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