Friday, 29 August 2008

Because people who read art blogs obviously don't get sport

a professional football player (a fit person who can consistently kick with accuracy)


I began following Shane Cotton's work closely in 2003.* Over the past five years, as I've seen his work in dealer and public gallery shows, one of the things that really interests me about the development of his work is that it makes more sense to me in retrospect.

For example, the move from the big black paintings made around 2000 - especially He Pukapuka Tuatahi, one of my all time top 10 favourite paintings - to works like Shooter and Silvereye (2002) confused me. There was something unanchored about the imagery, a sense that it didn't all sit together right.

But then in 2003 came the huge diptychs shown in the City Gallery survey show, and everything fell together - the vast black spaces, the flaming airbrushed white light, the floating forms.

Likewise, I was thrown off a bit by the 2004 show at Hamish McKay's, the black white and blue paintings that depicted ancient British monuments.

But then the next body of work came online - such as those shown in 'Four Times Painting' at the Adam - and again, things snapped into place for me. Paintings like Red shift had the same effect on me as He Pukapuka Tuatahi - the seductive depth, the sexy surface, and sense that the artist is sharing something meaningful with you, that if you just look long enough you'll understand the mystery.

Last weekend I ambled along to see Cotton's latest show at Hamish McKay. That's what got me thinking about how I understand and follow the shifts in Cotton's works. There's something interesting going on here. Forgive me - I try to avoid sounding art-wanky as much as possible - but there's a change happening between figure and ground, in how Cotton places elements in the painted space, and how they relate to each other, and this all emphasises that what you're looking at is a painting. And all this stops you from saying, oh look, more birds, and hey, that's a stag, only not, and makes you think these are paintings and I haven't spent enough time thinking about Cotton as a painter cos we've all spent some much time talking about what the symbols mean and we've forgotten to think about the fact the he's a painter and ask what does that mean?

At the moment, the paintings don't feel to me that they've completely gelled. But that makes me excited, because I know that what comes next is likely to be amazing, and I'll look back and say oh, so that's what was coming.

*I know, I know, I was late on the scene

Shane Cotton works, from top

Shooter and silvereye, 2002, oil on canvas. From the Art+Object website
Broken water, 2003, acrylic on two panels. From the Kaliman Gallery website
Black rocks, 2004, acrylic on canvas. From the Hamish McKay website
Red shift, 2007, acrylic on canvas. From the Kaliman Gallery website
Veil, 2008, acrylic on canvas. From the Hamish McKay website

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

better, better, better, better

For those of you still puzzling over my repeated statement that using a feedreader will make your life better (or at least more interesting) - check out this Common Craft video.

And also on the theme of better, a Flickr set from the IMA, showing the conservation of a Eliel Saarinen sideboard.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Plop art

Just in time for One Day Sculpture, the New York Times affirms that "public sculpture — that is, static, often figurative objects of varying sizes in outdoor public spaces — has become one of contemporary art’s more exciting areas of endeavor and certainly its most dramatically improved one."

What are you thinking? Take Six

'Natural language queries' are a growing trend in search behaviour, where people are 'asking' search engines questions using conversational syntax, rather than entering keywords as their search queries.

Here's a selection of natural language queries from the Best of 3 keyword search hits from the past month:

what do gretchen albrecht and rolf hotere have in common?

is art history a good degree major?

what are three deep words to describe a person?

what does curator mean?

what are two words to describe an artist or a painting?

how wealthy is jeff koons?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Last post for today, I promise

Can some one please tell me when public art galleries stopped being part of the public domain?

Is it really still okay to call to name your child "Gwendoline"?

Well, of course it is. Far be it from me ....

But you'll be bucking a major trend. The NSW government have just launched a nifty little application (built on Adobe Flex) which visualises trends in baby names over the past 100 years.

Playing with 100 years of Baby Names reveals that:
  • Angus and Hamish have both skyrocketed since 1960
  • If your name is Gavin, you were extremely likely to have been born around 1970
  • Kylie and Charlene have very similar profiles
  • Tayla > Taylah > Taylor
  • In the ever popular (but, now, probably sadly dated) Angelina vs. Jen debate, Angelina is winning hands down.

Is it really still okay to call people "spinsters"?

That's the unmarried women spinster, not the media type.

Art: What motivates big collectors to do what they do? - Edward Sozanski

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Cry me a river

I've never cried in an art gallery. Books regularly end with me in a snuffly heap - from a book about a grizzly bear going to his death when I was about 7, through to Hilary's Mantel's French Revolution epic which had me bawling into my pillow on Monday night - but nary a tear before a work of art.

Maybe James Elkin can help me. I've just found out that his 2001 book Pictures and Tears : A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings is (almost entirely, as far as I can make it out) reproduced on Google Books.

More MoMA goodness

Last week I pointed to MoMA's Dali online exhibition - not my cuppa tea artistically, but a lovely site.

So here's another beauty from MoMA: the online exhibition that accompanied the Colour Chart exhibition earlier this year.

Can I email you a link to a page within the site? No. Can I use my best-beloved Picnik plugin to manipulate a screenshot? No. Can I copy & paste text for my personal research use? No. Does it have a purity to its layout, a playfulness to its navigation, and a plain-spoken tone in its language? Oh, yes. Yes it does.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Best liners

"I don’t care what Robert Kusmirowski intends by his painstaking reconstruction of the Una-bomber Ted Kaczynski’s cabin; it’s dumb."

Peter Schjeldahl: Feeling Blue - Artists get serious, The New Yorker

Friday, 15 August 2008

Theft is big

As Over the net has previously noted, theft is one of the classic memes in the main stream media art coverage.

Several art theft stories are chasing their tails around the newspapers at the moment, what with the FBI looking for the owners of a stash of pieces found in the home of a collector who turned out not to be what he purported (oh, come on, who hasn't pretended to be married to a member of the French aristocracy?) and a trial kicking off over a Cezanne stolen 30 years ago.

The true meme-y-ness of this topic was brought home to me by this:

... the section of the Guardian's website given over to art theft stories.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Power to the people

I've written a couple of times before about how I think web-enabled conversations might change the way art institutions/authorities work with (deal with?) their constituencies: see the blog-enabled outcry over proposals to drill for oil near Spiral Jetty, and Tyler Green challenging Village Voice art critic Christian Viveros-Faune over a conflict of interest.

Another interesting case is currently unfolding in San Francisco. Well-known SF photographer and blogger Thomas Hawk was recently ejected from SFMOMA by Simon Blint, director of visitor services, not because he was taking photos in the building (SFMOMA has recently relaxed its photo restrictions) but in order to "ensure the safety of the museum’s admissions staff" (from the SFMOMA press release on the incident).

Ten years ago, a person disgruntled about their experience at an art gallery would have complained to their friends, and might have written to the director, or to the local newspaper.

Now the web is a forum where people can share their experiences and air their concerns quickly and freely. Hawk himself is all over the net - Blogger, Facebook, Pownce, Digg, Flickr, Twitter, Feed Friend - and therefore his account of the incident is spreading fast (just like it is here). A copy of the photo on Flickr has (as of the time of writing) been favourited 85 times, viewed more than 11,200 times, and attracted dozens of comments.

As Jack Schofield has pointed out in the Guardian, Blint's online profile is now shattered. And Jeremiah Owyang notes:

  • Businesses should assume every customer (and employee) is capable of impacting an individual or company’s online reputation
  • Companies should already have a crises plan ready to deal with online criticisms
  • Wednesday, 13 August 2008

    Last one, I promise

    Okay - the final installment in my current obsession with the Flickr API - Tag Galaxy.

    Is it the most efficient way of searching for images? Hell no. Is it intuitive, beautiful and surprising? Yes. Give it a try.

    Monday, 11 August 2008

    So beautiful it must be true

    About a month ago I wrote about Multicolor search lab, a tool that let's you search Flickr images by selecting a colour palette.

    Today I stumbled over another oldie-but-goodie, based on the Flickr API. retriever gives you a simple little tool to draw colour sketches, which are then matched to images in Flickr. Your drawings automatically generate urls: this was my attempt to get buildings at night time.

    Again, imagine - just imagine - if you applied this search tool to your online collection. Is it for the hard core researcher? No. Is it an engrossing search experience? Yes.

    Friday, 8 August 2008

    I don't like Dali

    But I do like this MoMA online exhibition of his work.

    Subject matter and the entry page* aside, it's got a lot going for it. My three favourite things:

    1. The opening page. Even if the 'click to navigate' is a bit touchy, it's a lovely way to let people browse the content without having to make any real choices

    2. The use of a small number of focus works, flanked by related works. Although the actual show may not have been set out like this at all, it gives a nicely curated feel to the online version.

    3. Most of all, the simple and beautiful image enlargements. They're a joy to use.

    So, the site has some clunky aspects (like all the navigation instructions - click to open, click to close, click to navigate, click click click). But what I like about MoMA's online exhibitions is that it looks like a designer who loves their job gets to work on them, and it shows.

    *I hate entry pages. Honestly - what's it there for? To ask people if they really, really, want to visit your site? Would you stand at the door of your gallery and ask visitors that?

    Thursday, 7 August 2008

    Repair work

    "Abstract painting," a friend once said to me. "It's so hard to look after."

    In a recent NY Times article Holland Cotter writes about the Guggenheim exhibition Imageless: The Scientific Study and Experimental Treatment of an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting.

    In 2000 AXA gifted a damaged Reinhardt black painting, along with a conservation grant, to the Guggenheim. The gesture, as Cotter describes it, was "the equivalent of donating a body to science": the donation enabled the Guggenheim's team to research Reinhardt's painting methods (which included siphoning most of the oil out of his oil paints, and mixing colours with his blacks) and to practice restoration techniques.

    The final exhibition presents the still imperfect painting along with photos and video from the conservation work, and a group of undamaged black paintings. A great slideshow on the NY Times site mixes installation shots with photos of Reinhardt in his studio and preservation images.

    Image: Reinhardt working on one of his black paintings in July 1966. Photo: John Loengard/Time & Life Pictures, via Getty Images. From the NY Times website.

    Wednesday, 6 August 2008

    Curatorial challenge

    The Rita Angus retrospective has got me thinking about survey shows.

    One of the things that works in favour of the Angus show is the consistency of format and subject matter. It helps a big show hold together for a mass audience who might not be familiar with her work or New Zealand art history.

    So how would a curator work with an artist whose practice has gone through a bunch of twists and turns? How would you take an audience with you from here

    to here?

    Michael Stevenson, Grave Flowers Louisiana, 1992. Oil on board. Image from the Hamish McKay Gallery website.
    Michael Stevenson,
    The gift, 2004–06. Aluminium, wood, rope, bamboo, synthetic polymer paint, WWII parachute and National Geographic magazines. Collection Queensland Art Gallery, image from the APT5 website.

    Monday, 4 August 2008

    The young and the restless

    This weekend I went to see Joanna Langford's The Beautiful and the Damned at the Michael Hirschfeld Gallery at City Gallery Wellington.

    The work was nice enough - not a patch on Langford's installation at the Sarjeant over summer, and probably not as good as works I've seen at Jonathan Smart and Enjoy. The clatter of cutlery and clang of voices from a busy brunch-time Nikau didn't help the work out, and nor did the fishy aroma (kedgeree? glue?).

    Over all though, I walked out thinking - do we still need this space? The Hirschfeld's been operating a short-term exhibition space for Wellington artists for about the last 8 years. Whether it's the space (small, awkwardly divided) or the budget (at a guess, equally small) or the pace of the programme (4-6 weeks per show, a week or less changeover), the Gallery often seems given over to the whimsical, the modest, the obviously local. The last really balls-to-the-wall show I saw there was Dan du Bern's brazenly ambitious 'Protection'.

    On average, over the past 5 years there's been one show per year in the main gallery spaces of a Wellington artist's work: Guy Ngan, Melvin Day, Jane Pountney, Peter Black, Elizabeth Thomson and the ex-Wellingtonian Tony Lane. The young and the restless are consigned to the Hirschfeld: two of the shows listed here were by artists very late in their careers, and one was a memorial exhibition.*

    A redevelopment of City Gallery Wellington was due to be completed in June this year; it was to include the creation of space for the display of the Council art collection and other private collections; a bigger space for the Hirschfeld; and a new gallery for Māori and Pacific Island art. The most recent information (note PDF) I can find about the redevelopment indicates that it is on hold due to notification that the building requires earthquake strengthening. The Wellington Museums Trust SOI (note PDF) seems to indicate the redevelopment will take place in the next financial year.

    So - is the Hirschfeld a problem? And is making it bigger a solution?

    *Bearing in mind, of course, that the Hirschfeld is not the exclusive domain of the recent art school grad and also credit where credit's due, it's the home (dumping ground?) for most shows with a link to community events.

    Friday, 1 August 2008

    Coming up: Conceptual artists comment on Comedy Festival

    Three comedians review the Melbourne Art Fair - The Age

    Antimatter rap

    It's been a while since the my last pop-science related post, so here for your Friday viewing pleasure: physicists rapping about the soon to be switched on Large Hadron Collider. The LHC will bang particles together at extraordinary speed in order to help physicists figure out some important questions about matter and antimatter ("matter's evil twin").

    via Ian Sample at the Guardian