Thursday, March 31, 2016

One day in the editorial offices of OTN

Publisher: Our readers are crying out for more juicy behind-the-scenes stories and scandals. They want to be in on the inside.
Senior Editor: We can do that for them. That’s the OTN way.
Junior Editor: I’ve got a great piece on a sex scandal that’s rocking one of our big art museums...
Publisher: I have a conflict of interest there so, forget it.
Features Editor: We could run that story on directors and their plastic surgery mishaps. The photos are amazing.
Illustrations Editor: No, no those close-ups will just put people off.
Senior Editor: Well we have to post something!
Junior Features Writer: How about doing a compilation of our ‘One day in the…’ features?
Senior Editor: Haven’t we done that before?
Senior Researcher: Well, kind of, but not for a few years.
Production Manager: Do you think we’ll get away with it?

They did.

One day in the...
Hamilton council offices
Art Museum Director’s office
Surfboard development office
Architect’s office
Len Lye Trust boardroom
Tattoo studio
Brajolena mansion
Auction house director's office
Director’s office
Cake shop
Dominion Post’s offices
Te Papa Press
The kitchen
TV studio
Offices of J C Crew
Publisher’s office
Offices of Dr Seuss Enterprises
TV studio
Japanese sex toy manufacturers office
Minister’s office
Marketing Department

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Watching two up in Aussie

If you ever needed a reminder of the limitations of photography you only need to look at the exhibition 100 chairs in 100 days at RMIT in downtown Melbourne. Martino Gamper’s book of this project was published to great acclaim in 2012, but to see the chairs themselves is something else. There are indeed one hundred (rather sadly we counted them) and Gamper declares he did make them in 100 days, and this is where photography gets left behind. It's is a remarkable demonstration of formalism plus functionalism freely mixed up with spontaneity, wit and humor. Gamper makes up his own rules just for the fun of breaking them and we, the viewers, are drawn into his processes and ideas. Famous chairs, everyday chairs, stylish chairs, absurd chairs, classic chairs are elegantly collaged into new arrangements. That all this was done in 100 days is remarkable enough, but individually these works each test the very idea of function in ways that are both amusing and profound. And then, on the other side of the city, Gamper’s partner and sometimes collaborator Francis Upritchard is on impressive show at Monash University. Her first major survey exhibition Jealous saboteurs takes full command of the art museum there. This large show demonstrates Upritchard's distinctive style and her consummate skill with materials and ideas. Fortunately Jealous saboteurs will be shown in New Zealand later this year as it is a joint project of the City Gallery and Monash University. With a bit of luck, someone might also pick up the Gamper show.

Images: top, Martino Gamper chairs from 100 chairs in 100 days and bottom Francis Upritchard works from Jealous saboteurs

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

One day in Hamilton

Number One:  I’m not at all happy with the Waikato Museum.

Number Two: Me neither.

NO: It’s all very well them storing and showing stuff of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest but, as Gertrude Steam said 'you can be a modem or be a museum, but you can’t be both.'

NT: Classic Steam....

NO: Thing is, it’s all digital now

NT: Ones and zeros ....

NO: Visitors want to be entertained.

NT: Absolutely.

NO: And frankly the word museum doesn't capture the diversity of the venue's collections or the role it plays in the arts community.

NT: No capture at all. None… an absence of capture even

NO: So what we need to do is something really radical.

NT: We could give them more money. Their budget has been frozen for the last five years and ....

NO: Don’t be ridiculous.

NT: ....or we could give them less money, of course.

NO: No. I want something radical, something that will transform the paradigm.

NT: We could get rid of that interactive science place. The Jackson Pollock painting game’s a bit tired … not very exiting … (laughs to himself)

NO: Hmmmm (thinks hard) …radical… rad-i-cal… (thinks harder). I know! We’ll change the name.

And that is what they are going to do.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Over egged

Have a good break, OTN will back on Tuesday.

More artist inspired Easter eggs here

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fright night

For at least five years it's as though Dane Mitchell has been stalked by another artist. It’s the horror film scenario. First off you just catch a quick glimpse of something at the window. 'Was that one of my works?' (cue unsettling music). Later, flicking through an art mag, there's a sudden, heart-stopping sound as a deep shadow blacks out the page. 'That’s a work I made ten years ago!' (shivering violins). Initially it was reasonable to pass it off as global zeitgeist thing (after all, ideas are seldom unique) but when the echoes turn up in production, look and feel, scale, it gets harder to accept as coincidence. So what can be done? Not much as it turns out. Despite discussion the other artist refuses to acknowledge the takes and keeps on going. Legal redress across borders is of course complex, expensive and out of the question.

And now it’s happening again, this time with a different artist. Visitors to Art Basel Hong Kong who know Dane Mitchell’s work will see a familiar face, well a familiar sculpture actually. The Polish artist Alicja Kwade’s work is more than just a close call (is Mitchell some sort of flypaper for lookalikes?) the two rings are not only in a Venn diagram arrangement but have exactly the same dimensions and lean against the wall like the Mitchell work. It was first exhibited in his 2014 at Hopmoss show Other explications, in LA the same year and Switzerland in 2015. In the end the implicit system of art making and influence relies on good citizenship. Well, that didn’t seem to work.

Images: top, Dane Mitchell 2014 and bottom, Alicja Kwade 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Distance looks our way

Creative New Zealand has just announced the venue for next year’s Venice Biennale outing and it's a bold move. In past years artists chose their own venues. They'd usually try to take advantage of Venetian character (Denny, Millar, Parekowhai, Stevenson, Upritchard) or to secure a venue with good foot traffic (Culbert, Denny, Millar). For 2017 the venue selection has been taken over by NZ's Commissioner for Venice Alastair Curruthers. He made it clear he was determined to secure a permanent venue for New Zealand (with no formal consultation as far as we know) within the main exhibition site. To an extent that is what he has done. (Commissioner Alastair Carruthers has since told us that there were three options offered the artist and curator within the Arsenale and that the current space has only been leased for the current Biennale)

The new venue for New Zealand is Tesa dell'Isolotto. This translates as 'small island' and this is no doubt what it was some time in the past. So where is it? Well, not as Creative NZ would have it in its media release ‘in the heart of the Arsenale exhibition district’ but rather on the outskirts of the Arsenale. While this part of the Biennale is visited, suggesting it is in the heart of things is stretching credulity as you can see from the map. The Commissioner has made the call that if NZ can't get a space in the Giardini (and that's been a closed shop for decades), then we are better off in the Biennale precinct consistently than trying to make an impression each time in a new venue. There's certain corporate logic to that, if you want to find Team NZ you'll know where to go. But there are trade-offs. While the format of the venue is perfect for Lisa Reihana’s work, with its very specific space requirements, of course, this will not necessarily be ideal for those who follow. The gamble is for a more manageable known quantity against
unpredictable opportunity .

The main challenge with this particular location will be getting audiences that still have attention and energy to spare for us. The centre of the Biennale remains the Giardini with its array of national pavilions (this is where the Australians are) and part 1 of the Central Exhibition curated by the artistic director of the Venice Biennale. As a visitor the big attraction of the Arsenale is part 2 of this exhibition. It's always an exhausting experience all but fills one of the biggest exhibition spaces in the world with a huge number of artists (in 2015, there were 136 of them), themes, talks, performances etc etc. Once you've popped out the other end of this over-heated clamour there are even more spaces to deal with. In 2015 these rather brilliantly included the Vatican and next year will include New Zealand. One of the problems is that few visitors start their Biennale experience with the Arsenale but kick off with the big names in the Gardini. Still the deal is done now so let's see how this new set of cards plays out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Insider story

We don’t need to tell you again how much we enjoy visiting artists' studios but sometimes you can get more than you bargained for. Visiting Rudi Gopas in Christchurch in the late 1970s was always a throw of the dice. Somewhere we have a tape of Rudi chanting one of his poems, 'Atom Bomb. Atom Bomb. Did I cry for you? Will I die for you?' In the background you can hear the crashing of furniture as we retreated while the artist approached gesticulating forcefully. The night before he had spent 12 hours looking at the moon through his handmade telescope and was still out there in space. On another visit a week later we sat for two hours entranced as Gopas explained the complex theories behind his astonishing galactic paintings. Here are a couple of artist studio sites that are worth a look (one and two) or you can wander around the studios in OTN:STUDIO here.

Images: artists in their studios from the top, Jonathan Meese, Chris Ofili, Camille Claudel and Sonia Delaunay

Monday, March 21, 2016

They killed Kenny

There are always some good things to see at the Sydney Biennale and sometimes, as in the outstanding 16th edition curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in 2008, many, many great things. But this year it’s a struggle to find much excitement. Artistic director Stephanie Rosenthal titled her biennale after William Gibson's well-worn phrase, ‘the future is already here - it’s just not evenly distributed’. Presumably she intended to claim some sci-fi cred but went on to undercut it by seven heavy-handed curatorial themes: Transition, the Real, Translation, Spirits etc One theme or “Embassy of thought’ as they are coyly titled per venue. This gave rise to all sorts of awkward diplomatic analogies over the weekend: attaches, amabassadors, visas, passports etc. Why a major art event would want to define itself by conventional diplomatic stereotypes is anyone’s guess.

The extraordinary character of Cockatoo Island has usually made it one of the highlights of the Biennale. This time round even the history and atmosphere of this world heritage site were dampened. Lee Bull was the lead attraction. No slouch when it comes to filling space, she was given a massive 2,500 meters (about the half the size of the new MCA extension) and gave it a decent go: there's an enormous silver dirigible, an enormous inflatable globe, enormous draped sheets of figured plastic, enormous loops of light bulbs. Trouble is, trying to fill such enormous industrial spaces sets up a competition a single artist can't win. Bul's willing to be vulnerable seemed driven by the space rather than commanding it. Although the work does appear more convincing in photographs, in reality it looks alarmingly like the replica NYC in Charlie Kaufman's 2008 movie Synecdoche, New York.

William Forsyth did rather better by suspending hundreds of plumb bobs swinging from a moving frame and Ming Wong nailed the sci-fi theme with monsters, robots and rockets from the history of Chinese cinema. The odd thing though about the Cockatoo experience this time was how few works there were to see. It's a mission to get out to Cockatoo and you have to wonder why the Biennale was dispersed over so many venues when there is so much opportunity there. Then there was the lack of labels, signage and the impossibility of connecting the numbers on the Biennale map with the buildings in front of you. Add to this confusion an annoying number of Biennale staff swishing past on golf carts tooting people watching videos out of the way (sorry Joyce Campbell) and we'd have to say this time the Cockatoo Island experience really lacked its usual energy and focus. If you're thinking of visiting, consider waiting a few weeks to give the Biennale's admin time to get themselves organized and the island venues signed and labeled.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Great Dane

‘Dane, Dane, Dane.’ It’s a moaning sing-song voice coming from the second floor of the MCA showing works from the Biennale of Sydney. We know Dane Mitchell has works in the Biennale but we thought they were at the Art Gallery of NSW. ‘Dane, Dane, Dane.’ There it is again. Maybe it’s one of Dane Mitchell’s ghost works. Then we see a dancer and a guy who is actually singing ‘Dane, Dane, Dane’ to the viewers and yes, it is NZ’s own Dane Mitchell he is referring too. We know this because he starts singing ‘Dane Mitchell’ which is a complete giveaway. Turns out it is a work by the choreographer Adam Linder who is Australian and now based in Sydney. For five hours a day he delivers choreographic services and the  writer working with him, Holly Childs, has put Dane into the script for Linder’s performance. The dancer slides across the floor, ‘Dane Dane, Dane.’ Contemporary art, you gotta love it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fixtures and fittings

In 1997 when Colin McCahon’s Urewera Mural was hi-jacked from its possie in the Department of Conservation’s Te Ureweara's visitor center it set up a two year search. In HBO style it was eventually recovered thanks to Jenny Gibbs, Te Kaha and Tame Iti. In this extended search you can bet on one category of dwellings that weren’t turned over and that would be expensive apartments with names like 'The Lighthouse'. So it's odd to find the UM hanging in the dining area in a Trade Me ad for luxury living with ‘elegant modernist aesthetics that are timeless’. OK it's somewhat shrunk, the original is five and a half meters wide which is a bit on the large side even for Auckland apartments, but the aspiration is there. This isn’t the first time a work by McCahon has been cut and pasted onto walls for artistic effect. The architects of the Auckland Art Gallery rather unfortunately grabbed Victory over death from the Australian National Gallery’s collection to deck out proposed AAG spaces. But the Urewera Mural for d├ęcor, seriously? Whatever happened to Vladimir Tretchikoff and V van G.
Thanks H and you too M

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


In the raging world of art prices, one of the great media is consistently undervalued. Playing off this Bowerbank Ninow have just published a photography-only catalogue for their next auction. For around the price of a small Colin McCahon drawing you could set the foundations of a very serious photography collection and you wouldn't need to confine yourself to local photographers either. For instance, here’s what you could get for $23,300 based on the high estimate for each work.

Ian Macdonald’s The whale stranding at Muriwai Beach (72)
William Eggleston’s Untitled (Kentucky) (42)
Thomas Ruff’s Anderes Doppelportrait I (39)
Untitled 1974 by Glenn Busch (33)
Gavin Hipkins Untitled (44)
Ans Westra, Lunchtime Concert, Cuba Mall (19)
Frank Hofmann’s untitled photo of a woman blowing smoke (15)
Rhondda Bosworth’s Susy Suzie / another figure study (14)
Datura by Peter Peryer (10)
Marie Shannon’s Indoor Fireworks (7)
Another Frank Hofmann, Diving Tower, Prague (1)

And given that some of them might go under the high estimate, let’s also throw in American artist Mike Kelley’s intriguing Black out (Detroit River), Detail Panel 1 (41)

You can see the full catalogue here.

Image: Untitled (Kentucky) by William Eggleston

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


unvarnished facts, reckless guesswork, insinuations and possible inventions that have arrived at a turnaround at the govett-brewster where a number of len lye sculptures will now remain in place during 'emanations', the upcoming ‘all-galleries’ photographic exhibition • artspace’s director adnan yildiz duked it out on his fb page with eyecontact’s john hurrell declaring of artspace's audience that 'we are expecting them to have questions with us’ but then not seeming to much enjoy hurrell doing just that • when creative nz announced that ‘funding from our two principal sources – the crown through vote arts culture and heritage and the new zealand lottery grants board – could decline over the next four years they meant will decline • leo dicaprio has lined up with the aag when it comes to collecting contemporary photography having snagged his own copy of andreas gursky’s 'ocean iii' • twinkle-toed rohan wealleans danced right through richard frater’s scatter installation at robert heald’s gallery without stepping on a single item • after their success with giant ww1 personnel te papa is going the big-bug way preparing an internationally touring show with weta on giant bug duty • new zealand’s venice biennale commissioner alastair carruthers is leaving these shores to settle in london but no suggestion of the baton being passed on at this stage •  any missed details, indignant denials or additions gratefully received, and any that makes us laugh out loud rewarded with an increasingly rare otn painting horse badge.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hammer horror

Webb’s must curse the day they decided to load their auctions with fancy names. Differentiation strategies are ok when you can deliver the goods, but a big fat pain in the neck when you can't. Take the upcoming Webb's April auction that has been trotted out under the 'Paramount' banner. The catalogue has been published online so who could resist shaking the numbers to figure out what's Paramount means in Webb's speak? Not us. 

The fact is only two of the 117 works on offer have low estimates over $40,000. Even if you add up the high estimates on these two they'd only hammer down at $245,000. That wouldn’t have bought you a major work by Bill Hammond five years ago. It’s true that works over $100,000 are rarer than they were back then but 'Paramount' ? To have less than 12 percent of your high estimates over $20,000 and 88 percent below $10,000 is well, certainly rather challenging to the meaning of the word. Can Webb’s recapture its old ground under new management? Looking at this latest catalogue it’s going to be a long, hard slog.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Here comes the judge

Who guessed the four selected for the Walters Prize? We got two right but even that was pure luck. We're assuming that Simon Denny was selected but decided not to come all this way just to miss out again (not selecting Michael Parekowhai for his Brisbane show was pretty insulting but to not tick Denny would have bordered on incompetence at this particular time). Looking at the list of four you certainly wouldn’t have bet the house on a Denny win had he been a finalist. 

Over the years the selection criteria for the Prize have changed a few times and this year quite radically. At the outset the Prize was for 'the most outstanding contribution made to contemporary art in New Zealand'. Later that shifted to ‘an outstanding work of contemporary New Zealand art produced and exhibited during the past two years’. This year it's ‘exceptional artworks that pushed the boundaries of art making in 2014 and 2015.’ No not you painters, sit down.

The elephant in the room is of course the director of the Auckland Art Gallery Rhana Devenport. Her relationship with one of the finalists is extremely close.
In fact this is the second time a Reihana project curated by Devenport has been a finalist for the Walters Prize. In 2008 Devenport, as director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, was on the panel that selected her Digital Marae for the 2008 Walters Prize. For the 2016 Prize, Devenport has not only curated and promoted a selected project, she has also been involved in the selection of the panel of four that chose it as a finalist and she will also be involved in selecting the judge who will make the final decision. No doubt many, many Chinese walls are being built within the AAG but there will be intense interest in how these obvious conflicts are going to be handled.

Past Walters Prizes have delighted with unexpected wins and left field choices but no mistake, the selection of the judge is a critical decision in the whole process. Anyone who listened to Charles Esche talk before the prize giving evening last time knew that Denny was dog tucker. As we've posted before, one reader claims to have picked most Walters Prize winners just by checking out the judge’s previous form. There will be much searching through the entrails when that announcement is made.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Walters Prize

The Walters Prize finalists are:

Joyce Campbell
Nathan Pohio
Lisa Reihana
Shannon Te Ao

they were selected by:

Emma Bugden
Peter Robinson
Dr Lara Strongman
Nina Tonga

On the QT and strictly hush hush

Creative NZ is looking for some new peer reviewers to advise it on who should get funding. Anyone thinking about putting up their hand (you can get up to $40 an hour but the hours are tightly limited) may wonder what they're getting into, so some background.

Over the past decade Creative NZ has professionalised. There have been some positive results (e.g. clearer accountability and priorities) but also some negative ones. Its processes are more complex for users, it's more risk averse, and it's become remarkably protective of any information it receives. Confidentiality agreements are used to control outsiders working with them and to side step what we would consider the intent of the Official Information Act.

This is not just a problem with Creative NZ, of course, it's endemic throughout the public service. Ask any journalist. We had our own experience of it when we asked who had applied for the Venice Biennale gig for 2015. We weren't asking for the discussions or the opinions or the minutes of the meeting, just who had applied. We took it to the Ombudsman but Creative NZ was way ahead of us. All outsiders involved had been tied up with confidentiality agreements from the outset so we got zip.

So you have to ask why anyone would to sign up to be a peer reviewer when they have to agree in writing:

•    to keep confidential all information supplied by Creative New Zealand and any information relating to the assessment of an application (including assessment panel discussions) and to only use this information for the purpose of assessing an application. This means that applications cannot be discussed.

•    to ensure that all such information is stored securely and that it will be accessible to no one but me for the sole purpose of assessment and that electronic material is deleted at the end of the decision making process and any hard copy material is returned to Creative New Zealand.

•    not to discuss or write articles, including social media, on the assessment panel’s recommendations.

•    not to report back to other organisations on the work of the assessment panel.

•    To bite down hard on the green capsule provided should they be detained or questioned outside CNZ premises

As Agent J of The Men in Black said, 'Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it.'

Image: Secret Squirrel

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

I robot

You know OTN is lookalike central, but who'd have thought we'd score a lookalike of an art dealer so close to home? Maurizio Cattelan once famously made a replica art collector and dumped it face down into a swimming pool, oh, and also gaffer-taped his dealer to the wall, but make another version? Not so common. Callum Morton, the Australian artist, went there. A decade ago, for his last Christchurch outing, he showed with chilling prescience a huge rock crashed through the roof of a shop, and now he has twinned Anna Schwartz in his latest work Reception. The robot Schwartz is looking a bit wonky on it (more farmer skinned by aliens in the opening minutes of Men in Black than Japanese Otonaroid) but Morton says this is intentional. 'It's a little bit Thunderbirds in a way and I kind of like that clunkiness.' Given that Anna Schwartz, is pretty much the opposite of clunky they’ll be easy to tell apart. You can read more about the good robot Schwartz and Morton’s work here in the SMH and, even better, some Roboschwartz live action here.

Images: Top, Roboschwartz. Middle left, Schwartz and right, Schwartz.01 and Bottom
, left MiB farmer and right Otonaroid.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Crowd sourcing

Word is that the announcement of the Walters Prize finalists will be made today. So is this rather dark and grainy photograph even worth posting? A couple of our readers certainly thought so and we’re an easy sell when it comes to gossip and hearsay. This pic is off Instagram and was posted in Feb this year. It shows Anthony Byrt, Tina Barton and Steve Carr huddled together in conversation. So what? Apparently there is also a link to Melanie Oliver and each of our correspondents feel that this curator-critic-director-artist combo fits the profile of the Walters selection panel like…one of those blue gloves they wear when they move art works. Couldn’t it just be some mates at the opening of the Christchurch Art Gallery? But what if it isn’t? What names are they muttering to one another, what’s that list just out of the picture they are so intent upon? Shannon Te Ao, Simon Denny, Gavin Hipkins, Seung Yul Oh, Fiona Pardington and Lisa Reihana. That’s six. They must still be including a couple of off-course substitutes. Or could they be….
(Thanks M, T and, a little later, D)

COMMENT VIA ANTHONY BYRT ON TWITTER "I was so drunk I got Steve to write shortlist on my forehead so I wouldn't forget it. Magnificent speculation, this."  OK Cross out Anthony

Monday, March 07, 2016


When Michael Parekowhai decided to paint red the carved piano He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu just days before it was to head off to the Venice Biennale, the paint job was a radical gesture. And even more radical given that the piano was black when it had been purchased by Te Papa. Now that's a vote of confidence in an artist. Now an OTN reader has just sent us a pic that shows that there’s not one but two red pianos in Te Papa’s collection. One is the carved version by Parekowhai while the other is a baby grand (literally). It was made in the UK in the fifties by O & M Kleeman under the brand Kleeware. Unlike the Steinway modified by Parekowhai, this tiny grand is just 3cm high designed, as it was, to furnish a doll’s house.

Images: left, Kleeware and right, Michael Parekowhai’s He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river, both collection Te Papa Tongarewa. Thanks A

Friday, March 04, 2016

Sherrah Francis 1929-2016

Just two months after Tim, her long-time companion, husband and fellow collector, Sherrah Francis has died. It ends one of the great art collecting adventures New Zealand has seen. From their shared fascination with history sparked at the University of Auckland, they walked in step. They married in 1954 and from then on through a life of family, travel and art Sherrah’s vitality and ardor propelled them. Before heading for London in 1957 Sherrah worked at the National Library in Wellington honing her knowledge of New Zealand history. This expertise found its scariest expression when she and Janet Paul worked with manuscripts and art works at the Alexander Turnbull Library. In those days the Library was on the Terrace and Janet and Sherrah made formidable guardians with a deep and sometimes challenging knowledge of the collections. 

By the early 1970s her three children Paul, Sarah and Emma were growing up and a few prints and paintings were turning into a major collection. Of the many highlights of this remarkable collection were Colin McCahon’s The canoe Tainui, possibly the first and certainly one of the greatest of Gordon Walters’ koru paintings Te Whiti,  and Toss Woollaston’s portrait of Charles Brasch. They also became friends with the reserved Rita Angus purchasing a number of works. 

If Tim was the quiet mind of consideration Sherrah often headed up the hunt. Naturally acquisitive and often alarmingly curious, she delighted in developing her own point of view and fiercely advocating for it. Her personal interest in early studio ceramics in New Zealand quickly focused on the work of women such as Olive Jones and Briar Gardner. Another passion perhaps sprang from her years at the Turnbull and her fascination with how early British settlers in New Zealand struggled to come to grips with this new landscape. What the resulting works often lacked in polish they certainly made up for in commitment and honesty giving the Francis collection an edge that made every visit to Tim and Sherrah pure pleasure. 
Image: Sherrah and Tim Francis checking out a jewelry exhibition at the Dowse Art Museum

(Sherrah's funeral will be at 2pm on Thursday 10 March at St Peter's, Willis Street Wellington.)


Writer, curator and film maker Chris Kraus has had a long association with New Zealand kept up by her visits, talks and interviews. Her feature film Gravity and grace was largely made in NZ in 1995 and featured Ani ONeill (as Grace) along with Kirsty Cameron, Cushla Dillon, Denise Kum and Judy Darragh as art department stalwarts. More recently, she wrote the essay Here begins the dark sea for Simon Denny's Secret Power Venice catalogue. Kraus's reputation hinges on her 1997 novel I love Dick (largely on the strength of it Kraus is claimed to be the art world's favourite fiction writer) and it's about to get the full TV treatment (well a pilot at any rate).  Jill Soloway, creator of the TV series Transparent, is in charge so it's looking promising. While I love Dick is infused with NZ, we found an item in our files that directly connects with Kraus's personal history via James K Baxter and Colin McCahon. The cover of the 1973 James K Baxter Festival programme, now a sought after collectable, was designed by McCahon who also designed the sets for the four Baxter plays. The Kraus connection? At the time she was living in Wellington and was in the cast of Baxter's The temptations of Oedipus as Ismene, daughter and half-sister of Oedipus.

Image: Dougall Rolland and Chris Kraus in rehearsal for James K Baxter’s The temptations of Oedipus

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Time for a bit of a Lye down in New Plymouth

Best game in town has been watching the Govett-Brewster maneuvering its branding over the last month. After a year of Len Lye domination a recent media release subtly changed the tune by suggesting the new entrance is to a ‘combined art museum’. That’s one up for Monica’s gallery even if in reality it is pretty much a stairway to Len. The fact is the popularity of the shiny new Len Lye Centre has up to now rather skewed the hierarchy of the two institution but it looks like the pendulum is about to swing back towards the Govett-Brewster. The logo on the G-B’s new web site for instance has dropped the Len Lye Centre’s name and foregrounded the Saatchi & Saatchi rebrand of the Govett-Brewster as ‘Provocateurs’. We’ve also seen this fancy French word featured in G-B ads on the backs of buses so presumably we’re talking provocateurs as stirrers rather than criminal trouble-makers.

The up-coming 'all-galleries' exhibition of cameraless photography is also doing its bit to help push back on Len Lye’s domination of the Govett-Brewster. Taking up the entire building it will send the currently displayed Len Lye works packing and back into storage. This move has apparently annoyed some of New Plymouth’s politicians who see the Len Lye Centre as the destination magnet for the city rather than the G-B and who can blame them given the recent spectacular attendances.

The photography show Emanations is a big gamble for the Govett-Brewster and word is the show that has borrowed internationally has a huge budget. It's been suggested that nearly half a million has been invested in the exhibition although that hardly seems possible given the G-B’s total annual funding.  Removing the Lyes to accommodate Emanations is certainly a bold move, given that the Len Lye Centre has been open less than a year. And while cameraless photography may not be what you might call provocative, it will certainly put the Govett-Brewster back in the picture. 

Image: Govett-Brewster home page

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Underground art surfaces

As we mentioned last year, the Fletcher Trust has off-loaded a chunk of its art collection. The reason given was that limited office space had required the company to pull down walls to create open plan office space. In the language of wordmath:

 Now, along with its offices, meeting rooms and foyers, Fletchers also had a rather more exciting space - a James Bond style gallery. It was in the form of a tunnel that went under the road to link two office blocks. Any staff members who scurried from one office across to the other also got to see a large selection of art works in rather spooky conditions. You could have passed by any number of paintings from something by Dick Frizzell to works by Gretchen Albrecht or Dan Arps. You can check out the complete Fletcher collection here. Sadly that unusual experience is now in the past.  The tunnel has been closed with the doors at both ends locked shut. That could mean it’s more art to the block or maybe this time it will go into store or perhaps it will stay exactly where it is sealed like some kind of strange time capsule waiting for the future. You can read more about this unique arty tunnel here in the NZH.

Image: top, the eerie Fletcher tunnel and bottom, a work by Dan Arps seen along the way.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Denny exhibition brings out the cloak and dagger in Te Papa

We're approaching what's becoming a bi-annual tradition as Te Papa gears up to show off its latest Venice Biennale booty. Apart from the first outing, only one artist has failed to sell their Venice work to Te Papa and that was the super controversial outing by et al. in 2005. This year Simon Denny skirted controversy with Te Papa purchasing a very particular segment of the installation (they could always borrow some of the David Darchicourt material they excluded from the purchase via MoMA – ha, ha, just kidding). 

Denny's presentation at Venice put the Five Eyes spy network centre-stage reaching the dismal conclusion that the spy masters are just run of the mill corporate managers, albeit with chilling powers. So who's surprised that around 18 months ago, knowing that at least part of Denny's Secret Power was Te Papa bound, that someone hatched the bright idea to make a spy exhibition. The only reason we know this is thanks to the blog No right turn who used the Official Information Act to get documents out of Te Papa (you can read it here and also get access to the documents) outlining the show. The proposed timing is interesting too with Te Papa pushing for before Denny’s 2016 showing on their fifth floor. The original idea for the spy show actually came out of the Department of PM and Cabinet (Intelligence Coordination Group) working with Te Papa International Strategy Adviser. Hopefully not a standard source of exhibition ideas, but who was going to turn down a 'significant collection of scientific spying equipment, top secret documents, images (eg. political cartoons) and objects [to] tell the story of the secret world of NZ’s spies and their mission'?

As it turns out, Te Papa could. This proposal was in play months before the new CE Rick Ellis took over and it would be nice to think he was one to kick it into the gutter. Still, just think what might have been. This could have been an exhibition that overshadowed even Air New Zealand's brilliant PR capture of Te Papa. And lost too the opportunity to work with NZ’s top spies who were to 'provide the collection, expert advice, curatorial guidance (and co-curators); initiate and manage loans; manage political sensitivities etc’.

Presumably the crazy kids on the Te Papa staff (their names have been redacted from the documents) that dreamt up this wacky idea are still in the building pining over their lost opportunity to showcase the NZ intelligence community before Simon Denny sent them global. Secret Power indeed.