Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Show and tell

In 1990 we saw an exhibition in Wellington by a couple of artists who’d go on to shake up NZ art. It was located in a kind of furniture, rugs and curios emporium called The Last Decade Gallery down on Wellington’s Thorndon Quay. The exhibition was titled Nature, Forms, Myth and the two artists were Shane Cotton and Peter Robinson. Cotton was showing his early abstract work and Robinson curious objects some of which looked as though they’d been through the fires of hell. It’s possible that this was the first dealer gallery show for each of them. Just a year out of art school in Christchurch and virtually unknown in Wellington, their exhibition was hugely memorable. Today we passed all that remains of the building where that impressive show was installed. 

Image: the lot that once held the Last Decade Gallery in Sar Street

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On reflection

Sometime during the day, if you have a chance, spare a thought for the staff of the Govett Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre. Now the architectural community has finished congratulating itself, it’s becoming clear that what's been left is one of the most difficult spaces in the country to exhibit art in.

Unsurprisingly, the things that have so excited the architectural gatekeepers are the very things that make it difficult. Start with the mega statement of the cathedral-like entry with its columns and sloping floor. Once the wow factor has worn off, it’s a very large, very empty, very grey space. It does have potential of course and especially for commissioned projects by artists. Andrew Beck, by all accounts, made a great job of it in the last round, but there’s a limit to how often you can find keen young artists willing to make a splash on limited resources.

When you do get to the top of the grand hall to Len Lye’s large scale kinetic works, strangely given the hype in the planning stage, it's too small! The new Fountain IV all but brushes the roof and looks surprisingly cramped.

At the base of the long ramp of course is the far from obvious entrance to the Govett-Brewster  Art Gallery. The two large lower galleries are no more. As you move through it you can't help wondering how architects could leave this awkward space behind them as a piece of serious art gallery design. As an introduction to the gallery it's a tough call for any exhibition designer.

The staff at least has got a pleasant sunny cafe where they can dream about putting the place to rights. They certainly must be nervous at the thought of audience numbers dropping if a threatened admission charge comes into play next year. The New Plymouth City Council has somehow convinced itself and its public that the bright shiny facade (a magnet for selfies) will continue to make its newest facility a destination attraction. But the reality is that the selfie takers don’t get added into the all-important visitor numbers, for that you have to go inside. And look at the art.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Southern comfort

If you want to know what New Zealand was like before Auckland stole the idea of modern art, Peter Simpson’s Bloomsbury South is the book for you. Hard to believe now that once the South Island was the place even Auckland artists chose to exhibit it if they wanted to be at the center. Simpson’s book takes the history of the south far beyond the usual telling of the story via the long-lived Group. It finds the space in its twenty years coverage to include poets, playwrights, designers, publishers along with the visual artists plus a very detailed account of the fuss over getting Frances Hodgkins’s painting The Pleasure Garden into the collection of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery (as the Christchurch Art Gallery was known back in the day). Some years ago we posted on how Bill Sutton’s well-known painting Homage to Frances Hodgkins was itself based on the 1900 painting Homage to Cezanne 1900 by Maurice Denis. On the cover of Simpson’s book is yet another image to add to the story: a sketch made by Bill Sutton before he embarked on his painting. Its brushy urgency probably gives a more incisive view of the controversy than the finished painting although we can’t be certain as the painting was unfortunately destroyed.

Images: Top, Homage to Cezanne 1900 by Maurice Denis. From left to right the figures are: Odilon Redon, Edouard Vuillard, Mellerio, Ambroise Vollard, Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, Paul Ranson, Theodore Roussel, Pierre Bonnard and Marthe Denis. Middle, Homage to Frances Hodgkins 1951 by W A Sutton. Figures from left to right are: W.A. Sutton, Doris Holland, Colin McCahon, Heathcote Helmore, Margaret Frankel, Beth Zanders, R.S. Lonsdale, Alan Brassington, John Oakley and Oliver Spencer Bower. Bottom, Bill Sutton’s sketch for Homage to Frances Hodgkins and appearing on the cover of Peter Simpson’s book

Friday, August 26, 2016

Paw relations

How many times has OTN said it would not write another post on animal artists (three, although one of them was rather half-hearted) and then simply posted away? Yes, here we go again picking up this time on the commodification of animal art by museums, ok, zoos as they call themselves. 

Animal art has certainly become a big seller for zoos and everyone (animal-wise) has to attend to the pumps. Chimp painters, mole rat painters, cockroach painters (‘Cockroach paintings can go for a high price. They art very popular.’), horses, elephants etc. The zoos may have recently ditched chimp tea parties as demeaning, but they’re jumping at the opportunity to have animals make art and to call the process ‘animal enrichment’. Of course they do. One animal enrichment expert Christine McKnight of the Minnesota Zoo even went so far as to suggest,  ‘The animals enjoy it more if it taps into a natural behavior and if they use a part of the body that mirrors a skill set from the wild.’  

So that’s pretty much that for animal artists. Then we were sent this link (thanks S) that is essentially about animal art (not). So, for the fourth time, that’s it.

Images: top, a leopard gecko, two cockroaches and a blind mole make art to raise money for zoos. Go them.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Art chart

Ok ... sorry ... we were tired (but thanks anyway G)

But just keeps on getting better. This from Michael Dudding...


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The block

The most recent catalogue from Art + Object is now online. It’s a two-day auction of the Tim and Sherrah Francis collection. A+O have had some good times with private collection sales, most particularly with Les and Milly Paris in 2012 and then with Ron Sang last year. It was obvious to anyone at those events that people are happy to pay something extra for the stories and status that often accompany such works as part of their provenance.

Single vendor auctions have always been prized by sellers and buyers alike. With contemporary art they probably had their highly charged beginnings in New York City with the sale of 50 works from the Robert C Scull collection in 1973. In that case, the high prices paid also sparked the infamous scuffle between vendor Scull and artist Robert Rauschenberg that you can see here (39 seconds in).

Since then there have been a number of great single vendor sales including the auction of 58 works from the Ganz collection in November 1997 described as, 'a steroid injection to the market' that netted a record breaking $US207 million. As it happens the Francises lived above Victor and Sally Gantz's apartment when Tim was posted to New York. Both Tim and Sherrah often spoke of the incredible experience of sitting with the Picassos and Matisses that hung on the living room walls and going downstairs to the basement to look at more contemporary works by Eva Hesse, Jasper Johns, Mel Bochner, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella.

Back home in slightly less rarefied air it is interesting to consider how the Francis offering matches up to the Paris’s.

Both auctions are very large with both taking up two days to get through the lots. The Paris collection came in at 230 lots with 72 of them going under the hammer on the first night. With the Francis collection there is a massive 481 lots with 122 being offered on the first night.

The Paris collection offered nine lots with low estimates over $100,000 and with five of those over $200,000. The Francis collection has 12 lots with low estimates over $100,000 with five of them being over $200,000.

41 percent of the first night offerings at the Paris auction were abstract works, while at the Francis collection it will be 34.4 percent abstract on the first night.

The Paris collection included sixteen sculptures while the Francises will offer eight, but the Francis auction also includes 195 lots of ceramics and 63 lots of books and catalogues.

Pretty evenly matched although when you look through the catalogues (Paris catalogue here) two very different approaches to collecting.

You can see the catalogue for the Francis collection day one here and day two here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hide and seek

What is it that Creative NZ is trying to hide away in its announcements of funding round results? We’ve posted before about how it has removed comparative charts and the ability to easily access results in different categories like the Visual Arts. While these were both useful tools in supporting informed advocacy and any debate around Creative NZ’s performance, we’re another step along. Now the total amount funded has been taken off the introductory information for the latest Quick Response grants. While we all do have calculators and can do the sums, it’s not a helpful or user-friendly development. Even more problematically though, the total number of applicants has been removed something we flagged earlier this year. For tax payers near enough is good enough. It’s been replaced with the comment that ‘typically one in four or five applications gets funded.’

For the record then, and in the same near-enough spirit: around 360 to 450 applications were received and just over $470,000 was allocated to between 20 and 25 percent of them.

So how did the visual arts make out? They received just under $82,000 representing around 17.5 percent of the total. Of these, a whopping 77 percent went to projects outside New Zealand.

Image: OTN’s Statistics Unit working its way through Creative NZ figures

Monday, August 22, 2016

By the numbers: over there edition

3       the number in millions of people who visit MoMA a year

6.4     the percentage increase (reaching a total of 2,473) in billionaires in the world over the last year

7        the percentage of art sold online globally last year

31      the percentage drop in sales value of art sold through Sotheby’s auction house last year

70      the percentage of operating art museums in the world that were founded after 2000

190    the amount in thousands of dollars that the movie star Alec Baldwin paid for a painting by Ross Bleckner he didn’t want

800    the number of Andy Warhol paintings owned by the New York based Mugrabi family art collection

1,000  the number of portraits David Hockney claims he will paint of ‘his friends, family plus art world movers and shakers’

1,114  the amount in dollars paid per square centimeter for Jean Michael Basquiat’s 1.8 x 2.13 meter painting Dustheads making a total of $67 million

1,575  the number of art museums in the United States

Friday, August 19, 2016

In and out

Although we named it OTN:STUDIO ETC. most of what we have posted has been pretty much inside the studios we visited. We now have 47 artists and 130 studio visits up on the site and two photo records of artists installing their exhibitions; Campbell Patterson and, as from today, Patrick Pound putting up his exhibition Documentary Intersect  at the Adam Art Gallery in July this year. Other additions to the site for you to check out are et al.’s studio from 2008, Peter Robinson’s in 2013 and a very quick look at Dan Arps’ studio, well the work he was doing at least, from way back in 2004.

Image: et al.’s studio, March 2008

Thursday, August 18, 2016

One day…

If the cover of internationally respected curator Claire Doherty’s latest book feels familiar, it’s because the image was shot in Wellington. While this sort of obstruction would come as no great surprise to, say, the people of Kiev, it was quite the shock when it appeared across Stout Street and Ballance Street in December 2008. The barricade was the work of English artists Heather & Ivan Morison. Titled Journee des Barricades, it was intended as a warning of a future of salvage and rubbish and resistance. Why the title was in French we haven’t been able to establish so assume it was a general reference to the revolutionary barriades for which Paris became famous. Journee was part of a year long project throughout New Zealand to create sculptures for a day. A series of works were initiated by Massey University and Claire Doherty who was, at the time, rather wonderfully called Curator and Director of Situations. Regrettably, in spite of its great success, One Day Sculpture has never been attempted again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Reality bites

Just before the Christchurch Art Gallery was closed after the second big earthquake, it was pulling in mega crowds. The National Gallery of Victoria’s exhibition of super realist sculptures by the Australian artist Ron Mueck attracted over 135,000 people. As the exhibition cost around $750,000 TO MOUNT and charged an entrance fee of $15 for adults, we’re talking a potential profit of $5.55 earned per person. So some serious money was made. That was back in 2011 and the hyperrealist sculpture business is now bigger than ever. Given advances in 3D printing you have to wonder whether it’s going to get even bigger still, or collapse into the commodity category. Place your bets.

Images: top to bottom left to right, Ron Mueck, Duane Hanson, Carol Feuerman, Marc Sijan, Jamie Salmon, Jackie K Seo, Tony Matelli, Xooang Choi, John De Andrea, Sam Jinks

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Play on

The museum trade got very excited by PokemonGo. The British Museum even claimed that hordes of Pokemon searchers rushing through its doors constituted an exciting ‘increase in visitor numbers’ (#deluded). Meanwhile at the Dowse the staff noticed a mass of players in the square outside their building. Turns out it was a major PokeStop and day (and night) groups of players were scurrying about trying to catch Pokemon. With a rainy weekend coming up recently the Dowse figured it needed to take some action as power hungry players coming in to recharge their phones were blocking up the entrance. In place of the usual  DO NOT sign they went for let’s-help-out option. Extension cords offered power outlets on the forecourt and the WiFi levels were pumped up so play could continue.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Breaking Entertainment News

A blockbuster art heist movie set in the eighties LA art scene is to be made in Wellington next year. At a meeting with the Wellington City Council the movie makers outlined ambitious plans. A giant set designed by a local architecture firm will be built to stand in for Grand Street in downtown LA.  The one to one scale buildings will be temporary, although there is now a move to have the set for the Broad Museum retained after the movie is shot to become the basis of a Wellington Movie Museum and Convention Centre. Exciting times.

Images: Top, The Broad in LA. Bottom, proposed design for the Wellington movie set version

Friday, August 12, 2016


There’s been a renewed interest in unfinished works of art recently. You can see loads of them via OTNSTUDIO but it has never been usual to show unfinished work publicly. However, that said, a recent Auckland exhibition called Arrested Practice at Northcote's Northart Gallery looked at unfinished work in this case as ‘a work in progress’. But recently in New York this idea was taken to a whole new level in the major exhibition Unfinished. It included works that were incomplete for all sorts of reasons - politics, health, dealer interference, etc – and because it was organised by the Met the loans were astonishing. Included in the works that ranged across 600 years of Western art were these two paintings by Cezanne and Picasso. Their incomplete state shows the bones of the ideas which hung side by side nail why Cezanne was so essential to the development of Cubism. Something else the exhibition also resolved was the question, how do you know when an artwork is finished? You don’t.
Images: left, Paul Cézanne Gardanne 1885-86 and right, Paplo Picasso's The Sacré-Coeur 1909-10

Thursday, August 11, 2016


The discipline of marketing has found a welcoming home in the art museum world. Relentlessly positive and unabashedly promotional, museum communications sometimes feel as though the clock has been turned back to the excitable 1990s. Take a recent announcement for an upcoming exhibition by Christchurch’s CoCA. For what's basically another local show (it's titled Contemporary Christchurch) the 148-word announcement has managed to squeeze in 10 superlatives to remind us how to respond:


How incredible is that?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Don’t buy the numbers

You probably already know the Ministry of Education sorts the tertiary education available in New Zealand into 12 categories.  Anyway that’s the basis of a rather lame report they released the other day titled What are they doing? (seriously). The bit you will all be interested in (we're using the term 'interested' kind of loosely here) belongs to category 10 ‘Creative Arts’. This involves ‘The study of creating and performing works of art, music, dance and drama. It includes the study of clothing design and creation and communication through media’. If you want to find out stuff about the visual arts it’s in a subset called ‘Narrow fields’.

As you might expect, nowadays most of the Visual Art education happens at degree level and most of the students (around 72 percent) are female. This might make you wonder why the heads of Ilam and Elam, Massey and Whitecliffe are all guys (Otago is an exception) and why Ilam’s academic staff is under 20 percent female, or maybe not.

In all we have 473,000 domestic tertiary students of whom only 2,850 (0.6 percent) are working toward degrees in the visual arts, and that figure has been decreasing slightly over the last five years. But hang on, why does this report only cover domestic students? In doing so it fails to take into account what has got to be the biggest driver of change over the last five years in tertiary education: the influx of paying international students. Why did they even bother with this not-very-useful-to-say-the-least report? We smell delivery on KPIs (the bureaucratic measurement Key Performance Indicators) the Government Department equivalent of PBRFs.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Get real

Looks like Michael Parekowhai’s Tongue of the dog was an animal sculpture too far for Hamilton. It might speak dog to some people but others prefer to see a more direct animal connection. In a similar spirit the screens have been put round Italian sculptor Mimmo Paladino’s War Horse memorial sculpture Cavalli Acqua and the shotgun called for. Paladino’s effort is to be replaced with a ‘realistic’ bronze horse sniffing a hat. As one of the funders of the horse-and-hat work explained, people who like horses wanted ‘a horse sculpture that actually looked like a horse’. A small paddock with a real horse trotting the perimeter as a memorial to horses is not an option at this stage.

Images: Not a horse, column top to bottom by Mimmo Paladino, Hans Haacke, Alexander Calder, Elmgreen & Dragset and Deborah Butterfield. Now-that’s-what-I-call-a-real-horse column top to bottom, Matt Gauldie for Hamilton’s War Horse Memorial, etc., etc., etc. and Phar Lap by Joanne Sullivan-Gessler

Monday, August 08, 2016

The cat rabbit problem

It’s been a long haul but the 2016 OTN International Lookalike Challenge (OTNILC2016) has a winner. Finalists from the thousands of entries were preselected by a panel earlier this year and the winner was announced by our international judge at a small breakfast meeting on Friday 5 August 2016. The Tenth OTN International Lookalike Challenge winner is Mark Leckey with his Parekowhai lookalike Inflatable Felix. Mr Leckey is a British-born artist who works with collage, music and video. He made his first work using an image of Felix the cat in 2007. As has become traditional with the OTNILC2016, no prizes will be awarded.

Images: top, OTNILC2016 winner Mark Leckey's Inflatable Felix (2014) and bottom, Michael Parekowhai Jim McMurtry (2004)

Friday, August 05, 2016

Hoop dreams

Once described rather brilliantly by the Dominion Post as, ‘the formidable aluminum sphere’, Neil Dawson’s Ferns was taken down from its site in Wellington‘s Civic Square just over a year ago. It was always a pretty bold move to suspend 175 kilograms of metal overhead in a public space, especially when the object itself often drew a crowd, but time and the weather are tough companions. 

While Ferns was subject to continued inspection, including a stand down period for some light repairs in 2011, in June last year it was removed and ‘vanished’.  Well, sort of. There were sightings of it in a warehouse but after that, not a word. The City Council has always said it will return Ferns to Civic Square and it looks as though plans are on track for that to happen with a new version to be made and installed. 

It’s odd though that, having scored with a sculpture that captured public affection and became Wellington’s de facto icon, the City Council never made an effort to build on this sense of ownership . There’s been no ongoing communication with the thousands of people who voted for this work with their cameras. 

What a lost opportunity. In the meantime, down the road in Cuba Street, Basketball New Zealand seems to have nabbed Dawson’s idea for itself in the form of a logo.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Looking up at looking down

‘I started working on a painting initially called Paddocks for sheep. This was to be a large work based on some wonderful aerial photographs of North Canterbury where the plain is slowly devoured by the hills and where the paddocks with their safety give way to wilder hill country.’ That was Colin McCahon writing about his 1951 painting North Canterbury Landscape. The photographs he was talking about were almost certainly taken by Whites Aviation.

Artists have always been attracted by the high view but, of course, until the invention of hot-air balloons they had to make do with climbing hills and mountains. Then came the invention of aircraft and with it aerial photography and suddenly we all got to see the vast scale of our world. Once we had our first view of the earth from space in 1972, it was hard to imagine how evocative those early aerial photographs were. They changed the perspective of not just artists like McCahon but of everyone who wondered about the geography of their own back yards and the vast landscapes we are part of.

Now Whites Aviation’s amazing archive of aerial photographs has been presented in a book, and a book that does it justice. Over 408 pages in the large format you’d expect for a project that set out to photograph most of New Zealand from the air. And it’s not just a black and white view of the country either. Many of the images were patiently and delicately colour tinted by hand inspiring this book’s title, Hand-coloured New Zealand. Little wonder that Whites Aviation’s photographs are so highly sought after by collectors.

This is one of a number of elegant and substantial books produced by Peter Alsop. He has already delivered books on the artist Marcus King (with Warren Feeney), images of NZ’s early tourism (with Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford), and the art of early NZ advertising (with Gary Stewart) all published by Potton & Burton. You can get more information about
Hand-coloured New Zealand here and order an advance copy here with a 20 percent discount (use WHITES). And wait, there's more! A short doco on the book will be available here tomorrow.

Images: top Whites Aviation image collection National Library and McCahon's North Canterbury Landscape collection Auckland Art Gallery

Wednesday, August 03, 2016


There have been some people who have accused OTN of an obsession with Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa and, we’d have to say, this is pretty off left field.  OK, there have been a few mentions (we’ve listed them below – some of them are really extraordinary and well worth a look, it really is incredible that a painting locked up in the Louvre has had such an impact on contemporary culture, the Pogues’ Rum, sodomy and the lash? C’mon, that cover was amazing and how about that photo by Hu Jieming?). But obsessed? We asked around the OTN offices and the general consensus is no, we are not. Although the fact that the painting was first exhibited in the same year that grapes were first planted in New Zealand makes you think. OK, there are no grapes in Géricault’s astounding work but it would have been quite something had there been, especially as the absence of food on the raft is one of its key themes. You gotta admit, G’s raft is hard to avoid. Alexander Sokurov’s movie Francofonia, currently showing at the Film Festival, features it big time (you can read more on that astounding coincidence here) and what did we see when we visited the new Whitney in NYC recently? You got it, Frank Stella’s sculpture Raft of the Medusa part I. There you go, not obsessed. And we didn’t even say there was a 'raft of options' at any time during this post. Not once ... oh.

Raft stuff on OTN
A raft too far
Flotsam or jetsam
All at sea
Raft of references

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Once round the block

August has come around again, the month when we get to see the art auction equivalent of Battle of the Bands. This year we can enjoy four houses stepping up offering a total of 289 lots. As a snapshot of the NZ art market, of these lots, 17.3 percent are works by women, 78 percent have figurative subjects, and there are too few sculptures to mention although Art + Object does feature a Neil Dawson on its catalogue cover (ok, there are 17 - a miserable 6 percent).

Mossgreen–Webb’s have pumped up the volume with their catalogue now looking more like an A+O effort at 780 square centimeters. For the record A+O comes in at 816 sq cm, Dunbar Sloane at 567sq cm and Bowerbank Ninow at 516 sq cm. M-W’s publication has 43 percent devoted to the catalogue, A+O has 78 percent, BN 53 percent and DS has 81 percent. To help support this publishing landslide, Bowerbank Ninow managed to get 12 pages of advertising, A+O landed 8 and the other two players pulled in just one page between them. 

In terms of lots, M-W has 53, BN 62, A+O has 86 and DS 88 (29 of them by regional painter Trevor Moffitt) in part one of a two day 281 lot auction. And when it comes to the dollars there are only 12 lots across the four with low estimates above $100,000 giving more weight to the chatter that it’s in the $40-50,000 bracket that all the business is being done. 

So contemporary art auctions on 3 (BN), 4 (A+O), 10 (DS) and 11 (M-W) August

Monday, August 01, 2016


Andy Warhol knew everyone in NYC so it’s kind of inevitable that he encountered Donald Trump. ‘Had to meet Donald Trump at the office (cab $5.50)’, Warhol writes in his diary on 22 April 1981. Marc Balet (ex Interview magazine) was designing catalogues for Trump Towers and had suggested that Trump get Warhol to make a painting of the Towers, ‘to hang over the entrance to the residential part.’ He called it a portrait of course. Trump turned up to the meeting and Warhol had a typical Warhol reaction: he thought Trump was ’really good-looking’ and also how strange it was that ‘these people are so rich.’ The entry ends, ‘He’s a butch guy. 

Nothing was settled, but I’m going to do some paintings anyway and show them to him.’ Three months later Trump comes back with his wife (Ivana at the time) to check the paintings out but Warhol thinks the show-and-tell goes badly. ‘It was a mistake to do so many, I think it confused them. Mr Trump was very upset that it wasn’t colour coordinated.’ And later, ‘I think Trump’s sort of cheap.’ The commission never came off.

PS: After thinking ourselves so super smart finding this story via our copy of the Warhol Diaries we found that the Warhol Museum had already done it on their blog. You can read their version here.

Image: Andy Warhol, drawing for Trump Towers painting, 1981
Source: Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett