Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Whither arts journalism?

On the long list of 'debates that will never be resolved', one item that gets the go-around treatment frequently is 'has the internet killed arts journalism/reviewing?'

A recent article that focuses on New Jersey led me to two newish models of funding arts reporting.

In one, the MinnPost - a "nonprofit, nonpartisan enterprise whose mission is to provide high-quality journalism for news-intense people who care about Minnesota", staffed by professional journalists - recently completed a $10K crowdfunding effort to expand their arts reporting

In another, the News & Record of Greenboro N.C. took $15K to fund arts reporting from a non-profit advocates for the arts and distributes funding.  

MinnPost's business model is based on sponsors, advertisers and donors. Crowdfunding to support extra arts reporting seems consistent with that model: donate to buy more of what you want to read. The agreement between News & Record and the non-profit states that the paper "shall have complete independence and discretion", while the non-profit is also clear that reporting is more authentic than paid advertising and therefore more compelling to cultural consumers.

That first article I linked to above paints both these acts as 'desperate' and states that both "[challenge] journalistic ethics to the max".

In New Zealand we suffer for a paucity of paid opportunities for professional arts journalists and reviewers. This problem is not going away. Most people who write, report or comment on the arts are doing it as part of a range of paying-the-bills activities, because as a full-time job it's just not feasible.

We've talked about this a lot in terms of what that means for the writer/commentator (it's difficultly, for example, to write negative reviews when (a) there's so little opportunity to publish that you want to be positive when you do get airtime and (b) you also need to keep friends in the industry) and the artist (who isn't getting good critical feedback, or the coverage needed to develop a career). But what does it mean for our ability to keep existing audiences and develop news ones, if arts coverage keeps dwindling in amount and quality?

People can't be interested in what they never hear about. Newspapers, magazines, radio and tv (on and off-line) are still the best places to raise awareness and create interest. If getting our stories in there means having a debate about what it means for ethics if we look at sources other than old-school paid advertising to get airtime, then count me in. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

On the radio

Belatedly, last week on the radio I spent the whole segment with Kathryn talking about Kara Walker's A Subtlety and debating whether the Instagrammed responses of some visitors could be considered to be "doing art wrong".


Friday, 18 July 2014

Jewellery jewellery everywhere

The cumulative effect of the Wunderruma show preparations and eventuation for me is that I see jewellery everywhere: houses are jewellery, streets are jewellery, trees are jewellery ...

And jewellery literally is everywhere in Wellington right now. This is your final three days to see Wunderruma in the context of Bone Stone Shell and check out new work at Pataka as well, and in this post over on the work blog I explain why you really, really need to do this.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Part swan dive, part belly-flop

Reviews are starting to come in for New York museum MAD's first biennial of 'makers'. Here's Roberta Smith of the New York Times on this 'ambitious, inchoate, sometimes dissatisfying sampling'.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Now hear this

I know podcast recommendations are about as riveting as being told about someone's dreams but seriously - this 99% Invisible episode about naming companies (ie. companies that are paid to name things) is fascinating. Different kinds of names, different naming philosophies ... fascinating.
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Saturday, 12 July 2014

Yet more

On the other side of the world, sight unseen, I continue to be fascinated by responses to Kara Walker's A Subtlety. The latest: a comparison between the success of that work and Jeff Koons' latest outdoor sculpture, as public art.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Some might balk

The Victoria and Albert have followed through on their promise with rapid-response collecting to get a mini-show out in the galleries, but it's the new exhibition 'Disobedient Objects' that sounds like it's going to ruffle up some important conversations:

The curators have also created a blog, with downloadable “how-to” guides, showing instructions for making a shield in the form of a book and a tear-gas mask out of a plastic bottle. 
Some might balk at such a politically charged exhibition at a publicly funded institution, but the curators at the Victoria and Albert say the museum has had a long history of socially engaged collecting, and today they see part of its mission as exploring the design of social movements and the social history of everyday objects. 
“It’s there, it’s out in the streets, so why don’t we discuss it in here?” Mr. Roth said. “It doesn’t mean that we think the same way. It doesn’t mean that we support these kinds of movements. It’s a platform for debate.”

Monday, 7 July 2014

Personal histories

A few weeks after being quite shaken by the Instagrammed responses to Kara Walker's A Subtlety comes this thoughtful interview with a volunteer docent at the ex-factory installation, who also worked in the Domino Sugar refinery for 20 years.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Instagram thoughts

I continue to struggle with Instagram. I enjoy using it, and like every user, I'm delighted to open the app and discover 6 new orange hearts, flicking eagerly to the News page to see who likes what. But I'm unsettled by the way it's effecting my gaze, making me look at the world as a primarily photographable thing. I find this tiring (I wonder often what it's like to be someone like Peter Peryer, with photos floating half-taken in front of your vision everywhere you turn) and shallow (I'm definitively not a photographer, and there's no inner artistic vision guiding this activity). 

And yet. At the same time, I'm intrigued by how it is massively upping people's visual game; just the sheer amount of looking, sharing, responding that goes on. I was thinking the other day about what makes working at an art gallery special, and one of the most basic things is that you spend all day looking at things. Your visual database keeps expanding, and it changes your sight. I think Instagram is doing something similiar.

My friend Virginia pinged me a link to Ben Davis's Ways of Seeing Instagram the other day, where Davis looks at Instagram through the lens of John Berger's Ways of Seeing. It's a fascinating piece.

From Berger:

Adults and children sometimes have boards in their bedrooms or living-rooms on which they pin pieces of paper: letters, snapshots, reproductions of paintings, newspaper cuttings, original drawings, postcards. On each board all the images belong to the same language and all are more or less equal within it, because they have been chosen in a highly personal way to match and express the experience of the room’s inhabitant. Logically, these boards should replace museums.

From Davis

Isn’t it striking that the most-typical and most-maligned genres of Instagram imagery happen to correspond to the primary genres of Western secular art? All that #foodporn is still-life; all those #selfies, self-portraits. All those vacation vistas are #landscape; art-historically speaking, #beachday pics evoke the hoariest cliché of middle-class leisure iconography. (As for the #nudes, I guess they are going on over on Snapchat.) 
Why this (largely unintentional) echo? Because there is a sneaky continuity between the motivations behind such casual images and the power dynamics that not-so-secretly governed classic art.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Well, hello there

The news has just broken that Lara Strongman has been appointed senior curator at Christchurch Art Gallery.

The Gallery has obviously had a challenging few years, and has risen to every one o those challenges, keeping a vibrant presence locally, nationally and internationally with ambitious outreach exhibitions and events, online developments, and projects such as the fundraising for Michael Parekowhai's Venice Biennale work.

Having said that, like all the art loving public in this country, I'm so looking forward to seeing the rehung gallery when it re-opens late next year.

Lara will be leading the curatorial team as they develop those shows. I worked with Lara ten years ago at City Gallery Wellington, chiefly on her Shane Cottom show and publication. She has a magisterial grasp on exhibition development, a deft and witty writing style, a real love for the physicality of art works, and great equanimity. I admired her tremendously while working with her, learned an enormous amount from her, and am very excited to have her back in the public gallery world.

Casting around

On the search for new (or new to me) podcasts, I recently returned to 99% Invisible, and fell head over heels for this piece on sports uniforms.

That podcast put me on to Bullseye, which I'm queueing up for my next Sunday night cooking / ironing / sorting my life out session. (My friend Emma does these charming weekend lists. My Sunday night is like her weekend notes, but without the 'charming' bit.)

Speaking of Emma - her recent piece on where New Zealand crafting is heading is interesting; partly because I deal every day with the concept of 'craft' at work, and none of it (well - 99% of it) doesn't involve bunting. Or owls. And yet we share and try to differentiate words, which is why in a single speech you'll hear me dot between craft, art, applied art and design - because words are hard.