Friday 19 December 2008

When I said 'last post for the year'

I meant 'until something like this came up' ....

Installation of Permanent Collection and Then Some from Modern Art Museum of FW on Vimeo.

From the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Don't forget to check out the music credit at the end.

The Besties: 2009

The last post of the year, dear readers, and a summary of events:

Best news

Shane Cotton's long-overdue Laureate award, Elizabeth Caldwell's appointment to the DPAG director role, Emma Bugden's appointment to Artspace.

Best PR campaign

It's gotta be Te Papa and the colossal squid. Hats off to the comms team there - they've turned a pile of old seafood into a national phenomena.

Best new NZ blog (with best origin tale)

The Paint and Bake

Best philosophical stand-off in a public space

Wystan Curnow and Bronwyn Lloyd at the Rita Angus symposium

Best attempt at online engagement

The AAG blog. It's somewhat sporadic and has reached McCahonian levels of existential angst, but the AAG are the only people I'm aware of trying to foster community online.

Best international online engagement

The Commons on Flickr

Best photographs of a modern painter at work

John Xceron

Best art experience

All things being equal, this year I got the most out of the Rita Angus retrospective, mostly because I spent a heck of a lot of time with the works. However, 2008 lacked a stand-out magic moment with a individual work or collection of works.

Best place to hang out

Hamish McKay's wood-panelled art-den

Best discovery (and temptation to abandon blogging)


Best font

Vogue, 1930

Best use of a single adjective in multiple reviews

John Hurrell

Best art-related video

SFMOMA erasing a Sol LeWitt

Best interpretation of a Rita Angus painting

Annah Oxley

Best place to see art

In people's houses.

Best wishes for the holidays

Best of 3 will be back around 5 January 2009.

Thursday 18 December 2008

The final post of 2008 on the topic of Twitter

I realise Twitter has been something of a Bo3 meme this year, but this is the post to end all posts. Or arguments.

When I introduce people to the idea of Twitter ("it's kinda like a little broadcast service where you type little short messages into a box and send them out so people can find and read them") they tend to look at me blankly and ask: what's the point? what will this add to my life? what possible meaning can you get out of a 140-character long message?

Previously, I've kind of waffled in reply, about ambient information and buzz monitoring and social networks and smart people who write funny and thoughtful things that I like to know about.

Now I have a better answer. Twitter fulfils our hard-coded curiosity about the people around us, and our deep-set desire to share. My proof? A friend's discovery today of 'Personal Items' in historical NZ newspapers - the 100-year-old equivalent of Twitter.

You can get to thousands of these here - amazing little snippets of shared and published, mudane and hilarious and wrenching detail from people's lives a century ago.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Summer countdown

If you haven't already hustled over to Hamish McKay's to see the current Rose Nolan exhibition, you have until Friday to do so.

The show is a beauty, and McKay has plumped it out with examples of older work, so it almost makes up for missing Nolan's show at Artspace Sydney earlier this year. Nolan is currently working on a book (with Blair French) due to emerge mid next year.

Also coming to a shelf near you next July: Ed Winkleman's ' How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery'. [Yes, he is aware of the irony of publishing a book like this in times like these]

Installation view, Rose Nolan, 'More homework experiments', 2008. Image from the Hamish McKay website.

Monday 15 December 2008

Feel the burn

Very witty short film based on actual requests submitted to Hulton Archive/Getty Pictures.


  • Can I have a photo of a dodo in the wild?
  • Can I have a photo of an Edwardian lady in the Victorian era?
  • Can I have a photo of Jack the Ripper?
  • Can I have a photo of Neil Armstrong on the moon? You know, the one where he's surrounded by a group of people?


The following is a list of the artist names that people have Googled and, as a result, ended up at Best of 3 in the past month:

Judy Millar (a particularly popular search: television judy millar hamish keith)
Rita Angus
Daniel du Bern
William Fox
Liz Maw
David Cross (full search: david cross massey relational aesthetics)
Gavin Hipkins
James Oram
Julian Dashper (searches for 'prices' and 'essays' and 'robert hughes review')
Len Lye
Leonard Mitchell
Peter Madden (actual search: peter madden + john hurrell)
Peter McIntyre
Rohan Wealleans
Raymond McIntyre
Peter Robinson
Simon Ingram
Ronnie van Hout
Seraphine Pick
Shane Cotton
Colin McCahon
Yvonne Todd


Richard Lummis
Jim Barr
Damian Skinner
Mary Barr
William McAloon
John Hurrell
Hamish Keith
Una Platt
Tina Barton (twice paired with Hamish Keith)

Most curious search term of past month: Paula Savage + corporate head hunting

Most cute: 'pronounce mrkusich'

Award for increasing frustration: 'wtf use is an art history degree'

Wednesday 10 December 2008


Frankly, many of my visits to galleries involve bad surprises. Conversely, this is for a good reason - I'm often overly-excited about the new show, new work, new space, whatever. So gallery visits can end up being a bit like Christmas - better in anticipation.*

Of course, this means that a good surprise becomes a great one. I had this with the Yinka Shonibare show at the MCA in Sydney. After not enjoying the Fiona Hall show at City Gallery Wellington, I thought I'd be equally put-off by the highly wrought tableaux that Shonibare creates.

And yet not. There was a spaciousness to the show - not just in the hang, which gave plenty of space to individual pieces - but to the way I could look at, think about and interpret the works. The excessive craftiness that gave me the willies in Fiona Hall seemed not the point of the works, but simply the way that Shonibare's ideas are brought into being.

And I loved Reverend on ice (2005). As with Maurizio Cattelan's We are the revolution, it made me want to laugh aloud - that sheer delight that I so rarely get and so treasure when I do. The fact that it reminded me of Johnny Depp circa Sleepy Hollow also did no harm ...

NB: Best of 3 will be away until Monday. See you then.

* Hey, who knew? I'm a gallery grinch.

Yinka Shonibare, Reverend on Ice, 2005. Life-size fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax-printed cotton, steel. Image from

Tuesday 9 December 2008


Avid Twitterer and art blogger Tyler Green has struck out at the inanity being spouted forth by museums who are twittering.

To paraphrase Green - maybe y'all could just tweet about art? Museums sometimes seem to fall into one of two traps (and sometimes both in alternate tweets). Either you feel like you're being feed 140-characters of marketing plug, or you're wondering why the hell you're listening in on someone's private life during work time.

Don't get me wrong. I tweet about work. But I don't tweet on behalf of my workplace. See the distinction?

So, if you're NZ gallery or museum that's thinking about Twittering in the new year (and I would encourage you to consider this- it's one of the fastest, cheapest ways of entering the new-ish web world) here are some things things that I as a Twitter user want you to do:

  • be informative - tell me about new acquisitions, interesting projects, vacancies
  • be visual - link to installation shots or video
  • be helpful - remind me of special events, and the opening and closing of exhibitions
  • be generous - tweet about other people's events and exhibitions if they align with your own (I want to think staff at my local gallery have their finger on the pulse)
  • be genuine - treat me like your friend, not your target audience

Having said this - I wonder if The Big Idea is thinking of tweeting vacancies as part of their site overhaul? It would be a very savvy move.

Monday 8 December 2008


One of my disappointments of a recent trip to Sydney was that I was a little too late to catch Gemma Smith's show at Sarah Cottier Gallery. So I was really pleased when I found out that Smith was one of the artists featured in Primavera, the MCA's yearly young-artists outing, which I did manage to catch.

I'm really attracted to Smith's crisp, buoyant abstract paintings, and it was great to see a group of small works in the flesh, complete with gently visible brushwork.

However, it was her adaptables - three-dimensional works made of painted plywood, that can be manipulated into various origami-like forms - that I was really keen to see, especially after reading an interview with Smith in issue 5 of Art World.

Smith is very eloquent about her work, and her description of how the sculptural works had emerged made me really keen to see them:

'With the small paintings I acquire certain rules in regard to the types of shapes and colours that I use. In the process of making the work, these limitations build up to the point where I find it's necessary to shake them. The sculptural works came about as a way of solving ceratin problems I encountered with the painting process and its two-dimesnional plane. Over time, the sculpures began to influence the paintings to the point where, now, the relationship between the two is a continuous cycle.'

Sadly, while the single adaptable shown in 'Primavera' did give an inkling of this relationship between the paintings and the sculptural works, it didn't give me the experience I wanted after reading the interview.

Partly it was the presentation: a video showing the adaptable in various forms should have been dropped in favour of including more works; it made as little sense as one painting and a screen with digital examples of more. Partly it was that the form chosen for the adaptable on show seemed to be one of the less adventurous positions it could take on, as demonstrated in the video. And - admittedly - the work featured a certain shade of salmon-pink that I find very off-putting.

On the upside, one of the best things about the visit was an exhibition upstairs that brought together a range of works acquired by the MCA from Primavera's of the past. Acquisitions shows can be higgledy-piggledy and disjointed, but this one not only brought together some real gems, but also gave context to the exhibition downstairs, showing how Primavera has grown alongside the artists it has featured.

Images, from top
Gemma Smith Untitled #1 2008. Acrylic on board.
Gemma Smith Adaptable (lemon/turquoise) 2006.
Gemma Smith, installation view of 2006 exhibition at Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
All images from the Sarah Cottier Gallery website.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Sometimes it can just be simple

The Powerhouse Museum web team are heroes of mine. Here's something super simple and effective that they've just done:

That little vid is made using some pretty standard software and a scan of a collection item. As Seb Chan said in his blog post about this:

These little 90 second videos are a very simple but effective way of ‘digital storytelling’ - something museums should be quite good at, being as they are, repositories of stories. The technology at work here is nothing more than a very high resolution original scan and a copy of the consumer-grade iMovie - something which, for us, is important to emphasise.

Good ideas trump expensive technology every time.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

rockin' robin

Y'know, on a really busy day, bombing Twitter with 140 character messages is a lot easier to handle than blogging. So instead of reading me today, you could read Tim O'Reilly on why he likes Twitter.

If you're not the prudish type, you might like to check out, a realtime aggregator of people swearing on Twitter. I find it hilarious, YMMV (so don't say I didn't warn you).*

*Your Mileage May Vary

Monday 1 December 2008


Last week I was at a cultural sector web conference which left me thinking further about the relationship between galleries online (virtual - yuck, hate that word) and offline (physical) presences.

I'd started thinking about this about a week ago, when I visited the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney for the first time. I'm an avid follower of the Powerhouse online - their website, online collection, dhub, work on Flickr, and Seb Chan's Fresh + Newer blog. The Powerhouse is an incredibly sophisticated user of and contributor to the web, very user-focused, very much about tapping into and assisting communities, and always very close to the 'bleeding-edge' of developments.

So it was quite weird when I visited the Museum offline to not have this experience replicated physically. To begin with, I was quite taken aback that there's an entrance fee - not because this fact is at all hidden on their site, but because their online work is so open and generous that charged entry seemed disjunctive.

Secondly, the entry lines are a bit of a mess - and god, didn't the poor kid administering them know it, telling us that he'd lost count of the number of times he'd told Visitor Services that visitors got confused and pissy.

But over all, the physical experience didn't mirror my online experience. It wasn't as elegant, the design wasn't as good, I never saw a floor person (the web services are very "friendly"), the shop was jumbly and unfocused and didn't appeal to my niche interests (which is what the web is all about).

These criticisms could be applied to almost any institution. The thing was, my expectations of my 'visitor experience' were sky-high, because I thought it would match my online experience. In general, it's the other way around (a so-so online experience is exceeded by the real visit - the AGNSW on- and off-line experiences being on about a par). So, if you run a gallery or museum website, here's some questions to ask yourself:

-- Is your online branding and design work as good as your exhibition and print design?

-- Do people answer questions submitted online as quickly as they'd answer them in real/physical life?

-- Do online visitors have access to the same kind of information physical visitors have (esp. wall panels, essays, curatorial insights....)

-- Is it as easy to find out what exhibitions and events are happening online as it is in your foyer?

-- Can you make bookings and buy things online simply and without having to hand over any more info than you would offline?

-- Is a visit to your website the same kind of experience as a visit to your real space?

Here's a quick test. Ask someone (who doesn't work with you) to sit down and explore your site for a minute or two. Then ask them: if this site was a car, what kind of car would it be? And if they call you a people-mover when you think you're really a Ferrari, you have some work to do.*

*PS please do not ever use this focus-group question too seriously. Really, what's the likelihood that anyone will ever identify you as the beautifully restored classic finned 50s Cadillac you think you are? Sometimes it's just good to motivate yourself with a little self-flagellation.

Wednesday 26 November 2008


I had really high hopes of my first visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales last week - and within a few minutes of walking in the doors they were crushed.

First up, the dreary permanent collection hang of pre-20th century Australian and international art. I'm a big fan of the elegant, spacious hang of the NGV International, and I guess I had similar expectations of Sydney. But the galleries were in ratty, tatty condition (peeling paint, little piles of dust, rocky floorboards, crooked signage) , the hang looked like it hadn't budged since the 1950s, the spaces are huge, making showing small works really tricky, and there was enough hanging wire for James McCarthy to play a day-long symphony.

One small highlight - all the sweeter for the respite it offered from huge academic paintings - was a small nook of a gallery that contained a small number of 16th-century Flemish works. There's something in the restraint and gravitas of these small works that slows your breathing when you're feeling visually overwhelmed.

The modern art galleries were better. I admit to not being at all informed about Australian art, and can't help but look at it in comparison to New Zealand art history. For example, I find it interesting that Australian artists took to surrealism at the same time ours took to neo-romanticism, and I came out of the modern rooms interested in the idea of a history of Australian and New Zealand women artists from the 1870s to the 1940s - looking at their training, careers, and critical reception.

Then I went in pursuit of contemporary work. After making my way past the snaking lines for the Monet show and the Monet giftshop and wandering around for a while, I finally found a sign that said that the contemporary galleries were closed while the escalators were being replaced. It would have been nice to have known this before I visited, but I missed any announcement of this on my pre-visit scan of their website.

The highlight of the visit, to be honest, was seeing a stunning example of installer's crack, and a trolley that for some reason had the word POO scrawled across it in big black letters.

Coming next week - an account of a far more enjoyable visit to the MCA. In the meantime, Best of 3 of out and about again - back on Monday.


Ambrosius Benson (Flanders, d.1550),
Portraits of Cornelius Duplicius de Scheppere and his wife Elizabeth Donche, circa 1540. Oil on panel. Gift of James Fairfax 1994. Art Gallery of New South Wales, image from the AGNSW website.

The Master of the 1540s (Flanders, active 1541-1551, Portrait of a young woman, 1541.
Oil on panel. Gift of James Fairfax 1993. Art Gallery of New South Wales, image from the AGNSW website.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Think of the little people

"On Thursday, up to 17 of the 22 people who make the pills for Hirst's drug cabinet series were told their contracts were not being renewed, according to two sources close to Science Ltd, Hirst's main art-producing company. Another three who make his butterfly paintings were also told they were surplus to requirements."

Recession reaches Hirst's studio - The Guardian

Monday 24 November 2008

Smells like modernism

It was lovely to be greeted at the entrance to the Powerhouse Museum's Modern Times exhibition by non-other than that international artist we love to clasp to our parochial bosoms, Len Lye.*

Looking at the show from a New Zealand perspective, it was interesting to note the similarities and differences.

The wave of European refugees in the late 1930s and early 1940s had a similar effect in Australia to that in New Zealand - particularly in terms of architecture, and I'd like to see a Antipodean modernist architecture show. One of the differences that quickly became apparent was that while NZ was still firmly fixated on Britain, and London was the place to go for aspiring artists right into the 1960s, Australian artists turned their eyes towards America much earlier.

One favourite part of the show was seeing Margaret Preston's Implement blue displayed with swatches of paint samples and colour wheels - according to the exhibition info, the work was named after a paint colour, although that's not what the AGNSW says.**

Another was seeing the maquette for and correspondence over Alexander Calder's Crossed Blades (1967) commissioned to sit outside Harry Seidler's Australia Square building. The correspondence had been arranged into a collage by Penelope Seidler, and while that's probably not a conservator's dream, it suited the very personable tone of the letters, and in particular Sandy's wee sketch of the sculpture with jokey two human faces on the uprights.

Now, some gripes. For a design exhibition in a design museum, the lighting was often crappy (a dark-toned Grace Cossington-Smith practically disappeared behind its glass barrier) and the signage crooked or confusingly placed. Several interactives were inactive (including the colour-theory spinning tops, which I really wanted to try).

And a suggestion. This review of Sanchez and Turin's afore-mentioned book Perfume: The Guide ponders how a perfume like Guerlain's Après l’Ondée could be fitted into "an exhibition of Edwardian art and design where it so obviously belongs, the olfactory equivalent of what Yeats called “the faint mixed tints of Conder”, alongside many other nearly contemporaneous manifestations of the beautiful pre-war cult of paleness?".

Likewise for Modern Times. The exhibition had interior design, art, architecture, advertising, ceramics, film, textiles - you name it. How about a few bottles of Chanel No. 5, Je Reviens, Joy, or Shalimar?

*The fit between the curve of the jaw and the deco-y plinth is hilarious, but also rather beautiful.

**Hmmm. "Implement blue' represents the extremity of Margaret Preston's pictorial pursuit during the late 1920s, and has rightly become regarded as one of the iconic images of early modernist Australian painting. But its very simplicity of design, which Preston could not sustain for more than a couple of years, belies a problem resolved through brief resistance to her natural predilection. For in spite of the domesticity of its motif, Implement blue signified a conquest over the real potency of her female sensibility." Barry Pearce, 2005.


Rayner Hoff,
Decorative portrait (Len Lye), 1925. Marble, 30.5 x 22.5 x 16.5cm. Purchased 1938. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Image from the AGNSW website

Margaret Preston, Implement blue,1927. Oil on canvas on hardboard. Gift of the artist 1960. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Image from the AGNSW website.

Alexander Calder, Crossed Blades, 1967. Steel. Australia Square, Sydney. Image from the Art Business website.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Best of 3 is out and about

Off-line for a few days folks ... see you next Monday.

Take a load off

Two very different items about gallery seating appeared in my feedreader today (obviously a hot topic in the States at the moment).

The Brooklyn Museum blog posted about the importance of providing seating for weary and contemplative visitors, and notes that they have different styles of seating for different parts of the Museum:

In our American Identities galleries, we created four seating islands, which consist of a carpeted area with chairs and reading tables. In our new contemporary galleries, we have incorporated commercial furniture: Kartell’s “Plastics” line of modular seating. And at other times we have created custom seating, such as the benches in our Egypt Reborn galleries, which have Egyptian revival stylings.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, it's a very different story. Blair Kamin blogs on the Chicago Tribune site:

For a fleeting moment Thursday, a hint of tension crept into the voice of James Rondeau, the Art Institute of Chicago’s contemporary art curator. An out-of-town journalist had asked whether the museum would set up benches inside the galleries of its unfinished Modern Wing so people could sit and stare at the knockout view of the Pritzker Pavilion’s metallic shells and the painterly swath of the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park.

No, Rondeau replied, although there will be benches for looking at art. The view to Millennium Park is "quite strong," he said, even describing it as "relentless."

Overall, the latter is an interesting article about the battle between environment, architecture and art display, whilst the former is the kind of quirky post that the Brooklyn Museum excels at.

Monday 17 November 2008


Best of 3 is off to Sydney at the end of the week, and was all excited UNTIL .... I looked at the AGNSW site and saw the exhibition line up:*

  • Monet and the Impressionists
  • The Lost Buddhas
  • Tom Arthur
  • Country Culture Community

What is it with the Impressionists (this is the same show that's coming to Te Papa)? How did this period manage to capture the popular imagination to such an extent that you can more or less smack the word Impressionist into any exhibition title and watch the punters stream in?

But that's interesting. The above link to Te Papa's site brings up a contemporary art show opening on 20 December - "We are unsuitable for framing", presumably titled after the eponymous Barbara Kruger work in TP's collection. I've always thought that TP's Liz Maw full-frontal painting was pretty much unexhibitable in the museum: I look forward to seeing if it's made it into this show about "identity, gender, sexuality, and mythology".

*Personal taste and all, but I was hoping for something a bit more chewy.

Friday 14 November 2008

Today, Best of 3 is wondering ....

... if Art + Object fluffed Don Driver's possum skins specially for last night's Wellington preview.

They were looking exceptionally well groomed. Does this break some kind of conservators' law? Should one brush one's furry mixed media works? Art - so easy to buy, so tricky to look after.

Don Driver, Two Skins with Legging, 1984. Mixed media, 1430 x 810mm. From the Art + Object website.

Thursday 13 November 2008

So so so so busy

Okay, readers. I do my best, but November is a busy month in Best of 3's real life. So posting this month is going to rely on me pointing you to things that I wish I had time to read more closely, mixed with some random observations.

On that note - if your institution is still struggling with the why-tos and where-fore-art-thou's of getting involved with Flickr, check out this great discussion on the Ideum blog, with their thoughts on understanding the platform, making time estimates, working with the community & planning for problems.

You might like to follow that up by revisiting Nina Simone's thoughts on how much time Web 2 takes.

Nina also has a valuable guide to developing social media guidelines within your organisation. What I like about it is that it focuses on providing guidance and resources, rather than telling managers to freak out in case their staff are doing a Virgin Atlantic.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Money, money, sex, web design

Round the web today, folks:

A long and detailed examination of the Detroit Institute of Arts financial predicament: it lost US$17 million last year, making a whopping grand accumulated shortfall of US$100 million over the past 10 years.

How to raise US$500 million, at Boston's MFA. Sometimes, it's the small things that count: take the case of trustee and regular mega-donor Fred Sharf:

Last year, Sharf attended a meeting in the MFA's conference room. He was disgusted by the run-down furniture. "This is a disgrace," he said. "We should do something." Just like that, he gave $25,000 to have the space redone.

Making use of a hoary public speaking device (SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX!!!!!! Okay, now I have your attention I'd like to speak about waste water management) Jerry Saltz reviews the Guggenheim's Theanyspacewhatever show, and his night in Carstein Holler's satin-sheeted bed.

And finally, Tyler Green on SFMOMA's new site design: "Outside of the Pulitzer, I've not seen a museum use so much Flash. In fact, you don't so much as see SFMOMA's website, you hold still while it throws itself at you."

Monday 10 November 2008


Following the 'deinstallation' of a Sol LeWitt at SFMOMA, the Modern Art Museum of Fort worth shows how you take down a Kara Walker.

Dear Govett-Brewster Art Gallery; will you PLEASE set up a Flickr account & post pictures of the removal of Snow Ball Blind Time?

Thursday 6 November 2008

Model artist

Brush? Check.

Palette? Check.

Beret? Check.

Pipe? Check.

Lack of figurative elements? Check.

Hard-to-pronounce surname? Check.

All images from the Smithsonian's photostream on Flickr Commons

New York City W.P.A.; O.P. 65-1-97-2063; W.P.1 Date: 1/13/42; Photographer: Fredmacher; Negative No.: 6736-3; Location: 1947 Bdway; John Xceron on Mural Abstraction to be placed at Rikers Institute Chapel.

New York City W.P.A.; O.P. 65-1-97-2063; W.P.1 Date:1/13/42; Photographer: Fredmacher; Negative No.: 6736-2; Location: 1947 Bdway; John Xceron on Mural Abstraction to be placed at Rikers Institute Chapel.

New York City W.P.A.; O.P. 65-1-97-2063; W.P.1 Date: 1/13/42; Photographer: Fredmacher; Negative No.: 6736-4; Location: 1947 Bdway; John Xceron on Mural Abstraction to be placed at Rikers Institute Chapel.

UPDATE It occurs to me I was remiss in not giving any info about Jean Xceron (pronounced ksair-OHN). Born in Greece in 1890, he trained at the Corcoran Art School and worked for many years at the Guggenheim Museum. More info in this 1984 NYT review (thank you for the archives, NYT!)

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Really, there's nothing else on

Over-stimulated by Twitter, now using the much calmer, updated every 90 seconds NYT election results dashboard to monitor electoral votes.

Still nothing else

Twitter Vote Report: real-time reporting of wait-times and problems at polling booths, with a clickable map that shows you what's going on where.

Nothing else on

Today I'm finding it hard to tear my eyes away from the Election 2008 stream on Twitter. It's like eavesdropping on America.

If you're a Twitter user already, keep an eye on @TylerGreenDC for regular updates

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Cotton country

Can I just say, I am totally stoked for Shane Cotton. As Overthenet noted, it's been a while coming, but seeing him recognised at last night's Laureate Awards was fantastic.

Normally, sitting through an hour and a half of speeches wouldn't be my idea of a great night out. But I have a soft spot for the Laureate Awards. As well as simply approving of the concept, the aspect of the awards I really enjoy is the tremendous goodwill in the air. Sitting amongst hundreds of people, watching the interview shtick, you can feel the crowd's happiness about what's happening just rolling down the auditorium towards the new laureates.

I wrote not long ago about watching the changes in Cotton's paintings. The slideshow that rolled during his citation last night prompted me to think about this even harder. Looking back at works from the late 1990s you have the sense of ideas, imagery, symbols and language being carefully researched, considered and assembled, creating a work that made the (Pakeha, most likely) viewer work equally hard to unravel all the potential meaning layered into the painting.

In retrospect, the big diptychs in the 2003 survey show point forward to the current works, which have all these elements, and I bet the same approach to working out the painting, but also this sense of freedom and a different kind of mystery that I really love. I don't want to reach for my reference books so that I can "understand what they're about" - I want to stand back and let them work on me. And the best of these works do just that - they're like forcefields, they hold you in their orbit,* and you feel at once helpless and uplifted and entranced. Or at least, I do.

So, yeah. I'm stoked for Shane Cotton, I think it's a travesty he hasn't been nominated for the Walters yet, and I want a last-10-years show soon.

*Apparently, they also make you mix your metaphors, but I know you'll understand what I'm getting at

Monday 3 November 2008

Life support

So Peter Robinson took out the Walters (deservedly, say Bestof3 readers, who correctly picked him as the winner earlier this year) and I have high hopes of tonight's Laureate awards.

Both the Walters and the Laureates provide artists with a healthy chunk of cash. But with the news that Janne Land, 64zero3* and Fishers Fine Arts are all closing their doors, I'm beginning to think - in these hard times, should CreativeNZ be underwriting art dealers, the way the govt is underwriting banks? After all, they've funded every other part of the production and critical apparatus (from making the work to critiquing it).**

*I'm kinda meh about the other two, but really disappointed to hear 64zero3 will shut up after their 64th show next February. They showed a number of artists whose work I really admire, they put the shows up online, were really easy to deal with, and regularly showed newer artists' work. I think it's a real loss.

**Yeah, I know they hand out the occasional grant to support a dealer to show at international art fairs, but I think it's a valid argument that dealers are an integral part of the visual arts ecosystem and are contributing to CNZ's strategic priorities:

  • New Zealanders are engaged in the arts
  • High-quality New Zealand art is developed
  • New Zealanders have access to high-quality arts experiences
  • New Zealand arts gain international success

Friday 31 October 2008

Doom, doom, doom

Following on from Carol Vogel's NYT piece on belt-tightening at American art museums, Alexandra Peers documents more cost-cutting measures (and fundraising opps) in the Wall Street Journal.

Going down:

  • Temperatures (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has turned down the thermostat)
  • Free drinks (MoMA won't be hosting any parties at Art Basel Miami Beach this year)
  • Staff numbers (the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu has laid off nearly half its staff).

Going up:

  • Interest rates on the variable auction-rate securities (I don't know what that means but the big US art museums have some fancy-pants ways with money)
  • "Your name here" spaces for corporate sponsors on the wall, and in the front of job titles (think 'the Ernst & Young Curator of Contemporary New Zealand Art').

In equally dramatic oh-noes! news: all Conde Nast publications have been told to cut both staff and ops budgets by 5%. This includes two titles quite dear to my heart, the New Yorker and Wired. And I thought my week couldn't get any worse.

Thursday 30 October 2008


The Field Museum creates Chocolate: the Exhibition -- the IMA blog notes the absence of chocolate art, name checks Jean Zaun, Sid Chidiac, forgets Paul McCarthy ....

Paul McCarthy's chocolate Santas, photo by C-Monster

Wednesday 29 October 2008

This week's crush

I just ordered* The New Kings of Non-Fiction, edited by Ira Glass. Published last year, it only just surfaced for me via Scott Berkun.**

Based on my boundless admiration for Glass's radio work, I'm pre-emptively declaring the book this week's crush.

Glass's radio programmes can slide from hilarious to heartbreaking in the space of five minutes, and always leave me wanting more. Like some of my other intellectual crushes, he's an extraordinary storyteller. His Transom Manifesto is one of the most valuable things I've made the time to read in the past year. It might be about building radio programmes, but you can apply his ideas to almost any kind of situation when you want to make something stick to your audience.

One of the points that stood out for me was this:

It's helpful to build into the way you think about stories the notion that lots of ideas aren't going to pan out. Our show's acquisitions budget, even at very beginning when we were still struggling for every dollar, was set up to commission a fourth more stories than we'd ever run, with the assumption we'll be killing lots of ideas.

Killing ideas is so, so hard. Editing out the great, gory, glorious quotations you've salted your essays with can feel like you're carving away at your own flesh. But god - imagine if public galleries worked up 20 shows a year, and then went forward with just the 15, or 10, or 5, best. And that that was okay with everyone - because they were the best. Wouldn't that be great?

* I say 'I', I may mean someone-else-who's-very-kind
** Who gave it a 3/5 rating, but who also loves the Best American series the way I do, so I'm not going to mind if TNKONF doesn't scale the heights I'm hoping it will.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

The price is right

A few weeks ago I was thinking about the constraints dealers are under when it comes to pricing their artists' work. Over the weekend Ed Winkleman was musing on the same topic: 'Established prices never die, they are just discounted away ...'.

From the post:

Knowing that eventually the art market will cycle back up again, there's no reason not to expect a good artist's prices to regain any losses, but that here and now, the most surefire way to cripple that artist's market is to keep the prices as high as they were. In other words, by getting the collector to participate in the continuation of the artist's market, rather than focusing on a momentarily downturn in pricing, both dealer and collector continue to protect their investment. And, of course, in the meanwhile, the collector still gets to enjoy a fantastic work of art.

Ed's is one of the few blogs that I've stayed faithful to. Some blogs I become briefly infatuated with, visiting regularly, hanging round on the off-chance a new post might appear unexpectedly. Then the passion cools and the relationship reduces to a space in my feedreader, a holding bay I visit when I don't have anything better to do, catching up to fill an idle moment. Eventually I give up the pretence that there's still any spark, and delete the subscription.

But Ed I keep coming back to, and it's because of his openness, and the insights he gives me into an art dealer's way of working. From the comments to the above post:

The artist, being owner of the work, has ultimate say in the retail price, of course, but most contemporary art dealers rightfully have input in how the work is priced through their gallery. Usually artist and dealer are on the same page, though, so it's not as contentious as your question might imply. When I say the dealer overpriced the work, I mean to implicate both the dealer and the artist, but the collector works directly only with the dealer, so they're not part of that previous conversation.

Sometimes, however, a dealer should speak up or back out when they know the artist is making a mistake. If an artist insists that a painting be priced at $100,000 when the dealer believes its market value is $40,000, for example, the dealer would be wrong to price at what the artist insisted on. If the artist still insists after a respectful conversation, at that point they should part ways. The dealer has the markets of his other artists and how his reputation impacts them to consider here as well.

Friday 24 October 2008

No relation

On the front page of the Guardian's website today:

Tinker Bell becomes new voice of speaking clock: "The makers of the film deny the character's role as the new voice of the speaking clock is a transatlantic intrusion into a British institution".

Cultural differences, Federer and Flight of the Conchords
: "Are you awake to the cultural differences? Listen to the three sounds I've created and see if you can match them to the countries."

'Probably' the best atheist bus campaign ever: "Lots of you have asked why the word "probably" is included in the ad slogan, and stated that you'd prefer the wording to read "There's no God"."

The music of The Wire: "The Tom Waits farrago was judged too extreme for Abu Ghraib."

Ladyhawke sings New Zealand's praises: "New Zealand is the latest long-haul country to up the creative ante by enlisting the help of Ladyhawke to entice travellers".

Thursday 23 October 2008

This week's crush

Currently quite taken by these posters designed by Leonard Mitchell ...

Wondering if these might also be his handiwork ...

Also rather fetched by the fact that Mitchell's middle name was Cornwall. Very euphonious.

All images from the Drawings, Paintings and Prints Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, and accessible on the Timeframes website.

From top:

Mitchell, Leonard Cornwall 1901-1971 :Sport in New Zealand; deer stalking, moose & wapiti, fur and feathered game. [ca 1935]. Reference No. Eph-A-TOURISM-1930s-01-front

Mitchell, Leonard Cornwall 1901-1971 :Sport in New Zealand; trout and salmon fishing, big game fishing. [ca 1935]. Reference No. Eph-A-TOURISM-1930s-01-back

New Zealand; mountains, lakes, fiords; shooting, fishing, deer stalking. [ca 1928]. Reference number: Eph-A-TOURISM-NZ-1928-01

New Zealand, the land of sport; scenic charms and attractions. [1927]. Reference number: Eph-A-TOURISM-NZ-1927-01

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Dross, dross, dross, dross, dross, gem

Amidst the plethora of articles about the purported collapse of the art market (which are so repetitive I'm going to spare you links) lurks the odd spark of interest. Yesterday, it was Carol Vogel's article in the New York Times looking at what impact corporate belt-tightening might have on American museums and galleries.

Directors interviewed for the article seem to have been remarkably frank. Glenn Lowry acknowledged that MoMA has instituted a temporary hiring freeze and a 10% cut in its operating budget; Brooklyn Museum's Arnold Lehman said they were struggling to find sponsorship to pay for a scheduled Yinka Shonibare retrospective.

Vogel also pointed to an increasing number of collection-based shows (rather than shows reliant on costly loan works) as evidence of cost-saving. However, as LACMA's Michael Govan noted, the news might not be all bad: if art prices go into freefall, “maybe we’ll finally be able to afford to buy things.”

This morning the article seemed even more relevant as here in NZ councils started announcing planned spending cutbacks. Without wanting to jinx anything, you've got to wonder what this might mean for the redevelopments of Auckland Art Gallery and City Gallery Wellington ....

Monday 20 October 2008

"I was really gonna be something by the age of 23."

This morning I went down a little web rabbit-hole. From the homepage of the Guardian site I made it to this article from the Observer about young American composer Nico Muhly.

Completely turned off by the gratuitous use of the phrase 'like, totally' in the opening para, but remembering that I'd been quite seduced by a New Yorker article about Muhly earlier this year, I abandoned the Observer for YouTube and listened to a couple of short performances.

Interest piqued, I called up the original article in the New Yorker which pushed me on to their audio archive. And from that page (whilst listening to 'Seeing is Believing') I went on to Muhly's blog.

Late last week, Art and My Life asked why the art world is so snarky. I think my answer (acting as if I'm representative of the art world, which I'm not, but hey) is that it's because we care. We want the art world to be as good as it can be. We hate seeing shitty hangs, facile reviews, and wasted opportunities.

And it's not just us. Look, for example, at Muhly on the New York Philharmonic's opening night gala programme. Muhly takes the programme to school not because he's hating on the Philharmonic, but because he wants their programming to be great. And even I - a near-total ignoramus when it comes to contemporary music - can feel his passion here. He's being snarky cos he loves them.

Actually, you should check out Muhly's blog - he's vastly entertaining even if you don't know one John Adams from the other ... or the other ... or the other ...

Friday 17 October 2008

Typefaces and Te Papa

Question for the day - what was the first typeface designed in New Zealand? When? And by whom?*


This week's post about the Vogue typeface kicked off some comments, including Cheryl Bernstein's note about the history of graphic design in NZ receiving more attention, what with The National Grid and the Joseph Churchward show at Te Papa.

I saw the Churchward show during the weekend. Normally, I visit Te Papa in a hold-your-nose fashion: I take a deep breath, I go straight to what I want to see, and then I get the hell out. On this occasion, I'd gone back for another look at the Dashper/Mrkusich/Driver hang - which I liked even more the second time round.

After that though, I did something unusual - I went for a bit of a wander. First I saw the Churchward show in the Illott room (and I stick to my guns - any sense of modernism that attaches itself to this roomlet is accidental) . Prompted by the note that one of Churchward's tyepfaces was used in the re-design of Tangata o le Moana: The story of Pacific people in New Zealand, I went to check that out.

First up, while the selected font is nice as display text, it doesn't work on the wall labels. But far more important is this observation: the re-design of this Pasifika exhibition seems to demonstrate the slow sea-change that's coming over Te Papa. Sure, it's still expensively kitted out. But it seemed to me that in this rendition collection items were given precedence over interpretation and design - a turn-around from the earlier version that was in place for Day One.

After wandering through TOLM, I headed for what might be my favourite thing in Te Papa. You can have the Northland Panels - I'll take the Captain Cook cloak.

One of the things I've always loved about this cloak is that it's so bloody hard to find. Conceptually, I can totally see what the Day One crew was doing. The cloak is a signifier for a moment of contact between cultures, with Cook as its fulcrum. Cook here sits symbolically and physically at the interstices between the tangata whenua, European arrival in Aotearoa New Zealand, and people of the Pacific.

Which is all fine and dandy conceptually, but as an experience for the viewer? The cloak is obscured behind one of the dullest parts of the floor (the talking Treaty poles - I mean, WTF people? these are still here?), concealed by opaque glass panels, unconnected to either of the flanking exhibitions, and in the dark (admittedly, for conservation purposes, and I do like the way you get to turn the little firefly lights on for your personal viewing pleasure).

My next part of my wander exemplified for me how the conceptual ambitions and experiential realities of Te Papa so often part company. After the Cook cloak, one of my most favourite parts of Te Papa is the space behind Te Hau ki Turanga in the Mana Whenua exhibition. Partly, it's the honey-sweet smell of the thatch. But mostly it's the way this spot demonstrates how exhibitions and architecture do battle in Te Papa. Behind Te Hau ki Turanga a wooden palisade fences off an oddly-shaped, obviously un-usable, lumpy section of wall, window and floor. It's always seemed to me like someone said "Oh shit, what are we gonna do with that completely useless part of the floor? Stupid building design. I know, we'll fence it off and hope no one notices. Phew. Crisis averted.".

But, you know what? Overall, I enjoyed my wander, and the crowd of 200 people on the Marae watching a demo by the Royal NZ Ballet left a good taste in my mouth, not a sour smell in my nostrils. You never know, what with City Gallery about to shut down for a year, maybe I'll be spending more time at Te Papa.


* So - there is a tangential-ish relation between this question and the rest of the post. A website tells me that Churchward "self-published a handful of original fonts in 1978 becoming the first and only company in New Zealand to publish original photo-lettering." I'm an amateur, and don't expect this means he was the first person to publish a font in NZ. But who was?

Thursday 16 October 2008

Not in it for the money ....

Our own Venice 09 rep Francis Upritchard is one of eight artists (along with the likes of Gavin Turk and Anya Gallaccio) talking about art and the market in the Guardian today.

This week's crush

This week I've been doing some typeface detective work (with some help from other interested parties). The typeface in question was used for the catalogue that accompanied the Centennial Exhibition of International and New Zealand Art, which opened at the National Art Gallery in Wellington on 10 November 1939.

Printed by Wright & Carman Ltd (177 Vivian Street) the catalogue is a lovely little thing, and the font is what made it for me - the long bars on the capital G, the low-slung em dash, and in particular the quirky vertical tail on the Q.

First up was some fruitless but fun sleuthing on Identifont, where you can try to ID your font through a gradual narrowing process, making calls about bars, spurs, slants and x-heights. Identifont told me that the typeface was Neuzeit Grotesk, an attractive sans serif from 1928, designed by Wilhelm Pischner.

But no! The M is right, but the bar on the G is too short and it lacks the defining characteristic, the vertical tail on the Q. So I went old-school, and typed 'typeface Q vertical tail' into Google. Et voila - the first result was a post on Typophile titled "Geometric text sans w/low x-height and vertical tail on Q - Vogue".

The above sample of text had been uploaded as a mystery image, and people on the forum quickly identified it as Vogue - a typeface designed for the eponymous magazine in 1930, and later released for general use. There doesn't appear to be a digital version of the font out there; but it's part of the 1920s/30s rage for geometric sans serif fonts that gave birth to Kabel and Futura (both close to Vogue, but alas, lacking that vital Q tail.)

So there you go; the tyranny of distance wasn't so terrible that in under 10 years a typeface cut for a fashion mag couldn't end up gracing the catalogue of a (frankly, at that time) provincial gallery on a far-flung island in the Pacific.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Sports mad

C-Monster reports on the opening of Hard Targets: Masculinity & Sports at LACMA. Her summary (with an appropriate changing-room reference):

The show, curated by LACMA’s Christopher Bedford (who has played rugby and American football and still has all of his original teeth) takes a look at how contemporary art addresses the subject of organized men’s sports. The sneaker sculptures of Brian Jungen examine athletic regalia. Photographs of high school wrestlers by Collier Schorr look at issues of team dynamics and male adolescent sexuality. And a giant soccer ball sculpture by Mark Bradford, hangs like a nutsack in the corner. It’s a small, but potent show, that looks at a subject that is omnipresent in our culture, yet almost absent from contemporary art.

The LACMA blog has a post about the opening, including this video of the performance by Shaun Leonardo. The rituals of sport fascinate me, and the rutting-stag full-body-slamming of American football to me sums up that blurring of the line between action and artifice that has brought the word 'spectacle' into sport.

Bull in the Ring from LACMA on Vimeo.

In addition to the LACMA blog, if you're on Twitter you can follow their PR maven on @AAgsten

Monday 13 October 2008

Twitter post for my blog

Today I am pondering: what does 'value for money' mean when you're talking about art?

Friday 10 October 2008

Friday muster


Australian auction house Deutscher and Hackett get offered a "contentious nude" by Bill Henson, decide to give it a miss - The Australian and Art Market Monitor suggest the decision is based more on a failing art market than the chance of a resurgence of this year's earlier outcry.


As Cheryl Bernstein observes, Pundit's Keith Ovenden is no fan of Fiona Hall. I have no love of the heavy-breathing show myself, but found Ovenden's repeated use of "Ms" Hall condescending. I'm a bit of a bone-picker here - I also loathe it when people write of Rita and Frances, not Angus and Hodgkins - and think a simple surname will suffice. It's Ovenden's first review on Pundit, so time will tell - maybe the next will be of Mr Van Hout's two openings next week?


LACMA are blogging, and in the most recent post, a curator goes that extra mile for the sake of her collection items.


Finally - does your gallery or museum site have RSS feeds? If you do, think about adding them to Ideum's latest project, the RSS feed mixer.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Pass it on

Things are a bit quiet in Best of 3 land this week. Why don't you try out Damian Skinner's newish blog for some contemporary jewellery art* talk?

Or this great post on Watch This Scape, where a Scape volunteer finally speaks for all students out there who have fallen for the "it'll look great on your CV" line.

* or whatever it is you call it to distinguish Kobi Bosshard from Michael Hill

Image: Paua Art, by googly

Tuesday 7 October 2008

I love you internet

It's official. I love the internet. In playground lexicon, I love the internet so much I would marry it.

Today I'm loving the web because the official Google Blog has released this analysis of search behaviour during last week's American VP debate.

As Biden and Palin debated, watchers went to the web to answer their questions in real time - "what's a maverick?" "meaning of theocracy?" "pronunciation of nuclear?".

I caught the last half hour of the VP debate via a webcast on the BBC site, which had dynamic commenting from both BBC staffers and just good old interested (presumably signed in?) people. Using Twitterfox I could track Tyler Green's tweets, as he carved out a new niche as a pundit. I found out about the BBC cast from a colleague via Yammer. It was awesome. I love you, internet.

Monday 6 October 2008

Australia to introduce Resale Royalty

Australia will pass legislation before the end of the year introducing a resale royalty right scheme for Australia's visual artists. It is expected to take effect from 1 July 2009.

The scheme applies to:

  • visual artists, who will receive a mandatory five per cent of the resale price of their work, when it sells for $1000 or more.
  • works by living artists and for a period of 70 years after an artist’s death
  • original works of graphic or plastic art, such as a painting, a collage, a drawing, a print, a sculpture, a ceramic, an item of glassware or a photograph
  • resales where the seller acquires a work after the resale royalty legislation takes effect.

Dept for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (obligatory, if naive, what the? exclamation) info

Response from the (bright-eyed, bushy-tailed) Nicholas Forrest

Artists apparently not all that stoked - SMH

Friday 3 October 2008


All writers have tics. Me, I'm a qualifier - my texts are littered with kindas, sortas, maybes and almosts. In print copy I ruthlessly hunt them down and eliminate them; my online voice is probably closer to my spoken conversation.

The writers at Watch This Scape are very fond of 'nice', and variations upon a theme of 'crazy'.

John Hurrell's word of the year would appear to be 'muscular'

"Karaka II (1980) is unusually large for Walters, being particularly muscular in its organisation of pulsing korus, and with their bulbs being especially large."

"Of the nine works ... the black on white paintings are the best, partly because Sara Hughes had a coloured palette similar to Heaphy’s, so that ‘look’ is starting to look now like a Gow Langsford brand, and also because formally they are more muscular anyway."

"Braddock’s wiry anaemic freckled back presented this way has its own muscular eroticism."

"They are intimate works, not muscular but gorgeously delicate."

"Their works had nice muscular scale matched with intriguing ideas."

"Her placement of two panels side by side similarly creates peculiar tensions where the suggested patterns avoid a strident dynamic and remain anaemic, circumnavigating the muscular."

"They combine to look thick and muscular, as if drawn by say Richard Serra."

And from a review of Lisa Crowley's current show, which appeared in my feedreader this morning but has disappeared from the blog: "their muscular scale, all being 1234 mm high and between 1386 and 1946 mm wide".

Thursday 2 October 2008

Opportunities (for the PSBs)

The economy is flailing - but will art prices come down?

One of the interesting points I picked up in The $12 Million Stuffed Shark was that it's very hard for dealers to put the prices of their artists' work down. Whether the work's getting better or worse, prices have to go up - or at least remain stable. However, dealers can give clients a quiet discount - and not-so-quiet clients can ask for them outright.

All questions of the connections between the art market and financial markets (and doing the dirty on your dealer) aside, by taking new work straight to the market via auction Damien Hirst got what people were prepared at that exact moment to pay for it. (BTW, some of the best commentary on this whole hoo-ha is here and here on Art Market Monitor)

The idea of people going to auctions to "pick up deals" makes me deeply uncomfortable. I hate seeing a great work going for a song - mostly because I find that somehow disrespectful to the artist. Sure, it's not the auction house's job to look out for individual artists' reputations by guarding the prices, and sure, fashion plays a strong part in the vagaries of the secondary market, but I still don't like it.

Anyway - what got me thinking about this today was Judd Tully's Art + Auction article Wrangling Over Resales which includes this quote:

Although the wording varies, these clauses basically require or request the buyer to agree, in writing or otherwise, to give the gallery or artist the right of first refusal, usually for a limited time, when the work is about to be resold. A typical clause appears in the invoices of the Chelsea dealer Friederich Petzel: “If the purchaser decides to sell this work within five years of purchase, the gallery will have the right of first refusal to buy back the work at fair market value. Fair market value shall be determined by the gallery’s retail price for works of similar scale and significance at the time of resale and/or auction house estimates, if applicable.”

In this case, resale agreement work two ways: they stop speculators (or speculating collectors) from flipping a work in 6 months for a big profit, but they also protect an artist if the market for their work slumps. Their dealer can quietly buy it back rather than see it achieve a bad price - which could create disparities in the pricing of work in the primary market and the resale market. As noted on Art Market Monitor:

What the article doesn’t say is that the art market may finally be moving to a greater acceptance of transactions as part of the life of a work of art–not unlike a museum show or a retrospective. Of course, that would require dealers to be more accepting of the idea that an artist’s value might fluctuate over time.
All of this is a bit heavy, of course, so to leaven today's post - a cartoon from ArtWorldSalon about arty Facebook status updates (click to enlarge):

Wednesday 1 October 2008

My heart starts missing a beat

First up, and consistent with my love of pop science - National Geographic's Best Science Images of 2008

Not to be out-done on the art front: research has shown that infants respond to high-contrast images. Publisher Templar is releasing a book of monochromatic artworks for babies, including images by Hirst, Malevich and Riley. See the slideshow on the Guardian website.

Duck (1994) by Patrick Caulfield and Together (1993) by Josef Albers