Friday, 26 February 2010

Web muster

The Brooklyn Museum opens a lab environment - a place where they can share new features they're working on. First up - What is Love?, which displays items from the collection that audiences love. 'Love' is tracked in explicit and implicit ways - from favouriting to time spent on page - and it's interesting to see the differences between what people will say that they love, and what their behaviour shows.

Another question - Is This Art? An iPhone app that lets you take a photo of what you're looking at and, by virtue of "a complex, revolutionary algorithm", get a second opinion on whether it really is just a pile of rubbish.

A NYT feature on Jerome Neuner, a 30 year veteran at MOMA and their director of exhibition design: "his job — one that often goes unsung in the museum world and, particularly if done well, unnoticed by the public — is to serve as a kind of mediator between the visionary (the grand dreams of curators and artists about how a show could look) and the practical (how the show will fit within walls, some of them load bearing)."

I spend quite a lot of time in Flickr, and what I see in there sometimes does make me wonder how the line is drawn between accomplished photographer and artist. Jerry Saltz's Wolfgang Tillman review offers an argument.

And an interesting debate on the notion of a points-based museum membership.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The British invasion

A review of the Paul Nash show at Dulwich Picture Gallery caught my eye over the weekend. I first learnt about Nash's work when working on my thesis on Peter Tomory, the director of the Auckland Art Gallery from 1956 to 1965.

It was looking at the collecting practices of New Zealand galleries at this time, and reading Tomory's art historical texts (drawing links between our surrealists/romantics and England's), that brought the large numbers of British modernist works in New Zealand collections to my attention for the first time.

Jonathan Jones this week, reflecting on the Nash exhibition and the Henry Moore show at Tate Britain, wrote that "British art from the years 1900 to 1950 is unlikely to be found in huge quantities in many museums of modern art you visit around the world."

We might not call them 'museums of modern art' here, but we certainly have our fair share of British works. I'm a bit of an Eric Ravilious fan, for example. I don't run my nose up at Te Papa's Nicholson or Ceri Richards, or Auckland Art Gallery's John Tunnard. The Rex Nan Kivell gift of modernist prints distributed British artists' work across Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery ,Te Papa, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery*. And of course Frances Hodgkins is a British painter in all but place of birth.

*DPAG helpfully confirmed by @ChchArtGallery

Eric Ravilious, The Commander of a submarine looking through a periscope, 1941. Colour lithograph. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Rex Nan Kivell, 1953. No known copyright restrictions.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Science & Art

As I've noted (ad nauseam), I've been doing a lot of reading around 17-18th century science, stemming from Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. While CP Snow might have argued that a chasm exists between the worlds of science and art, Holmes showed that in the Romantic period, the two were often intertwined.

A show currently being staged at the Mori Museum, floridly titled Medicine and Art: Imagining the Future for Art and Love, brings together 150 medical artifacts from the Wellcome Collection (including the heart-catcher above) with historical Japanese art, and contemporary international art. There's a great review by Regine Debatty (who spoke brilliantly last week at Webstock about her increasing exhaustion with interactive art) on the we make money not art site.

Art/science is quite a common and interesting internet meme. There was a flurry last year around Luke Jerram's glass sculptures of viruses (as well as being lovely objects, he was making a comment on the way visual renderings of viruses, in danger! danger! colours, increases the occasional medical scare-mongering carried out through the media).

Last month, it was Nikki Graziano, who layers mathematical graphs and equations over landscape photographs. Around the same time, Jonathan Jones blogged about astronomy as an art of seeing.

I can't think of a big art/science show in New Zealand in the years that I've been an active gallery visitor. I've seen contemporary art inspired by mathematical or scientific concepts, and historical art made for scientific purposes. I reckon there's an an opportunity here for a gallery or museum to do a lavish, insightful show with an awesome public programme: my experience of Kiwi Foo Camp this year reinforced my feeling that New Zealand has some gifted and passionate science communicators.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Although the last 10 days have been pretty much full immersion in the web world, I did surface twice to take an art breath.

Between the end of the Webstock conference and the beginnings of the Onya's dinner, I slipped over to City Gallery Wellington for the opening of the Festival shows, mostly to get a glimpse of Janet Cardiff's The Forty-Part Motet. The small amount of time I spent in the room was enough to convince me that I'll be returning often - perhaps when there isn't a woman in there using it as a quiet place to have a conversation on her mobile away from the noise of the opening.

Then on Saturday night I headed out to the New Dowse for the opening of their suite of Festival shows, and in particular Bill Viola's The Messenger. The Dowse is clearly moving at a great rate of knots right now - all three new shows have been quickly assembled, but the move I've noticed recently towards more cleanly, thoughtfully installed shows continues nonetheless. The collection show was an unexpected and lovely treat, and a purposeful reminder from the Dowse of the great works they hold on behalf of and for the benefit of their community.

Tonight Anthony McCall opens at the Adam Art Gallery and on Thursday Te Papa opens the installation of Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard's Venice Biennale projects. I don't know if it's chance or not, but the three international shows that have been brought in at Festival time - McCall, Cardiff and Viola - all fall into the meditative kind of art experience rather than the spectacular, a la Kusama and Mueck. In a rather rare public display of interoperability, a Festival Art Bus is running on 6 March, which will take you round all three shows for $15.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

My favourite things

One of the best things about Kiwi Foo Camp is always ("always", she says, the 2010 edition making the grand total of Foo's I have attended exactly 2) that the best moments is when you strike an immediate connection with someone over something you both love.

Half-way through and intense game of Werewolf, David Slack leant over to me and said "I have Consider the Lobster to give back to you". This was neither a bluff nor a diversion, but rather an indication that one of my favourite essay collections, by David Foster Wallace, had made it to David via a mutual friend, and was about to come back to me.

David and I bonded over DFW; his intelligence, his generosity, that porn expo essay. I have few thoughts that came out of Foo that I'll write up here once they're more digested (and post-Webstock) but for now I'm going back to DFW, reading his earlier collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and sharing the following links here

The Unfinished - D.T. Max, The New Yorker: a reflection on DFW's life and career

All That - an extract from DFW's unfinished novel 'The Pale King' published in The New Yorker

Yes, We Are Still Missing DFW: Part II - G.Q; an interview with DFW's editor Deborah Treisman

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Out on loan

Best of 3 is taking a break for the next 10 days or so, while I head off to Kiwi Foo Camp and Webstock. These are the kinds of events that fill you with hope, ideas, and admiration for the clever, generous people out there. Not to mention beer, lollies and finger food.

Between Foo Camp and Webstock, I anticipate I will meet at least half a dozen men who identify deeply (or who others identify deeply) with Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. This is a useful segue to introduce to to one of my favourite blogs, The Big Blog Theory, for the science behind the sitcom - why not give it a try in my absence?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Mega and micro philanthropy

Two stories on supporting arts institutions - at either end of the spectrum - got me thinking today.

A New York Times profile of Eli Broad characterises his support of LA arts and educational institutions as "aggressive philanthropy" conducted with a "business-focused method". It contains this interesting quote:

“Eli is not the problem,” said Ann Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum, who sparred with Mr. Broad when he sat on and eventually resigned from that museum’s board. “The problem is that we don’t have enough Elis in Los Angeles to balance out his generosity and the power of his influence.”

Meanwhile a post on Jen Bekman's 20x200 website describes the collaboration with artist Valerie Hegarty to sell prints to benefit the Brooklyn Museum. In a nice quid pro quo, all members of the Museum's entry-level 1stFans membership programme who renewed their membership before a certain date get a copy of the print; and everyone that buys a copy of the print (the largest edition is already gone) get a free membership. In his own post about the collaboration, Brooklyn Museum's membership manager Will Cary notes

I grow more convinced every day that unique partnerships and creative incentives are the key to acquiring and retaining members.

A lot of effort goes into both of the above - the wooing and management of single, mega donors and multiple micro donors. I think that, in the American context especially, both are needed. Both pose their own set of challenges around rewarding and retaining givers. What I think Americans do particularly well is innovate and adapt to make this happen.

New Zealand fundraising/membership programmes seem to have remained pretty static for at least the last decade. At the end of last year I saw an ad (perhaps in an Art+Object catalogue?) announcing a new kind of supporters group for the Auckland Triennial, which seemed like a small new move, at least in targeting a specific demographic. If I remember correctly you got an invite to a cocktail function and a Karen Walker t-shirt. I can't for the life of me find any trace of this online, including the Triennial site - anyone got anything?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Love that list

Last year Umberto Eco put out 'The Infinity of Lists', a book that accompanied the exhibition he put together after a two-year residency at the Louvre. From The Art Newspaper

“The subject of lists has been a theme of many writers from Homer onwards. My great challenge was to transfer it to painting and music and to see whether I could find equivalents in the Louvre, because frankly when I suggested the subject I had no idea how I would write about visual lists,” says Eco.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I spent some time on the International Astronomical Union website. A book I'm currently reading about the astronomers William Herschel and Caroline Herschel quoted from the IAG's naming conventions:

  • Trojan asteroids (those that librate in 1:1 resonance with Jupiter) are named for heroes of the Trojan War (Greeks at L4 and Trojans at L5).
  • Trans-Jovian Planets crossing or approaching the orbit of a giant Planet but not in a stabilizing resonance (so called Centaurs) are named for centaurs.
  • Objects crossing or approaching the orbit of Neptune and in stabilizing resonances other than 1:1 (notably the Plutinos at the 2:3 resonance) are given mythological names associated with the underworld
  • Objects sufficiently outside Neptune's orbit that orbital stability is reasonably assured for a substantial fraction of the lifetime of the solar system (so called Cubewanos or "classical" TNOs) are given mythological names associated with creation.
  • Objects that approach or cross Earth's orbit (so called Near Earth Asteroids) are generally given mythological names.

I was in love. Classical references, technical jargon, extreme specificity, and a dollop of crazy? They had me at "names of pet animals are discouraged".

If you share my delight in such things, you should definitely check out the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature: here's a snippet from the page about the naming of planetary features

And another: craters on the moon are named after:

Deceased scientists, scholars, artists and explorers who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field. Deceased Russian cosmonauts are commemorated by craters in and around Mare Moscoviense. Deceased American astronauts are commemorated by craters in and around the crater Apollo. Appropriate locations will be provided in the future for other space-faring nations should they also suffer fatalities.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Crowd forces

Crowdsourcing is a short-hand term used to describe putting out a task that would have usually been performed in-house to a large group of people. Sites like Threadless, and tools like the Brooklyn Museum's 'Tag!' game epitomise how crowdsourcing can work beautifully on the web.

Today I noticed two new crowdsourcing projects.

First I saw a tweet from Christchurch Art Gallery, talking about the way their Friends group is geo-tagging their collection. As far as I know this is not being done online, but the ethos holds - a group of people donate their time & knowledge to perform a task that would usually have been done by a staff member (but which might never have been a high enough priority to get on to their work plan).

Of course, volunteer projects inside galleries and museums are nothing new. But it's unusual to hear about them, and for me at least, unusual to see the benefit. I'm guessing the combination of a regionally-focused collection and a supporters group who lives in the region is going to help make this tagging very accurate. You can see the tagged collection items here - each full record has a link to a Google Map at the bottom.

Also today - the V&A launched a beta crowdsourcing site, this one designed to get the public to help identify the most pleasing crops of photos of collection items to use in their online browse.

Obviously this is a lot more complicated than what Christchurch is doing. It's also a little buggy around the edges (my tally fell off part way through my session, so I couldn't see how many images I've completed) and take a few goes to get the hang of - you have to make several choices related to each item before it's 'completed', but the signals that tell you this are hard to pick up.

Unlike the Christchurch example, I wonder how accurate this will be. When I started making choices, I realised I didn't really know what criteria I was meant to be using. Did they want the colour scale in, or out? Did they want as much of the item as possible, or a great detail? In the case of the item below, what *is* better - side on or bird's-eye? What if I thought a crop looked great, but it was better photo than it was a representation of the item? And did anyone agree with the choices I was making?

Hopefully the V&A is following the release early, release often mantra, and will keep tweaking the in response to the feedback they're getting. It's a great concept, and deserves that.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Web muster

I read really fast. Too fast. I think the reason I enjoy re-reading books is that I often don't remember half of what happened (even the endings are occasionally surprises, embarrassing as that is to admit). This year I'm trying to slow down and keep track of my reading, and a friend suggested Goodreads. If you're interested in social bookreading sites (stay turned for further explication of my 'Being Alone Together' thesis once I've fully though it through) check out this Wired article.

The IMA is previewing their new website, the result of several years' hard work: a detailed post with loads of pictures & access details for the live preview is on the IMA blog.

I'm tracking stuff like the Newspaper Club and MagCloud with interest; here's an article on on-demand publishing featuring the awesome Derek Powazek.

Thomas P Campbell interviewed on his first year running the Met.

Monday, 1 February 2010

What people will pay for

When I scrolled through my overnight tweets this morning (yes, this is another Twitter-related post) I saw this, from Will Cary, the membership manager at Brooklyn Museum:

And just now I spotted this, re-tweeted from the Brooklyn Museum account:

The show they're talking about is 'Who Shot Rock and Roll', which closes today in the US (yesterday for us New Zealanders). It's been very popular, and it sounds like lines to get into the show for its final weekend are significant.

One of the benefits of a Brooklyn Museum membership is that you get to bypass the lines. A normal individual membership costs $55. Suggested admission at the Museum is $10 for adults. This weekend, more than six times the normal number of people bought a membership, presumably so they could bypass the lines. I can't see any special promotion of the queue-skipping powers of membership attached to the exhibition promotion on the Museum website, but it's strongly featured on their Twitter feed; lots of people are talking about the show on Twitter as well.

It's tempting to see this as a little parable about what will tip people over from thinking about buying a membership to actually doing it. They're not buying a discount on entry (a normal Friends benefit in New Zealand) - they'e buying something that gives them the advantage of easier access.

Contrast this with City Gallery Wellington's current Yayoi Kusama show. Friends of the Gallery get a 20% discount on the entry charge ($8 instead of $10) but no queue-skipping privileges. There don't appear to be any members-only days or extended hours for Friends - based on the above, I predict that this would have attracted a bunch of new sign-ups, especially if implemented after people had seen the crazy free Wednesday queues. It might be something for galleries hosting blockbusters to look into - after all, sometimes there's nothing nicer than flashing a card and getting waved through ....


Jim Richardson 0f Sumo has dubbed February 1 follow a museum day, in an attempt to draw Twitter users' attention to museums.

The follow a museum site has a useful country-by-country directory of museum Twitter accounts.

Here's what I look for when I'm thinking about following an organisation on Twitter:

  • Is there a named person/people in charge of the Twitter account?
  • Is the activity on the account regular, or are there random blips of tweeting?
  • Is the activity all around promoting exhibitions and events (which are only really interesting to me if they're in my home town) or is there more behind-the-scenes information?
  • Is the stream just made up of announcements and retweets of positive comments, or does it look like people at the museum are actually talking to the people following them (about things other than the museum itself)?

A note on hashtags

A hashtag- a # placed in front of a word or acronym in a tweet, such a #followamuseum - is a way of associating messages with a particular theme.

The power of the hashtag is seen particularly in search; following this link will take you to a Twitter search page that dynamically updates as new Twitter messages carrying the #followamuseum tag are posted.