own version in 2010 covering works selling for more than $1,000. The proposal in NZ was for artists to have an inalienable right to 5% royalties on all resales. Now, according to Louisa Gommans in the Law Society's LawTalk, the debate is back. The issues are pretty much as you'd expect (an administrative nightmare, pressure on high value works, chiseled profit margins) but Bowerbank Ninow are diving in anyway. Their recent press release makes it unclear as to whether they intend this scheme to cover other secondary sales they undertake as well but presumably it will. As it stands, a work hammered down on the night by Bowerbank Ninow for $20,000 would return $450 to the artist.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Just saying

Next post on Monday, for sure. 

Dealt to

The moment we saw them we figured that some artist would find them irresistible. And so Mathieu Malouf took his dealer Lars Friedrich down to get scanned and is now offering a pint-sized limited edition of him carved in sandstone and printed with his image. Still, Friedrich fared somewhat better than Emmanuel Perrotin who Maurizio Cattelan dressed as a pink rabbit/penis for his entire show or Massimo De Carlo who Cattelan gaffer-taped to the wall of his gallery for two hours at an opening.

Images left to right: art dealers Lars Friedrich, Emmanuel Perrotin and Massimo De Carlo (thanks M)