Thursday, 28 May 2009

That's a first

Auckland's Starkwhite gallery have posted about a work stolen from a recent opening.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


I have to give some ups to Leonhard Emmerling and his posting on the NZatVenice blog.

After a rather stilted start to the blog, Emmerling has picked up the pace & is giving me what I want as a long-distance follower: heaps of pics and a sense of what it's like to be in Venice during the installation period. If the gallery attendants can keep this up, I'll be a happy arts supporter.

A couple of small suggestions:

  1. As well as the 'Who are your bloggers' sidebar info, how about dropping in similarly sized snippets with pics of the artists, two sentences on their projects, and a link to more info? People (like me) will be pushing viewers straight to the blog, and this info is not currently immediately apparent.
  2. Video. Please give me video of the spaces.
  3. Think about loading the pics to Flickr, then embedding them in the blog. It gives people a chance to link their own photos of the installations to yours, and to leave comments in another forum.
  4. You could also CC-licence the pics so that bloggers and MSM can use them when they're writing you up.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Web muster


Recently, Over the Net drew attention to Victor Berezovsky's new mural on the front of Freyberg Pool, and the expert committee that approved the work. This week, Ed Winkleman posted on debates around whether the public is the best judge of public art, drawing on Jonathan Jones' post about taking part in two debates on public art.

From Jones' post:

It's as if we have, as a nation, turned into the board of some big company commissioning a portrait of the managing director. Or, rather, a bronze statue of John Betjeman, or maybe a gigantic homage to a sprinter like Manchester's B of the Bang (bang and it's gone). Most of the public art we're putting up is worthless.

The best interventions in public space by artists are often confrontational and controversial, from Richard Serra's Tilted Arc to Rachel Whiteread's House. All good art is private before it is public. The secret to finding great art for public spaces – and, for that matter, great art to change attitudes to disfigurement – is to find talented artists who happen to be interested in working in that arena. Then let them indulge themselves.


Frankie Roberto has 3 ideas for how archives can get in on this social media stuff: open nominations for acquisitions, crowd-sourcing transcription, and child labour.


More awesome from the Brooklyn Museum: they've launched a complementary game to their original collection tagging game, Tag - You're It!

Freeze Tag!
encourages people to review tags that have been submitted by the public, but which have had their accuracy or relevance challenged. I've played quite a lot over the last four or five days, and it's both addictive and rewarding.


A really interesting article by Robin Cembalest in ArtNews about how museum and gallery directors are reviewing their physical spaces, exhibition displays, interpretation and more, in light of both the recession and the in-reach that the social web has encouraged over the last few years via Mia Ridge)


The Library of Congress releases one of Dorothea Lange's most famous images under the 'No known copyright restrictions' licence on The Commons on Flickr


The Obama family is shaking up the White House decor, selecting works by Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns and Josef Alpers for display.

Dorothea Lange, Destitute pea pickers in California, 1936. Library of Congress on Flickr

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Repeat viewing

Last night I spoke at Webstock Mini. I found it a bit overwhelming, because of the calibre of the people who spoke with me and the people in the audience, and reverted back to the state of anxiety I displayed giving my first paper to an art history crowd. Not so hardened after all ...

FWIW, here are my notes, which I didn't stick to enough. My talk was based around fandom, and refers closely to this experience.

* * * * *

In rooms like this, we often talk about online communities and managing online communities. If we filled this room with museum and gallery people, we’d be talking about friends groups and managing membership programmes.

But a word that I’ve been thinking about more recently is “fan”. So tonight I’m going to tell a story about art, the web, money, and being a fan.

To start off, a bit of background.

Public museums and galleries in New Zealand are largely funded by government or local councils. They do have sponsorship deals and some get money from renting out spaces and some have foundations or boards that provide financial support, but by and large they keep the doors open and the lights on and the staff employed through taxes and rates. I think that in the coming financial year we’re going to start seeing cutbacks in our museums and galleries here in New Zealand, as councils look for places to trim spending.

In America, it’s a different story. Public funding does not make up a big part of MAerican cultural institutions' budgets: most rely heavily on wealthy board members, hefty sponsorship arrangements, big membership programmes, entry fees, shop revenue and their endowments. None of these things are doing well at the moment.

To throw some numbers around:

  • In March the Getty Museum, the richest arts centre in the world, reduced its operating budget by 25 percent. In the second half of 2008 its investment portfolio fell from $6 billion to $4.5 billion.
  • The Metropolitan Museum’s endowment generates a third of its annual budget; its endowment has shrunk from 2.9 billion to 2.1 billion, and in this financial year it plans to save $10 million in staff costs, laying off more than 10% of its employees.
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art had an endowment with a market value of $346 million in July 2008: by December it had lost 90 million off that, and were expecting to lose more.
  • The Seattle Art Museum lost $5.8 million in annual rents when the bank that was its tenant fell over; its endowment has dropped by 27%.

I’ve been following this since about last October, and the numbers never really meant that much to me, until one weekend in April, when the Brooklyn Museum announced major cutbacks. The details of falling income and cutbacks have become familiar, but this time they really hit home for me.

And that’s because the Museum feels like one of my friends. I’m emotionally closer to them and what they’re doing than I am to any of my local art places. But I’ve never been there. I’ve never been to New York, and with exchange rates being what they are, I probably never will.

And yet …

I've been following them online for years. And that’s nothing out of the ordinary for museums and galleries now.

But what makes the Brooklyn Museum different is that they put names and faces and personal voices to everything they do. It’s not the Brooklyn Museum, a big stone building, talking to me: it’s Shelley from the web team and Will from memberships and Deirdre from the Library and Lisa who does stuff with the mummies.

I see their passion for what they do, in the behind-the-scenes photos they post on Flickr, and the blog article about CT scanning a sarcophagus, and the retweets of people’s cameraphone pics from their visits to the Museum. I feel like an insider. I feel special and included.

It’s by doing this that the Brooklyn Museum lets me – makes me want to be – their fan. I want to stick with them through thick and thin, as if they were a soccer team who’d just been regulated, but who I desperately want to see back in the first division.. So of course, when I heard they were in trouble, the first thing I thought was: how can I help?

Inevitably, I found the answer on Twitter. A call had gone out from one of their other web fans, encouraging people to show their support by buying one of the Museum’s US$20 1stfans memberships.

So I sat down and bought my membership. Then I jumped on my blog, and I wrote about what had happened to my friend, and I said that I’d bought a membership, and then I promised to give away 4 more memberships to readers of my blog.

Now, I know $175 New Zealand dollars isn’t going to do anything to mitigate losing $35 million from your endowment. But I felt like I had to do something, and I hoped that by spreading the word I could rally some support. At the very least, I wanted the people at the Museum who have given me so much to know that I cared.

And I guess this is what I see as a key power of the web. It gives those of us who work in public organisations a chance to open ourselves up online, not just to our customers and our users and our clients, but to the people who might want to be our fans.

* * * * *

In a happy coincidence, everything I love about what the Brooklyn Museum does matched exactly with what another speaker, Nathalie Hofsteede from Give a little, recommended in her talk:

Social media has changed the way people engage around causes and charity. The Generation G(enerous) movement is demonstrating that an online demographic can care about more serious issues than how many friends they have on Facebook. Recent times have seen our charities communicate more like corporate brands in appealing to the giving public, however its time to start the conversation again. Nathalie will explore what donor engagement can look like online and how we can help our most treasured charities bridge the gap quickly and survive a recession.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Three snippets

An interview with Arnold Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum, about the recent cutbacks at the Museum.

Daniel Incandela from the IMA posted to Twitter and Facebook, asking for reader requests for a blog post. The resulting post covers Kanye, motion-detection cameras, online exhibitions and what surprises him about his organisation.

The final line of a recent Peter Schjeldahl review of an exhibition of five paintings from the Norton Simon collection currently on show at the Frick (published in the New Yorker, sadly not available online without registration) strongly reminded me of visiting the Celia Dunlop show at the Dowse:

It helps a lot when the spectre of a particular person, who particularly loved particular things, stands at our shoulder, urging attention, inviting cordial argument, and marvelling at our shared good luck, to be so extraordinarily entertained.

The phrase "marvelling at our shared good luck" exactly captures what I so enjoy about being shown through art collections by the people who've made and loved them.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

For reals, this time

Best of 3 will be on holiday until next week, when hopefully I'm being reporting back on the current shows at the MCA, Sydney.

Friday, 8 May 2009


Randomised thoughts from the end of the week ...

@brooklynmuseum brought the Walker Art Center & Minneapolis Institute of Arts' site to my attention this morning. I haven't yet delved properly into the content, but the design and layout of this collection of tools for teaching the arts is just exquisite, and I'm looking forward to digging into it further. Would it make sense of New Zealand galleries to join forces and aggregate their teaching resources for web users?

Proving how fickle one art consumer can be, this post about the installation of a two-storey high artwork (again, from the Walker) reminded me of how much I love the behind the scenes of exhibition installation, and how seeing paintings propped on sponge blocks and inflatable bunnies being blown up is such a different, more personal, more valued experience than just visiting a hung show like every other punter. On the other hand, it also made me reflect that one of my most-loathed types of art "journalism" is time-lapsed recordings of portrait painting; that's a behind the scenes that can stay there, as far as I'm concerned.

Talking about arts journalism, this week Russell Brown took on the topic of the arts market on Media 7, with a panel made up of Warwick Brown, Hamish Keith and Hamish Coney (curiously not introduced with his Art+Object affiliation). The conversation was kick-started by the topic of the Auckland Art Fair, which according to organiser Jennifer Buckley was largely unaffected by the economic situation.

Russell Brown used the presence of guest speaker economist Don Thomson (he of the stuffed shark) to try to start a conversation about art and the marketplace which Keith deftly turned into a discussion about the art sector's largely overlooked contribution to the economy. This turned into a brief discussion of the lack of media coverage for the arts (output and industry), with Brown rolling out the old saw about the paucity of arts coverage in our daily newspapers compared to sports (more on that later). Russell asked Coney a potentially very interesting question (Russell (paraphrased) You're all old guys. Where's the next generation of art commentators hiding?) which turned into a ramble about how young NZ artists' work doesn't look like young NZ artists' work, just young artists' work.

At any rate, despite being a bit fragmented, it was one of the best pieces of NZ TV coverage of the visual arts I've seen in a long time, in that it was people involved in the sector, axes left mostly to the side, being asked questions by an intelligent interviewer who was interested in talking about more than (a) whether his four-year-old could have done it (b) that a four-year-old had actually done it (c) should the tax-payer be funding it or (d) wasn't it really just pornography under another name?

Back to the arts-sports comparison. I think that one of the reasons that sports gets coverage (and an entire radio station, for goodness sake) and art doesn't is that it's easy and rewarding to be a sports fan. It's hard and often unsatisfying to try to be a fan of an art gallery or even an artist (without shading into stalker territory). I'm going to be mulling over this topic at Webstock Mini on May 19th, if anyone wants to join in ...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Advice to collectors

Just noticed Over the net's latest A2C post, and remembered this gem from the New York Magazine that caught my eye last week ....

Erica Orden writes: "Let’s be clear: Buying art is always a luxury, and especially right now. That said, if you’re sitting on a little money and craving a little beauty, now may in fact be a good time to buy."

Ooh, I have a little money Erica. What should I go for?

Erica recommends:

An under-valued Frank Stella (est. $1.2-1.8 million) (yes - American $)

A lesser Bridget Riley (est. $50,000-70,000)

An Eric Fischl (est. $800,000-$1.2 million) ("if you take a mid- to long-term perspective, his market price has to be adjusted as going up,” says Simon de Pury)

An under-performing Donald Judd (estimates starting at $300,00 and topping out at $800,000)

So, Erica, turns out I missed those vital words bedded in the midst of that one long para; my idea of "a little money" differs from yours ("several hundred thousand") by a factor of of a couple of zeroes. Maybe next time.

Also in this series:

Relative bargains you can't afford

Predicting the art stars of the future

What you can get with $10,000

Switch on

Two quite different art experiences over the weekend.

1. Thrill Me Every Day, a selection of works from Celia Dunlop's private collection, at the Dowse in Lower Hutt.

Celia died of cancer last year, and expressed the wish that her collection be shown and documented (a book is forthcoming). Thrill Me Every Day presents roughly half of the art, contemporary jewellery and ceramics that Celia collected over the past 40 years.

I was lucky enough to visit Celia a few years ago and get a tour of her house. It's really hard to replicate that feeling of a family of works that has grown organically through a house in a gallery setting, although there's an attempt with the display of a set of photos commissioned from Andrew Ross that recorded Celia's home in 2007. Reproducing rooms risks tweeness, like last year's reconstruction of Helen Hitching's gallery at the Museum of City and Sea, and often it's the stories that collectors weave around their collections while they conduct you around that form stronger ties than where things happen to be placed.

To me, the galleries (the three rather awkward small rooms on the left of the ground floor of the Dowse) felt overstuffed. Picking stronger themes and leaving more white space would have made for a more curatorial show, and shown some of the larger works in particular to better advantage. On the other hand, Celia personified abundance for me, and I thought she would have been really happy to see and hear the way people were drawing their own connections, recognising some things, oohing and aahing at others, and just not really getting the big Peter Robinson at all.

2. Billy Apple New York 1969-1973 at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University

You know, I never realised Apple made beautiful work (will he hate me for saying that?).

It might just have been that the documentary photographs brought out the formal quality of Apple's interventions with glass on footpaths and in his West 23rd Street space, but the works shown upstairs at the Adam were a bit of a revelation for me. The neon work in the long skinny downstairs gallery also skirts between grit and beauty, and made the most of that space, which I think works best when you view it from above.

The sparse hang was welcome after the busyness at the Dowse, but unfortunately it emphasised some epic technical fails: with two monitors down, and the projection in the Kirk Gallery not working, I felt like I only saw half an exhibition. The Adam needs to either provide more training to its gallery staff, or get more tech support.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


One of the things that made me happy at the Auckland Art Fair was that Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery brought over two Bill Henson photos from the series that sparked accusations of child exploitation last year (interestingly, the photos at the centre of the debate don't seem to be on the site).

I've actually seen very few of Henson's photos in person (I'm still keenly disappointed that the big survey show a few years back didn't come over here). As much as I love them and think them to be very, very beautiful, I still felt rather uncomfortable looking at them; even in that context. That's the power of them.

Coincidentally, on the trip up to Auckland I read David Marr's The Henson Case, a long investigative essay in which Marr, a Sydney Morning Herald writer, tracks how the controversy was sparked, grew, and abated.

The book is a fantastic (and idiosyncratically Australian - "spruiked", anyone?) and engrossing read. Little details poke out at you: Oxley always gets her hair washed on the afternoons of openings; Henson's neighbours kept cave for him against journalists; all the people at that 2020 culturel forum were on a list-serv. It's fascinating to see not only how the media and politicians worked or responded to the situation, but also the manoeuvres of Oxley and Henson's media handler, and who in the art world spoke out & what they said.

I only wish someone would write something similar about NZ's own donkey in a dunnie fiasco.

Heads up

Things are very busy in Best of 3 land as I try to balance my different personas and prepare for Full Code Press next week.

Posting will be really erratic for the next two weeks, so I recommend either (a) setting up a feedreader if you haven't already or (b) following via Twitter