Tuesday, November 29, 2016

One day in OTN’s PR/Marketing Department

Marketing CEO: You have to say it, OTN is incredible.

PR Manager: OTN is incredible and soooooo interesting.

MCEO: Yes, our 15,327 readers do get the very best of the best.

PRM: Funny. Engaging. Topical. Fearless. Intuitive. Cute… too cute sometimes.

MCEO: And to think that today is exactly OTN’s 10th birthday.

PRM: Yes, 10 years of funny, engaging, topical, fearless, intuitive and cute stuff from OTN direct to its readers.

MCEO: We need to do something to celebrate.

PRM: Something big.

OTN Director 1: Wow, 10 years old eh.

OTN Director 2: Time to shut it down.

And that is what they did.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Men at work

‘Oh what a night’ crows the header for the latest Arts Foundation newsletter. Apparently it was not only ‘rich with art’, but also ‘full of insight’ and ‘sharing’, ‘hilarious’ and generally ‘wonderful’ (five times). The cash went to Taika, Peter, Lyell, Dylan and Eleanor. That’s right, for the seventh time in its 17-year history only one woman got a look in. Still that’s better than 2006 where it was guys all the way.  Just twice in its history has the Foundation ever given a majority (three of five) of its Laureate Awards to women and that was back in 2007 and 2011 so it wasn’t a trend. All up, male Laureates make up 70 percent of the total. As for the rather pompously named art ‘icons’, under a third of the 33 so far named are women.  And it’s not just that these proud self-congratulators believe women aren’t up to Laureate and Icon standards. In an art world administration dominated by women the Arts Foundation has men occupying 80 percent of their Trustee positions and 63 percent of their Governors.

Sure it’s great they spread some money around the arts, and sure it’s nice they have swish evening events to spread it, but as they haven’t learnt in 17 years that women play a decisive role in the arts in this country, they need to have a good look at their foundations.

COMMENT 28/11/16 I’ve just done a quick tot up of the marketing managers at art institutions. Of 31 institutions, four have male marketing managers – about 12%. I count museums like Te Manawa and Auckland Museum as they regularly have art exhibitions. I didn’t count the partially CNZ funded art spaces like Enjoy, Blue Oyster, Artspace...all of which have women in marketing roles. (Thanks C)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump’s hand-me-down

One artist who’ll be expecting big things from the Trump Presidency is Ralph Wolfe Cowan, the über US celebrity painter.  Cowan’s work is a mash of 1950s kid’s book illustration and the heroic poses of classic Soviet portraiture. Nowhere is this style more evident than in his 2011 portrait of Steve Wynn, the Picasso-prodding casino mogul, with his then-wife Elaine. Cowan is also court painter to the Trumps. His 1987 painting of the President elect won some notoriety when Donald Trump discovered that the left hand had not been completed and had to fork up another $2,000 on top of the $24,000 commission price to get it done. Cowan has also done a painting of the Trump kids but, so far, no Trump wives. His Trump portrait is currently hanging at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach, Florida. You can see Cowan talking here about Trump commissioning the painting. The only art Trump has mentioned so far as President Elect is his intention to put a Jacob Epstein bust of Churchill into the Oval Office.

Images: Top, Wolfe Cowan’s portrait of Steve Wynn and his wife Elaine. Middle left, Wolfe’s Trump and right, Donny Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Tiffany. Bottom, Jacob Epstein bust of Churchill with an unidentified admirer

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A is for animal…and art

When we first entered the world of animals making art it was via Ronnie van Hout. He not only had a healthy respect for animal artists but went so far as to put himself in their place. So for the last ten or so years , OTN has relentlessly reported on new trends in this amazing and distinctive world. No pun was too terrible and no animal was excluded. We covered flies, maggots, chimps, horses and cats. If it made art and it was an animal, it was in.

Our readers responded by sending in ideas for new animal art stories but because many of them did seem to be rather confused about the very idea of animal creativity, six years ago we set some rules around what we would cover. 

1.    Sock puppets cannot be animal artists or, in the case of elephants, part of an animal artist. Animal artists cannot be stuffed or mechanical.

2.    Animal artists cannot be ridden or physically controlled by a human being. The result of riding an inked-up horse over a canvas is about as animal art as a bicycle tire print. The same goes for something like a couple of guys holding up a seal with paint on its nose and using it like a pencil.

3.    Human beings holding up canvases for animal artists to work on is marginal and if the canvas is moved by the human it is not animal art it is human assisted animal art, a category we try not to cover.

4.    Human beings wearing animal costumes, no matter how convincing, are not animal artists.

5.    The jury is still out on zoo animals as artists.

6.    Children, no matter how talented, are not animal artists while ironically, flies are.

Looking at recent submissions it has to be said no one even glanced through those rules. If you are a regular reader you will know that we have threatened (and then feebly reneged when another great animal art story came our way) on never doing another post about animals making art. No more Woma the painting snake and Zeppy the creative cockatoo. Sad, but this time, true.

The best of OTN animals making art 

Paw relations 
Chimp can chimp do 
Horsing around 
Monkey photography 
Bacon…the pig 
Brent the painting chimp 
Chooks paint 
Chimp champ 
Camera cat 
Squirrel goes nuts on art 
Pony painting 
Maggots make art (seriously)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


The American artist Chuck Close once said, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs –the rest of us just show up and get to work’. For most artists that work is still done in a studio. A couple of weeks ago we got to visit three of them and also watch Kate Newby set up her latest exhibition in Auckland.  So here you go. et al.’s Henderson studio during preparation for an installation at the Govett-Brewster, Dan Arps in his studio in West Auckland and John Parker’s first firing after his survey exhibition at Te Uru.

Last word on studios to Philip Guston, ‘I go to the studio everyday because one day I may go and the Angel will be there. What if I don't go and the Angel comes?’

Image: Dan Arps, studio chair

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Art at work

TV was finally broadcasting seven nights a week, Ray Columbus & The Invaders' Till we Kissed won the Loxene Golden Disc Award, New Zealand joined the Americans in Vietnam and TEAL changed its name to Air New Zealand. In Wellington, 1965 was also the year that the ICI building, designed four years previously, was constructed as the first glass curtain wall building in the city. Modern plus. Perhaps as a sweetener for allowing the building to exceed the height limit of 25.6m by nearly 40 percent, Jim Allen was commissioned to create a mural for the foyer. The installed work is three abutting concrete panels, each around 7 x 3 meters. It’s acknowledged as the first of Allen’s publicly commissioned works, although his well-known Christ figure in John Scott’s Futuna Chapel was completed four years earlier. Thanks to the recent shake in Wellington, ICI House (now known as Deloitte) is to be demolished as soon as possible. Wellington City Council has offered its best efforts to save the mural although a recent statement noted that, 'the dangerous condition of the site means no one will be allowed to enter the building before demolition starts'.

Sources: Arch Centre and Scoop

Monday, November 21, 2016

Vote damn you

Unless it’s a statue of a sporting hero or retired politician, putting large sculptures into a public space has always been a high-risk. Usually the fuss is geared up by the media prodding readers to make an extreme response so they can report it back as news. Perfect storm. Even better new tech tools enable editors to come up with ‘surveys’ to check the racing pulse of the public sculpture loving public. Loosely worded and structured these often set out to net naysaying.

So nice to see that New Plymouth rallied to the idea of yet more Len Lyes in their backyard. When the first Wind wand was erected many New Plymouthites responded by sticking up their own versions in a gesture that was part cheek, part my-kid-could-do it. This time a cluster of half a dozen mini-me Wind wands was put to the test in a poll of just over 1,000 people by the local newspaper. Forty percent were positive about this specific project, another 18 percent were positive about public sculpture in general and neutral about the project, and another 10 percent neutral to positive. Just 32 percent were strongly opposed. Given that two out of the four voting categories (‘ I like it’ and ‘It’s ok’) were tilted with negative overtones (‘but I’d like to see something different’ and ‘or I don’t really care too much’) that would have to be a pass. Please feel free to move around the cabin.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016

Spaced out

OK, the ‘news’ is that Te Papa is developing a new space down on level 4. Given that this is Te Papa’s third run at defining space for its art division it feels as though it is still struggling to tell what it calls ‘the story of art’. This round is not exactly a ‘bold’ move but it does seem that at last Te Papa has recognised that art is a relatively cheap way to fill new exhibition spaces and generate new content. The words ‘experiences’ and ‘immersive’ were used too often for comfort, but let’s hope that that was an effort to be on trend rather than a realistic aspiration.

The downstairs space will have eight meter walls (about the same as the current fifth floor gallery) and about 35 percent more space will be added.  The new space will be 860 square meters – a comparison for those who know it - the old Michael Lett space on Great North Road was around 650 square meters). There’ll also be a new staircase to the galleries on floor five. The budget for all of this is $6 million and it will be launched in December 2017.

So what is the ‘new direction’? There isn’t one really, but art has been given priority in the overdue ‘renewal’ of Te Papa. Maori and Pacific art will get increased attention and more collecting resources. Given the $million plus paid for Michael Parekowhai’s piano and the inevitable investment in Lisa Reihana post-Venice, you’d think that this idea was already well in play.  There was some talk of NZ art being given a global focus but we’re not quite sure yet what that means. Talk of collection exhibitions and even curated exhibitions Oh, and women. Te Papa will fill gaps etc and foreground women’s art. Ironically the mock-up of the new gallery features three giant guy works with Gretchen Albrecht and maybe behind the piano an small Ani O’Neill standing in for women.

So a PR exercise really demanding the usual Te Papa wait-and-see. Still at least there is an acknowledgement that art has the potential to attract audiences in its own right. But we kind of knew that already. 

Image: Warren and Mahoney sketch plan for the new gallery space

Way to go

This morning we’ll be at Te Papa bright and early to hear how it proposes to achieve ‘A bold new direction’ for art. We’ve already posted that it probably involves shifting the art down from the fifth floor but let’s hope it also includes news of a long overdue exhibition programme. To be anywhere close to ‘bold’ Te Papa will have to offer more than its current output of collection theme shows, housekeeping for most art museums. The last large scale curated Te Papa exhibition we can recall was Rita Angus and that was eight years ago (ok they did a Brian Brake show seven years ago but you know what we mean). We’ll live tweet the event and post more fully on what went on later in the morning.

You can see the list of Te Papa’s past exhibitions here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Free stuff

Here at the OTN Educational Foundation we are always on the search for innovative ways to advance the science of art. Over the years the OTNEF has achieved remarkable results through its research programmes. We are now delighted to announce the latest topic in our PhD4U® scheme.  The lucky MA student who chooses to take it up will find the award to be absolutely free, with any financial profits subject to the usual commissions.

The 2016 PhD4U® Award topic: Have you ever noticed how cartoonists portray art? It’s kind of cool. For paintings they often just used squiggly lines but sculptures nearly always have holes in them. Looking at our database of 15 examples (many of them illustrated above) it appears the key artist drivers are Picasso, Kandinsky and Hepworth. As with most brilliant observations, however, there is probably more to it. This PhD-ready-idea is now on offer to the first lucky student to apply. Go get 'em.

Images: top. Paintings. Bottom, sculptures

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A horse in striped pajamas

When Picasso famously said, 'It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child’, he obviously didn’t mean doing things that looked like kids had made them but rather retaining the uncluttered freshness of childhood’s vision. But what if you could do both? That’s obviously what Dom’s father thought when he decided to Photoshop 3D versions of his son’s drawings. Go here to see more of these brilliant reversals.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Marti Friedlander 1928-2016

It was a shock to hear that Marti Friedlander has died aged 88. It was a shock not just because such an important contributor to our visual culture has gone, but to see her age on the screen. Anyone who knew her automatically had her age wiped clean by the force of energy that was Marti. So curious, so hospitable, so engaged with the now. Our first meeting was at publisher Alister Taylor’s house in Martinborough. Alister had suggested to Marti that he should publish the photographs she had been taking of artists in their studios. We’re not sure how we lucked into it as a project, but we became the writers and for two years we followed in Marti’s tracks and interviewed the artists she had recorded. On a couple of occasions we even got to see her at work: all waving arms, insistent charm and that gravelly laughter that put people at ease as she snuck in her shots.  If there was one word you could pin to Marti it was irrepressible and when you put a camera in the hands of irrepressible you get the shots others miss as they pack up their gear. Turning the pages of Contemporary New Zealand painters, the book we worked on together, you can see in every image Marti’s utter conviction about the place of artists. She thought they were cultural heroes. Takes one to know one.

Image: Marti's portrait of Allen Maddox in Contemporary New Zealand painters. Allen refused to let us publish our piece on him so Marti's photos were his only record in the book.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The truth is out there

We were in Auckland – the place desired by a surprising number of people given where it is – last week. The city may be the worst in the country when it comes to picking a new slogan, but it sure knows how to present contemporary art. Two of the best shows we saw both featured artists who live off shore and who have both chosen the United States as their new location. Strangely, both of them have also chosen to show all or part of their exhibitions off-site from their dealer gallery spaces (Hopmoss and Letts). It gets spookier. Both Fiona Connor and Kate Newby (yes, they’re both women too) are also featuring the commercial brick making industry as a central theme.

Images: top and bottom left ,Fiona Connor at her Hopkinson Mossman exhibition and top and bottom right Kate Newby's at Michael Lett

Friday, November 11, 2016

Window shopping

One thing the couple having  sex pressed up against the window of a cheap London hotel probably didn’t think of at the time was how much they looked like a Francis Bacon painting. As he American artist Ad Reinhardt said, ‘Art is art, everything else is everything else.’
Images: left window undressing in London and right Francis Bacon's Study from the human body in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria 

Thursday, November 10, 2016


The arts won’t be big on the horizon of the newly elected President of the United States. Trump hasn’t had much to say on the arts throughout his campaign for the White House and no policies by Donald Trump on Arts & Culture have been documented. As a committed low brow, one of Trump’s most famous engagements with the arts concerned his own image when he purchased a portrait of himself, possibly with money from his own charitable foundation.

One of Trump’s few public statements on the visual arts was made during the fuss over the exhibition Sensation: young British artists from the Saatchi collection when it was shown in 1999 at the Brooklyn Museum. The then mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani objected to The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili and attempted to close the exhibition down. Trump came out in support claiming, ‘It's not art. It's absolutely gross, degenerate stuff. It shouldn't be funded by government.’ While he conceded there were First Amendment difficulties with such an approach he felt they could be solved by having work of this sort exhibited in private museums. If he were President, Trump told reporters, he would cut federal funds for ‘offensive or obscene art and … ensure that the National Endowment of the Arts stops funding of this sort.’

The final art connection belongs to Trump, ‘I do what I do out of pure enjoyment. Hopefully, nobody does it better. There’s a beauty to making a great deal. It’s my canvas. And I like painting it.’

Image: Havi Schanz’s painting of Donald Trump

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Some words on mountains

One indication that distance still looks our way is the brazen theft of ideas from international artists. The latest in a long line of nz exploiters is Dulux taking Ed Ruscha for a walk around the city. Here are a few other OTN posts featuring global artists being ‘homaged’ by ad agencies and designers:

Ruscha (again)

…and in the New Zealand division:

Parekowhai (not really, but a big OTN favourite copycat)

Images: left Dulux advertisement and right Ed Ruscha Wall rockets

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Move, move, move

Te Papa has always been bad for art. From the early days of Ian Wedde’s curation when art was used as back-fill to illustrate ‘our stories’ to now when it’s just the permanent collection sliced and diced into endless theme shows, art has always been filed under T for tiresome obligation.  Up on the fifth floor, out of the way (retailers talk of a 30 percent drop in customers with each floor up), it’s been a sorry fall from grace since Te Papa took control of the National Art Gallery.

So when word gets out that art is to be moved down a couple floors, it’s got to be a good thing, right? Maybe. It will certainly be good to get it out of the low-slung area that was originally designed as a library and the long promenade that was initially pegged for functions, but let’s not get too excited. It will still be a move to another repurposed space and Te Papa’s art problems are more about differentiating the audiences it wants and figuring out how to engage them over the long-term. 

Still, as they said when Te Papa was being built, ‘you have to give it a chance’.  (#yeahthatworked). So in the spirit of here's-hoping, let’s see if a recent invitation to ‘arts stakeholders’ to hear about a ‘bold new direction for the arts at Te Papa’ on 18 November is going to be about more than just the art going down. We'll let you know.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Why can’t Wellington City Council get it up?

What’s going on in Wellington?  A year ago Neil Dawson’s suspended sculpture Ferns was taken down for repair after almost 20 years hanging above Civic Square. It now needs to be replaced at a cost of $210,000. Not a surprising outcome given Wellington’s infamously challenging environment for outdoor sculpture. Ferns was basically a gift to the city via the Wellington Sculpture Trust and a wide range of other sponsors.  The Council’s job was to to keep it in the air. 

So having relentlessly used Ferns as a City Icon and PR tool since day one why is the City Council sitting back as a $55,000 begging bowl approach via Boosted is deployed to help with the replacement? The public, the corps and the philanthropists did the fund raising the first time. This time it’s the Council’s turn. They are the ones who have converted this artwork into a symbol for the city and blatantly used it as a city logo. Had they asked an ad agency to come up with a campaign to do a similar job $210,000 would be getting off cheap (Te Papa’s thumbprint cost around that 20 years ago). Budget line? Marketing.

Friday, November 04, 2016

One day in the Rugby Seven’s board room

Chair: We need to do something if we are going to keep this show in Wellington.

Secretary: Last year’s attendance numbers are a bit grim

C: that’s like saying losing Ritchie is annoying

M: We need to work out the primary drivers. What would make a guy come to the Sevens?

S: That’s easy, it’s the primo opportunity to dress up as a woman.

C: Or a police officer, we had lots of police officers

S: I think most of them are women

M: So we’re talking gender bending, the old switcheroo

C: Don’t remember any Roos…couldn’t have been though (he drifts off)

M: Ok then let’s turn the publicity on its head. What’s the most opposite thing ever to rugby?

S: Minuets? MENSA? Chess? Art?

M: ART! That’s it, that’s perfect. Let’s go with art

S: What sort of art?

M: Something that no rugby enthusiast would have ever thought of, something really obscure

S: Like late period de Kooning for instance?

M: What’s that.

S: Paintings the American artist did when he was in the throws of dementia

M: Would rugby people know about them

S: Doubt it.

M: Then let’s go with D. Crooming then

And that is what they did.

Images: bottom, de Kooning

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Art in the movies: Doctor Strange

As we’ve seen over the years there’s a lot of art mixed into the movie business. Copycat Rothkos, Picassos, endless Davids and art collections as backdrop but here’s a twist. The latest Marvel Comics universe pic Doctor Strange has reached into a by-way of contemporary video performance. Art enthusiast Tilda Swinton is surely aware of (if not indeed best friends with) Ed Atkins and her performance in Dr. S as ‘The Ancient One’ is straight out of Atkins’s playbook. Eyes darting, teeth flashing, forehead rippling, bald-headed Swinton brings performance art to the big screen. Nice job.

Images: top to bottom left to right, Swinton, Atkins, Atkins, Swinton, Swinton, Atkins

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Head count

When it comes to public sculpture decapitation tends to go with the territory. For instance here in NZ we’ve had a few examples including Sir George Grey beheaded in ransom for Treaty grievances in 1987. And it’s not just a secular phenomenon, evidenced by a recent smash and grab in Canada that took away the head of the baby Jesus. Although this wasn’t the first time the kid had got it in the neck, it did inspire one of the parishioners to take action. Like Spain’s Cecilia Giménez who famously tuned up a fading fresco of Christ with her own improvements (aka Beast Jesus), Heather Wise got a lump of clay and knocked up her version of BJ and stuck it where a head needs to go. OK it was a terracotta rather than marble but the thought was there. As Father Lajeunesse said in an attempt to calm upset church-goers, ‘It’s a first try’.

Images: left, sculpture by Heather Wise and right, painting by Cecilia Giménez

OTN Beast Jesus stories
Halloween Beast
Digital Beast

Tuesday, November 01, 2016


For New Zealand’s size there have been some pretty substantial philanthropic contributions made to contemporary art. Some obvious starters: Charles Brasch, Jenny Gibbs, Alan Gibbs, Robin and Erika Congreve, Denis and Verna Adam, James Wallace and, top of mind today, Fiona Campbell. Later today A+O will auction most of the works Campbell and her team toured to schools over the last ten years. 

Who’d have thought that Trade Me would have ended up sending contemporary art to school kids around the country. Thanks to a windfall from the sale of the online market place, and after asking herself ‘what the hell am I going to do with all this wealth?',  Fiona Campbell decided to deck out two trucks, fill them with contemporary NZ art and drive them round the country.

It wasn’t cheap. The total enterprise cost around $7.2 million. That represents an investment of $33 a head for each of the 216,611 students who got to look inside the trucks on the 708 school journey. The art was a mixed bag. Campbell has had two constant advisors - artist Rob McLeod, ‘who pretty much hates everything’, and curator Gerald Barnett, ‘who pretty much loves everything’. Presumably Fiona Campbell herself worked with these two extremes to assemble the collection.

Apparently the work the kids loved most was Andrew McLeod’s A Cautious Paralysis and this is one that has been held back from auction. Perhaps it was a favourite of Fiona Campbell's too along with a few other works not for sale including Fiona Pardington’s Solitary Female Huia and Michael Illingworth’s Girl In The Blue Hat (After Matisse).

Sources: A+O catalogue, rnz interview (Kim Hill and Fiona Campbell) 2011