Sunday, 21 June 2015

Weekend reading

The benefit of being low-grade sick is that you can read half the known internet while you go through a box of tissues*

Question: Can Wikipedia survive? 

Naive Answer: Yes. If our project at The Dowse is any example, there's still a butt-ton of sectors who are yet to make the move into contributing. Less Naive Answer: I have no idea how the arcana of Wikipedia management works, and that's a real weakness of the system.

the best marketing strategy is a “transformational project” brilliantly produced

Article about Michael Kaiser and his new book Curtains: The Future of the Arts in America. Focused on the performing arts (and of course the American context) but it's hard to deny his point about artistic uniformity:
“Rather than conceiving great projects—with enough lead time to find the resources needed to pay for them—too many organizations are planning art that is inexpensive, undemanding and, frankly, boring.”
Standing with a pile of my books and others on the women who also invented Impressionism side by side with their male colleagues, I wanted to hold a banner declaring that this institution wilfully and persistently distorts knowledge of art’s histories.

Griselda Pollock does a de(con)struction job on some art gallery puffery (oh yes - we're all guilty of it) and the National Gallery in London's claims for its exhibition on Paul Durand-Ruel, "the man who invented Impressionism". One of the most enlivening things I've read in a while.

Scholarship in the service of business

Long article in the New York Times about curators from public institutions moving into the dealer gallery world, which ends with the rather oblique line "Often the interests of a curator are somewhat unaligned with the necessities of a gallery.”

*(Or finish watching Jane the Virgin)

Friday, 19 June 2015

On the radio

This week on the radio I talked about some of the exhibitions and events happening as part of the Matariki festival in Wellington, including He Toi Reikorangi at Mahara Gallery and Ngatai Taepa's survey exhibition at Pataka. We also looked at Britain's decision to put a visual artist on their currency and a few stories I've covered over the past 5 years.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Small accumulations

Yesterday at work we ran our second public Wikipedia training and editing day, focused on improving the coverage of Māori and Pacific artists. It's part of the wider Wikipedia project we've been running since last November.

I'm thrilled at what we've achieved with this project. While we're not creating new knowledge, the way galleries aim to with publishing projects, we're doing a lot of dig up and knit together information about artists, to create networks of links between artists, educators and mentors, galleries and residencies and awards.

This is a screenshot of my contribution page from today.  I've been adding links from our podcast at The Dowse to relevant entries, and then links to Circuit podcasts, and then links to interviews from Standing Room Only, and then doing some work on Emily Karaka's page. It's satisfying because my nerdy art history side comes out to play; it's also satisfying because I can see how all the content we produce can have a long tail. And it's satisfying because information is going into the place where it is most likely to be found.

I now treat Wikipedia editing almost like volunteering. I have the occasional sustained burst, like this weekend, but usually it's micro-additions, a sentence or two added to the right pages when a new show opens or magazine gets published or grants get awarded. I might never get around to doing that Ph.D I ponder occasionally, but at least I'm putting my training to some use on a regular basis.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

On the radio

Today on the radio I'm going to talk about two shows I've enjoyed recently:

Frances Hodgkins: Lace Collars and Calico - Dunedin Public Art Gallery, until 16 August

Tell tails - Christine Hellyar, Maureen Lander and Jo Torr, National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, until 14 August

This June is my 5th anniversary at Nine to Noon: after stepping in to cover a friend in the New Media spot earlier in 2010, I started my fortnightly gig just after I left the National Library and on the day (I think) that I flew out of Wellington to take part in Foo Camp. Pretty much nothing else in my life (except living in Wellington) is still the same. It's the longest job I've had, and I still love doing it.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Look closer

At work this week we started resurrecting some diorama removed five years ago from the Petone Settlers Museum, including a scene of tree felling used to tell a story about deforestation in the Hutt Valley floor (it strikes me that this melted face is a bit of an issue).

Dioramas are intriguing. I think it's the distillation and abstraction that they offer. Their three-dimensional nature means it takes more time for your eye to move around, discovering all the details (more like our experience of the real world than a flat picture) and at the same time the reduction of detail leaves room for the imagination and gives the experience aesthetic rather than realistic (also, when you take a photo of a diorama it immediately looks like you've flicked on the tilt shift tool).

I guess then I was primed for this post from Russell Davies about his visit to the Wellcome Collection's Forensics show. There's a real irony that his main observation of an exhibition that's all about close looking was that "everything was too dark and too small for an old person like me to read. I know they have to keep things dark to preserve the documents but I don't understand why they can't blow things up and stick them alongside the originals."

I always enjoy Davies short observations on attending exhibitions because he brings the lens of user experience design from the web to the gallery setting - and because he has a deep visual affinity. The main thing I took out of this post though was his pointer to the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths, a set of 18 incredibly detailed diorama made by Frances Glessner Lee as an aid for teaching the techniques of crime scene investigation in the 1940s. The diorama are displayed in the building that houses the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, and have been more recently closely documented by the photographer Corinne May Botz.

Corinne May Botz, Unpapered bedroom, from the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths 
One of my favourite podcasts, 99% Invisible, has just done a show in the dioramas. Actually, it's about much more than the diorama, fascinating as they are: the story is really about Lee, the child of a wealthy family who, when she came into her independence, took her interest in crime scene investigations and turned it into a mission to better educate the police force and change the way unexplained deaths are approached.    

Saturday, 23 May 2015

To charge or not to charge - that's not all of the question

An article on Art Info about ticket prices at the newly opened Whitney starts off quite same old-same old and then rapidly gets more interesting.

Take for example the increase in inflation-adjusted dollars for movie tickets and MOMA tickets since the 1930s. An institution like MOMA can raise prices steadily because the tourist market they cater widely to (the 56.4 million tourist visitors to NYC last year) is price-insensitive; a visitor to New York expects to pay and (generally) isn't going to stress about five dollars here or there.

There's also a fascinatingly discussion at the end of the article about alternate pricing models. Scotch discounts for seniors in favour of residents, or start defining 'adult' as 'over 25' in order to reach the more visit-inclined university-aged audience. Or - possibly most intriguing - demand-led pricing, a la Uber.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Public radio and public museums

There's some not-entirely-joined-up thinking floating around in my head about public radio (American, especially, but ours as well) and public art galleries and museums. Something about how radio is moving from broadcast, time-based listening to podcasts, and the way we're all thinking about how to maintain or increase physical visitation (upon which we are funded) whilst appealing to the online audience (which is connected to us by interest and inclination - but not necessarily geography). About how the web feels like the easiest, and most rewarding, place to be innovating. About how the ever-increasing choice of what we as consumers of culture can do with our leisure time, and the worlds upon worlds we can access online, makers us increasingly pickers and choosers - curators, if you will* - of the things we deem worth of attention, and how we can love things, but how we express love through retweets and favouriting - and not through actions that count towards the objects of our affection's bottom lines.

Like I said - it's hazy at the moment. But this afternoon my thinking has advanced a bit thanks to this article by Niemann Lab visiting fellow Melody Kramer, on her research project about public radio membership.

The concepts of membership and loyalty have a long history in the fields of social psychology and organizational behavior. In general, this research shows that people who identify with an organization describe themselves to others in terms of the organization. (For example, people who identify with public media are likely to describe themselves as NPR listeners on social networks and on dating websites.) And when people identify with an organization, they exhibit higher and longer-term levels of loyalty and are more likely to formalize their identification by becoming members through donations. 
Though membership has always been a core part of public media, over the past several years, public radio has been grappling with new questions concerning membership and listener loyalty. The traditional form of building membership and leveraging organizational loyalty — the pledge drive — has declined in effectiveness, and new conversations are beginning about how to recruit and retain members who access content off-air.

Kramer is documenting her fellowship on Github (I love the daily blow-by-blows where she struggles to stay on top of her inbox AND kickstart her residency). Most interesting so far is this thought experiment about what a public radio station would look like if she started one from scratch - because blow me down if it doesn't sound exactly like what one of my museum friends would write.

Anyway. I'll keep following Kramer and if her thinking helps mine get clearer ... well, that would be a godsend, and you all will be the first to hear it.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Pay day

When I listen to my favourite podcasts - Slate Culture Gabfest, 99% Invisible, NPR Happy Hour - I feel bad when the sponsored ads come on. Not bad because I don't want them there - bad because 90% are products I can't use (, anyone?) and therefore I feel like the hard-won sponsorship dollar, based on listener numbers, isn't being followed through on by this particular listener.

In the Kickstarter-environment, I've come to see these sponsored ads as a way that I can support the podcasts I enjoy. I donate my ears to them. I never skip them, because I appreciate that these businesses are helping make sure that something I really enjoy continues to exist. It is unlike any other advertising relationship I can think of in my own life.

So on that note, this article on The Awl is fascinating: Podcasting and the Selling of Public Radio.

Monday, 11 May 2015


A solid article from the Economist on the demographics of American museum directors (check out those age stats) - pity it ends on the over-tooted "or risk becoming irrelevant" note.