Tuesday, 31 July 2007

War art goes online

Archives New Zealand has just released their online War Art database.

The War Art site puts the National War Art Collection of approximately 1500 works online - searchable (warning: selecting the 'advanced search' option when you're on an image record page seems to take you through to Archway, Archive's collection database), browse-able (although I wish there was an easy option to browse by artist name), tag-able (Web 2.0) and over all, elegant and interesting.

Whatever you can say about the quality of the art, this online resource is immensely useful. But the thing that I found most entrancing isn't one of the images.

On the 'What is War Art' page, Archives have loaded up two newsreel clips: 'War Artist ... Introducing Captain Peter McIntyre' and 'Artists in Uniform'. The latter is especially fantastic.

In it, Russell Clark introduces a 1944 exhibition of war art, and we are given 'candid reactions' from the crowd. But the real guts of the short clip lie in the question Clark is asked: What do New Zealanders think of artists? You've got to check it out for yourself.


Russell Clark, Assault course, Linton, c.1943-1944. Ref #: AAAC 898 NCWA 138. From Archives New Zealand's War Art website.

Peter McIntyre, Blood transfusion in desert dressing station, c.1941-1943 . Ref #: AAAC 898 NCWA 171. From Archives New Zealand's War Art website.

Allan Barns-Graham, Daily ration party, September 1943-1944. Ref #: AAAC 898 NCWA 92. From Archives New Zealand's War Art website.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Where are the art gallery blogs?

As far as I'm aware - and I'm happy to be corrected - there are two(ish) art gallery blogs in New Zealand: Gambia Castle, and the blog that Litmus started up with Claire Doherty (this is the 'ish' - 4 posts in 10 months).

I find this interesting when contrasted with another part of the cultural sector: libraries.

Libraries and art galleries have quite a lot of common. Both were originally conceived as educational social institutions. In New Zealand, both are most often funded and administered by local councils. Both are trying to find ways of being relevant to the YouTube generation, without sacrificing their ideals and standards.

Blogs are one way that public and university libraries are trying to reach out to their customers. A quick search brought up this array of New Zealand library blogs (and I know it's far from complete):

These libraries are using blogs as a way of telling customers about new resources, events, search tips, websites. Why can't galleries do the same - post photos as exhibitions are installed, get curators to blog the development of a show, ask artists to guest blog, announce acquisitions ....

A key difference between libraries and art galleries is that when you visit a library, you are looked after by librarians and library assistants. When you visit a gallery, you're normally looked after by security guards and front of house staff. Blogging might be a way for art gallery staff to give their visitor communities the feeling that they're interested in talking to them.

Relaxing and having fun

A curious wee article on the Creative New Zealand website at the moment recounts a recent visit to New Zealand by Alan Brown, an American consultant who gave workshops in Auckland and Wellington.

Brown's research "focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and on helping cultural institutions, foundations and agencies to see new opportunities, make informed decisions and respond to changing conditions." His advice to New Zealand arts organisations:

"We should never lose sight of the fact that the number one reason people attend arts events is to relax and have fun. ... We have to be careful not to over-intellectualise the experience. Our research shows that it's in our nature to over-intellectualise the experience and this can alienate some audiences."

At the end of the article, a selection of comments from feedback cards handed out at the workshops are reproduced, including:

"I intend to use the value framework guidelines to create one for our organisation and to implement these ideas/terminology in our communication with all stakeholders (audiences, sponsors etc)."

You can read the full account here

And download Brown's value framework for art experiences (PDF) here

Friday, 27 July 2007

folksonomy, blogosphere, blog, netiquette, blook, webinar, vlog, social networking, cookie, and wiki

What do these words have in common? According to a British YouGov study, they are the web users' top 10 most hated words.

Blog and wiki are four-letter words - Guardian technology blog

I dredged up this Guardian piece, which is now a few weeks old, after seeing a post yesterday by Lee LeFever of CommonCraft.

Lee wrote about his friend Kevin Flaherty, of Wetpaint, the wiki platform I use for Free tools for free lancers. After seeing the 10 most hated list, Flaherty commissioned Harris Interactive to do a survey, comparing 'wiki' to the terms 'social network', 'blog' and 'online forum'. They found that:

  • 16% of the US online population are familiar with the idea of a wiki
  • 35% are familiar with blogs
  • 76% are familiar with search engines
  • 97% are familiar with toilet paper.
Would a wiki by any other number smell as sweet? - Lee LeFever

The numbers really surprised me - if wiki and blog have such low recognition, then things like RSS are likely to be even lower.

I'm attempting at work to change this in a small way, through an idea called Byte-sized learning. Byte-sized learning consists of small, hands-on sessions, where staff pass skills and knowledge on to other staff who are keen to learn.

For example, I've run a series of half-hour sessions, teaching people how to set up and use Google Reader. More sessions are planned, on topics like social bookmarking sites, uploading images to Flickr, and using online services to deliver large files.

The dual aim of Byte-sized learning is to demystify Web 2 technologies, and to introduce people to tools that will help them do their work faster and cheaper. It's a small thing, but I think worthwhile.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

An oldie but a goodie

I wanted to share this complete evisceration of a vapid piece of art writing by the redoubtable Tyler Green, which I stumbled across this morning. From 2004, but more than worth it.

Stupidity examined - but whose? - Tyler Green

My summer in Germany

Not mine actually - but Melanie Oliver's (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery) and Charlotte Huddleston's (Te Papa).

The curatorial pair were selected by the Goethe Institute, along with four other people from Peru, London and India, to work at Documenta 12 as 'kunstvermittlung' or 'art mediators'.

They've been intermittently blogging their time at Documenta here - and it sounds like they took it a lot more seriously than just tour-guiding:

"The first few days of preparations for the guided tours featured a range of talks around the subject of translating aesthetics into language in order to communicate art. Listening to the whispered translation I was experiencing a further layer of this translation as the discussion of the complexities and subtleties of this, in German, was rearranged into English for my understanding. I appreciated the addition of a further layer of interpretation and the potential of loss through translation."
The Goethe has been a significant benefactor of New Zealand art institutions and professionals, through the touring exhibitions that they've brought out here, and the professional development opportunities that they've made available - mostly to curatorial folks. For some reason, their contribution seems to be largely unsung.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

When mobility scooters go bad

The story of the 35 artworks damaged or destroyed in a freak truck fire while being transported from Invercargill to Dunedin has been all over the news in the past two days.

The truck was carrying works by Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere, Nigel Brown, John Weeks, Dick Frizzell, Michael Hight and Graham Bennett (who lost a 4m-high cast iron sculpture). The works all belonged to collectors or artists, and were exhibited in Invercargill by Milford Gallery Queenstown.

Some interesting points:

  1. The fire was caused by a faulty battery in a mobility scooter which was also being transported in the courier truck
  2. The fire happened on July 10, but came to public attention this week, after someone tipped off a newspaper.
  3. Helen Clark has weighed in, stating that the fire is a tragedy, and that she imagines "that those who own them will be looking for some answers as to how this could possibly have happened".
  4. Worst line of coverage I've seen: "The loss to New Zealand's art world is priceless". Someone's been watching too many Mastercard ads.

Loss of valuable paintings a tragedy, says PM - The Press

Tuesday, 24 July 2007


Photographer Alec Soth is currently musing about this conundrum: while our eyes are round, and camera lenses are round, photographs are generally square or rectangular. He's then done a wee trek through photographic history, digging up examples of circular photographs from the 1830s to the present (including the quite sexy Julia Margaret Cameron work from 1863, Ellen Terry at age sixteen, shown above).

This however is the image that I found really fascinating.

From around 1890, it was taken by a person wearing a vest camera, designed in 1885 by Robert Gray. Originally, the octagonal plate lay behind a false shirt front, with the lens protruding through where a button would have been. Another knob also poked through the fake front, allowing the wearer to rotate the plate to take six images. Gray quickly updated his design so that it could be worn under a normal waistcoat.

The vest camera never really took off, but I still think it's pretty slick.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Holzer on Twitter

These Twitters are (purportedly) written by Jenny Holzer, conceptual art sloganeer extraordinaire. An artist/media match made in heaven - or a very perceptive fake (I might like that more).

[Twitter is a global online community, revolving around the question 'what are you doing right now?', which allows members to ping short IM, email or text messages to anyone who's listening. More on Wikipedia.]

'Jenny Holzer: the only person who should be allowed to Twitter', from John Wiseman, via Boing Boing.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Scape Biennial 2008 curators announced

kind of.

Christopher Moore announced the appointment of Danae Mossman (New Zealand) and Fulya Erdemci (Turkey) as the 2008 Scape Biennial curators in his Artbeat column in The Press on Wednesday. Which is correct. Not to mention great.

However, the announcement doesn't currently appear on the official Scape website, and there's no media release posted on Scoop , on the CNZ homepage or on The Big Idea. Resourcing and all other things aside - it's a web-based world these days, and publicists should be exploiting it.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Getting lucky in the auction room

Charlotte Higgins reported in yesterday's Guardian on the sale of an 18th-century painting in an auction in Market Harborough, Leicestershire:

The estimate on the picture was £300-£500. When its turn came last Tuesday at Gilding's - a small, family-run auction house that holds about 45 sales per year - something truly extraordinary happened. "The atmosphere in the room became very tense - the bidding just went on and on," said the auctioneer, Mark Gilding. The final hammer price was £205,000.

Described in the auctioneer's catalogue as "18th-century continental school, half-length portrait of an aesthete", it depicted a black-clad, bearded man, his face half turned to the right, a rather distant, soulful expression in his eyes.

Speculation is now abuzz that the work is actually an early Titian, dating between 1510 and 1520, and possibly worth something in the region of £5 million. The buyer has not come forward - the vendor picked the work up in an estate sale in 1974.

Stories like this make me happy - I like that there's still room for surprises and discoveries 9and, I guess, false attributions) in today's art market. I do wonder though if the vendor will be pleased that the work sold for 400 times its top reserve, or pissed that they unknowingly let a £5 million Titian slip through their fingers?

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

I heart Helvetica

Continuing in this vein ...

In yesterday's Guardian, AndrewDickinson interviewed Helvetica documentary maker Gary Hustwit. Some interesting facts:

  • A huge H made out of Swiss cheese was created for a showing of the film in Philadelphia
  • Helvetica is the font of the United Nations
  • A Cyrillic variant of the font has been created.
My favourite quote so far, from Massimo Vignelli, the designer who used Helvetica to create the American airlines logo in 1966:

The life of a designer is a life of fight, fight against ugliness, just like a doctor fights against disease.

Helvetica screens in Wellington on 27 and 29 July , as part of the International Film Festival.

Image: still from Helvetica, directed by Gary Hustwit.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Two views of creativity

Innovation is a big topic of conversation at my workplace at the moment. The consensus seems to be that innovation = creativity + action + reflection + further creativity + further action + (you get the idea).

I recently subscribed to Colin Stewart's Arts of Innovation blog. In this blog, Stewart uses David Galenson's work on conceptual and experimental innovators to look at creativity. So, for example, the latest post I got was about Malcolm Gladwell's current project, a book on the American healthcare system, which he describes as being in need of a Cezanne (experimental innovator - building on an idea step by step) rather than a Picasso (conceptual innovator - pushing development forward with massive, unpredictable breakthroughs). [All of which, by the by, seems like a good basis for a 'What kind of modernist master painter are you?' quiz in the next copy of Idealog].

Meanwhile, on the UX magazine site, I've just come across a Nov 2006 article about Creativity 2.E (which goes to show that the current trend for putting '2.0' after everything can be successfully merged with the past trend of adding 'e-' in front of everything) which looks at the evolution of creativity for web workers, and includes gems like this:

[Traditional] skills, talents and abilities are needed – no doubt about it. But what’s also needed is the evolution of them – the next iteration. But what does this look like? An Information Architect who completely grasps Human Computer Interaction but can also think fluidly – can do things like rapidly create prototypes, facilitate user testing, understand visual design and occasionally write copy.

You might well ask at this point, why on earth am I brining these two things together? Well, in one part of my life, I work in web development, which is where I've learnt about the iterative process, granularity and rapid prototyping. In another part of my life I do art things, where Paul and Pablo fit in. So for me, it's grist for some kind of mind-mill, which you get to share.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007


I noticed the above on the Guardian's homepage this morning. It's a work by Florentijn Hofman, and it's part of Estuaire 2007, a mostly open-air exhibition on and in the Loire at Nantes, the brainchild of local curator Jean Blaise. As Joanna Moorhead writes in the Times:

It’s big (30 exhibits), it’s brave (most of the art is out of doors) and – in parts at least – it’s bonkers (think giant plastic ducks, and life-sized half-sunken houses).
While Anish Kapoor's work in the exhibition is housed in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, most of the commissioned works are in or near the Loire, and can be viewed from the twice daily, two and a half hour boat trip that is part of the Festival.

Florentijn Hofman (b. 1977) is a Dutch artist who works across a range of media, from open-air installations to ink on paper. His work - from a brief Google trawl - is summoning up some funny Michael Parekowhai and Rick Killeen flashbacks for me:

Oh - and if you're inspired - the Guardian has opened up a wisequacks thread for punny comments on the big duck....


Florentijn Hofman, Canard de bain, 2007. Currently on show at Estuaire 2007, Nantes, France.

Florentijn Hofman
, work produced for the social art project De Strip in Vlaardingen. From the Galerie West website.

Florentijn Hofman
, En vacance (installation), 2005. From the Galerie West website.

Florentijn Hofman
, Haan, 2005. 102 cm x 72.4 cm. Eeding ink on mc paper. From the Galerie West website.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

BYO white gloves

I was quite excited when I first saw the Tate's 'Your Collection' feature. From the blurb:

Tate Britain displays British art from 1500 to today. Yes, it's a museum, but it's also like a big living room. All those works of art are yours.

Tate has devised a new way of looking at the Displays with a range of themed 'Collections'. These suggest a number of personal journeys you could take, reflecting different moods and enthusiasms and revealing the extraordinary breadth of work on show.

The general idea of Your Collection is that you can use it to virtually curate your own selection of works from the Tate's collection. This is a feature many galleries, museums and online image databases are interested in.

The Tate's sample Your Collection collections include like 'The I'm in a Hurry' collection, and 'The Rainy Day' collection. At first I thought these were 'user-generated content' (i.e. made by visitors to the site) which had been created, submitted and posted.

Then when I had a play at forming my own selection, I discovered a few things:

  1. You can only pick from about 40 images - not from the Tate's online collection
  2. Your 'exhibition' must have 6 images - any less and you're sent back to the storeroom
  3. You can't submit your collection, although the site will auto-generate a (heavily branded) leaflet in PDF format, and allow you to email this
  4. You can only submit a generic blurb, not a comment on each work you've selected
  5. The details of each work (artist, date, title) are not available.

So - despite a very slick interface, and that lovable Tate branding - the Your Collection feature is a disappointing outcome of an interesting and useful idea.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Landscape + irish setter + pheasant = Dollars

A recent post on Free Exchange, one of The Economist's blogs, highlighted Tyler Cowen's discussion of the factors that determine the price of art, featured in his recent book Discover Your Inner Economist. These include:

  1. Landscapes can triple in value when there are horses or figures in the foreground. Evidence of industry usually lowers a picture’s value.
  2. A still life with flowers is worth more than one with fruit. Roses stand at the top of the flower hierarchy. Chrysanthemums and lupines (seen as working class) stand at the bottom.
  3. There is a price hierarchy for animals. Purebred dogs help a picture more than mongrels do. Spaniels are worth more than collies. Racehorses are worth more than carthorses. When it comes to game birds the following rule of thumb holds: the more expensive it is to shoot the bird, the more the bird adds to the value of the painting. A grouse is worth more than a mallard, and the painter should show the animal from the front, not the back.
  4. Water adds value to a picture, but only if it is calm. Shipwrecks are a no-no.

Read the full post

Meanwhile, in the Art Newspaper, Richard Feigen looks at the overheated art market, and points out that several areas - including 16th and 17th century Italian, French and Flemings and the 18th and 19th-century British - seem to have remained immune to crazy price hikes.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Never start a land war in Asia

Like many other women of a certain age (and the occasional man of varied age), I can recite The Princess Bride line for line. That's why I'm pretty excited about the above t-shirt design.

Image: Inigo Montoya t-shirt, Lucky Threadz website.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Christchurch Art Gallery's podcasts

I'm a web editor in a cultural institution. One of my jobs is to drum up new content for our website. And one of the easiest ways of doing that is to take things that are already happening, or already exist, and re-purpose them for online delivery.

Christchurch Art Gallery have just done a really nice job of this by putting their audioguide online. They recently commissioned a new audioguide, which covers 21 works from their permanent collection hang, and is narrated by actor Sam Neill.

Christchurch Art Gallery audioguide download page

When you visit the Gallery, you can hire an iPod loaded up with the audioguide to take with you - so far, so traditional. But by putting the audio online (with an easy interface), the Gallery has made it possible for people to listen to the guide on their computer, or download it to their own iPod (etc).

It's a small but effective thing. Each track is only a few minutes long, and you can see the work being discussed as you listen. I could see these being really useful in a classroom, where students could listen and discuss - or make their own for other works. And in a nice touch, they've also made the transcripts available for download as PDFs.

As far as I know the Christchurch Art Gallery is the first to make podcasts available for collection works, so good on them. Apparently, there's more still to come.

Image: Rita Angus, Cass, c.1936. Collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery. One of the works featured on the audioguide.

Declaration: I was commissioned by the Gallery to produce the script for the audioguide.

Monday, 2 July 2007

A showbiz accountant

An oxymoron? No! Frank Dunphy, 69-year-old accountant and Damien Hirst's manager.

The Guardian posted a fascinating interview with Dunphy by Sean O'Hagan yesterday.

Dunphy, who started out looking after variety acts, now also represents Tracey Emin, Jake and Dino Chapman and Ray Winstone. Both he and Hirst have a story about how they met (pick the one you like the most). However it happened, I see material for a solid Tuesday night movie here: how the been-around-the-block Irishman took the young and reckless artist in hand and made him the (financial) man he is today.

So, what can a show biz accountant do for you?

"Depending on who you believe, Hirst now takes either a 70 or an 80 per cent cut of gallery sales at White Cube and Gagosian. Before Frank Dunphy came on board, the split was the usual 50/50. 'Sometimes,' he says, 'it's even 90/10 in Damien's favour.'"

Which is interesting in view of last week's post, on Ed Winkleman's dissection of the 50/50 rule.

Attention Wellington readers II

Not to be missed: Julian Dashper talking about his work in 'Four Times Painting' at the Adam Art Gallery, Wednesday 18 July 2007 at 12.30 pm.

The work shown here is Untitled (Van Gogh in Auckland), which is part of 'Four Times Painting'. Read a story that may lie behind the title on the Sue Crockford website.

Image: Julian Dashper, Untitled (Van Gogh in Auckland), 2006. Digitalprint on rag paper. Image from the Sue Crockford Gallery website.