Friday 29 February 2008

Die, blockbuster, die

Nicholas Penny, new director of the National Gallery, London, has told the press that it's time for the institution to re-assume its role of showing audiences work that they are unfamiliar with, rather than staging rote shows based on well-known names. From the Times:

“The responsibility of a major gallery is to show people something they haven’t seen before,” [Penny] said. “A major national institution should be one that proves a constant attraction to the public. What is important is encouraging historical and visual curiosity in the general public.”

Jonathan Jones has written a long and interesting response in the Guardian. He notes that it's not the 'blockbuster' that's at fault:

A blockbuster suggests to me a mighty, epic - and yes, crowd-pleasing, why not? - romp through a great artist or period or theme. Britain's galleries don't do exhibitions like that - they do squibs that sound good on paper, and in the paper, whether it's a Caravaggio show with no Bacchus or Medusa, or a Duchamp exhibit that prefers to dwell on his snapshots than explore the mysteries of the Large Glass. By the time anyone notices the exhibition is actually a bit shallow, it's too late to ask for your money back.

By the by - the term 'blockbuster' dates from WWII and colloquially referred to bombs big enough to wipe out an entire city block. On that sobering note - thanks for reading, enjoy your weekend, get out to Waikanae if you can!

Thursday 28 February 2008

The Olympics of the art world

This morning Over the net posted about CNZ's refusal to provide them with a list of the proposals put forward by artist/curator teams for selection to represent New Zealand at the next Venice Biennale.

16 proposals have been submitted. The Selection Advisory Panel will winnow these down to a shortlist, and the CNZ Arts Council will make the final decision, 'taking into consideration advice from the Selection Advisory Panel'.

Over the net argues that

there is a clear public interest in the Venice artist/curator list. It is a perfect opportunity to have some conversations about what they may be proposing, how they might be regarded in the Venice context, who has not submitted a proposal, and why etc. All the usual exchanges that make for an engaged and committed art community.

The Venice Biennale is often referred to as the Olympics of the art world. It's interesting then to think about the application process for the Biennale compared to the Olympics. Athletes have to compete, in the public eye and before the media, to represent New Zealand at the Olympics: they have to beat times, beat other countries' teams, and beat each other.

There's been considerable coverage about Rowing New Zealand's attempt to exclude the media and the public from this weekend's trials at Lake Karapiro, where Rob Waddell and Mahe Drysdale are facing off as part of the long qualifying process for the only single sculls position in the rowing squad that will be sent to Beijing. However, 'huge public interest' appears to have forced Rowing NZ to back down from this position.

Thoroughly decent

The net is awash this morning with the news that London dealer and collector Anthony d'Offay is semi-gifting his huge collection to the nation.

I say semi-gifting, because d'Offay is selling the collection, valued at around £125m, for £28m: the original purchase price of the works, plus a fee to cover the administration of the acquisition. The British and Scottish governments are each putting up £10m; the Art Fund is stumping up £1m and National Heritage Memorial Fund £7m. Work on the deal apparently began in 2006.

The collection - to be known as 'Artist Rooms' - will be administered by the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, but is intended to be shown throughout Britain.

Read more about it at the Guardian site, Adrian Searle's view on the Guardian blog, Ed Winkleman on his blog.

On the way to work

Wednesday 27 February 2008

A long , long time ago

A year is a long time ago in blog land. This time last year:

Over the net were posting copy-cats

Peter Peryer was in the archives

Onemomentcaller was disregarding speed limits

David Cauchi was at a Gordon Crook opening

Best of 3 was wittering on about web accompaniments to exhibitions

John Hurrell was still hanging out on Artbash

All go this Sunday

Sunday 2nd March will be a big day for people who like (a) Seraphine Pick (b) Frances Hodgkins or (c) swear words.

After Image: Seraphine Pick and Frances Hodgkins opens at Mahara Gallery on Sunday. That was going to be my Sunday art-event, but holy toledo - how can I forgo an event as beguilingly titled as this:

There's fuck-all to see

In 1952 Bill Pearson, in his seminal essay Fretful Sleepers, wrote ‘… If a NZ’er goes to an exhibition or a museum he withholds his interest, grudgingly stumps around every stand for fear of missing something, but comes away with relief, 'There’s fuck all to see.' 50yrs on have we woken from our restless slumber?

Chaired by Phillipa Tocker (Museums Aotearoa CEO), speakers: Tommy Honey (architecture and design), Jo Randerson (writing & theatre), Philip Norman (music), and Roger Blackley (art history).

Image: Seraphine Pick, The perfection of an outdoor day, 2006. Oil on linen. From the Michael Lett Gallery website.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Welcome to the blogosphere

Auckland Art Gallery has opened up its blog

Tidying up after myself

The three works by Julian Dashper mentioned yesterday are collectively titled 'Here I was given' (1990-1991).

And still can't find the dates for Rose Nolan's Sydney show ....

Monday 25 February 2008

Writ large

Thanks for the image, J.

Reboot: The Jim Barr and Mary Barr Collection, the touring exhibition from the DPAG, opened on Friday night at City Gallery.

Once again, Rose Nolan walked away with the exhibition, with her huge wall painting SELFDOUBT filling the longest wall of the West gallery. This part of the exhibition takes its tone from Colin McCahon's I am Scared / I Stand Up; Nolan's statement might seem a little abject in this context, if you didn't know that in the Dunedin installation the work was SELFLESS, and in Christchurch the cheeky SELFISH snuck round the wall to invade Michael Stevenson's hanging space.

[Side-bar: Nolan is having a solo show at Sydney's Artspace later this year - I can't find the dates online (anyone?) but it must be quite soon, as the show travels to the IMA in Brisbane at the end of June.]

Another highlight for me were three works by Julian Dashper that have been added for the Wellington installation (absent from the Christchurch installation as they were needed for Dashper's CAG show 'To the Unknown New Zealander'). I'd round out my top three with the un-monumental room in the South gallery.

However, I think I preferred the Christchurch installation: the gallery proportions seemed better suited to the scale of the work, or to function better to create small groupings of works. The piece that suffers the most, I think, in Wellington is Don Driver's With Spirit - which was my revelatory experience in Christchurch (more Don Driver, I say). City Gallery's foyer also doesn't appear to have been able to accommodate Michael Parekowhai's Jim McMurty, who's recently been vacationing at the Māori Hall in Auckland, courtesy of Michael Lett.

Don't let any of my quibbling put you off though - get along and see the show.

Final thoughts

City Gallery: any chance you could talk to Robert Leonard and bring Nolan's show out here, as you did with Hany Armanious?

And: apologies for their not being any images here, but I can't find any installation shots online. Anyone else find it weird on Friday night that while we the audience can't take shots of the galleries, the Gallery was photographing us?

Most of Rose Nolan's Selfdoubt. Also in the picture: Michael Parekowhai's I Am He.

Thursday 21 February 2008

Two forums make a quorum?

On the Auckland Art Gallery development front: a new forum section! where you can share information and memories about the 1958 exhibition of contemporary Māori art at Auckland Uni, or 1950s fashion & culture .

While it might have been safer to launch on a topic that more people (like people under the age of 50) could really get stuck in to, good on them for having a go at fostering community participation and gathering information for a project in a new way. I wonder how they'll repurpose it?

And, via the ever-insightful New Media blog at the Walker Art Center, the (American) Museum Computer Network's Muse Tech Central site is a forum where members can share information (including budget range) about tech-related museum projects, like using tech tools to streamline the production of wall labels and using cell phones to deliver audio tours.


There doesn't seem to be a homepage link where you'd expect it on the Muse Tech site: use the 'projects' link at the top right to get back to the list.

And regarding the AAG site - here's how to increase your font size:

In Firefox
# Increase font size by pressing CTRL +
# Reduce font size by pressing CTRL –

In Internet Explorer

1. Open the View menu by pressing ALT + V.

2. Select Text Size by pressing X.

3. In the Text Size list, move to the text size option you want using the UP and DOWN ARROWs

4. Press ENTER.

Wednesday 20 February 2008


Opening tonight at Enjoy is Joanna Langford's new installation 'Brave Days'. I haven't enjoyed an Enjoy email so much in ages:

Like the Doozers of Fraggle Rock creating their intricate architectural constructions, Langford’s primary activity is doing. Structures are built intuitively and re-enforced as necessary. Her work also shares a symbiotic relationship to its environment, as she utilises cast-off materials to create new environments. While Langfords work is more complex than the doozers compulsive behaviour ­– building ad infinitum – there are similarities. The Doozers said they actually want the muppet Fraggles to eat their constructions because "architecture's supposed to be enjoyed" and also so they can go on to build again.

For those of you not watching children's TVin the mid-1980s (they were good times, I tell you) the Doozers page on the Muppet wiki may be illuminating.

Calling Langford's work more complex than the Doozers could be taken as a slight. Fraggle Rock, was a very deliberate consideration of the different ways of building and living within society, and the Doozers and the Fraggles had a symbiotic relationship: the Doozers live to build, the Fraggles eat their constructions, and thus the Doozers have room to keep building. So, my question is: if Langford is a Doozer, and the audience is a Fraggle - who is Majory, the sentient trash heap?

PS I forgot to say - I'm looking forward to seeing the show, after enjoying the Sarjeant Gallery installation linked to above.

Image: Doozers. From the Muppet wiki.

oh so close

There will be some art here again soon, I promise, but I want to hark back to Webstock one more time first.

At the conference, both Nat Torkington (possibly one of the most famous Kiwis you've never heard of) and Russell Brown talked about the relationship and differences between mainstream (ie print, radio, TV) media and online journalism: the words I wrote down were denser, richer, debateable, updateable, shareable, real-time.

Today Brown pointed to an article by Philip Matthews about political blogging. It's a great article, but here's the kicker: it's all about blogging, it mentions like a dozen sites, and there's not a single link in there - not even a plain text URL. How hard would it be for Stuff to employ someone to add links to print articles when they've posted online?

Monday 18 February 2008

The rest of you, read on

Never thought I'd say this, but I went to a conference last week and it was AMAZING. Yup, in caps and everything. Webstock blew my mind: there were a lot of big ideas floating around, and I have a new bunch of intellectual crushes, not to mention some fire in my belly.

However, one of the small things that really stuck in my head was Russell Brown noting Nielsen data released earlier this year showing that only 8% of New Zealanders are down with RSS. That means 92% of you are missing out on one of the most useful web tools out there.

Those of you already using a feed reader can leave now - try this article from the Brooklyn Rail about art assistants (that's where all those art school grads are going ...)

For the rest of you, please let me try to convince you again that using RSS will change your life. Truly! Marketers say sell the benefits, not the features, so:

  • you'll be up to date AND more efficient (you'll no longer have to visit to visit 15 blogs and 3 newspapers sites every morning before you open the file you're meant to be working on)
  • you'll be exposed to new ideas and the people thinking them (and the people they're following ... and the people they're following .... )
  • you'll become curious (and knowledgable) about things you never thought mattered to you (e.g. has made me better informed about Battlestar Galactica than I ever thought I would be)
  • you'll become part of this huge network of thinking, writing, doing, sharing people - and believe me, that's a wonderful and motivating feeling.

If all the people who read this blog got themselves a feed reader, it wouldn't do diddly to change the Nielsen stats. But it would make me happy.

Why should artists be singled out for special privileges?

That's the strap-line from Joanne Black's back-page column in this week's Listener (not online yet). Here's the first para:

'The government has decided to go ahead with its scheme to introduce resale royalties for visual artists, which was the subject of a discussion document last year. As economics professor Tim Hazeldine pointed out at the time, dead artists will get the most from the scheme. It is an odd group to appeal to, as they are even less likely to vote than the Exclusive Brethren.'

I'm not sure where Black got the skinny on this: the MCH page about the scheme doesn't mention a govt decision, and hasn't been updated since June 2007; there's nothing posted on the CNZ site; nor is there anything on Judith Tizard's page on the Beehive site. Maybe an official annoucement will be made this week ...

You can read back of the royalties debate here (note the RNZ and Dom Post coverage is no longer available).

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Living room

Hey - did anyone else know about this? This being the Museum of Wellington City and Sea's International Arts Festival contribution, The Gallery of Helen Hitchings: from Fretful Sleeper to Art World Giant. From the blurb:
In a recreation of [Hitchings'] gallery you will see work by leading artists of the time including McCahon, Woollaston and furniture by architect Ernst Plischke. This exhibition will both surprise and astound you with one woman's determination and the cultural sophistication of New Zealand in 1950.
While the shock-and-awe tone of that intro made me giggle, the photos of Hitchings' gallery that I've seen have always intrigued me, with their lifestyle-choice atmosphere: everything you need, from the painting to the pottery. I'm really curious to see how this recreation turns out.

[Sorry - no web photos, and no further info on the MWCS site, so you'll need to either follow the link to the IAF site above or visit the exhibition, which opens on 20 February.]

Tuesday 12 February 2008

I feel the earth, move, under my feet ....

New Plymouth's unmatchable kitsch-tastic Festival of Lights finished this past weekend, so on Saturday night I took the opportunity to see Grimace the Gorilla (don't even ask) and a performance of Len Lye's Big Blade.

The sculpture was scheduled to perform (an odd phrase, I thought at the time, but what else can you say - 'go off'?) at 9.30 on the Fred Parker Lawn. The band played their final set, and then the sculpture was introduced.

It was a funny experience. It was the most public performance of public art that I've been to - there must have been 300 people watching. The audience wriggled round from facing the stage to facing the sculpture. There was an atmosphere of intense, slightly puzzled interest.

At first, nothing happened. And then the sculpture began its sloooooooooow 360 degree rotation. As the audience started to get restless and to heckle, I began getting that cold-stomached feeling that you got when you watched your 6-year-old sister forget her lines at the end-of-year recital; that feeling you get when something you strongly believe in is failing to impress, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Finally, the ball started knocking and the crowd began to get a bit engaged. During the pause that followed the first burst they applauded, and after the second burst, when the blade does its shimmying thing, they clapped again (I think some people thought by that stage the work was sound activiated). I paid more attention to the conversations I could overhear than to the sculpture, really - lots of variations on the 'that's not really art' theme, and some excitement during the most percussive session which made the ground vibrate, causing the kid behind me to condescendingly tell his brother "It's a sculpture that makes the earth shake, that's the whole point".

The disappointing thing was that Big Blade's performance was truncated compared to the smaller version at the GBAG: it didn't go through that part when the blade is bends over backwards, and then slams into the ball: the free-form, whipping and whupping bit, that bit that makes you go holy hell, there's some power leashed up there. I'm not sure if this larger version isn't engineered to do this, or if it was being run gently to preserve the mechanism. I wound up feeling like the crowd and the sculpture had been shortchanged, and had to fight back that impulse you get to bail people up and say 'no, it's actually really cool - you see, what normally happens is ....'

Top: Green waterfall, by Rich Childs, on Flickr.
Middle: Len Lye, Blade, from Art New Zealand

Monday 11 February 2008

Crunchy suburbs, logo buildings and pork chop lots

There's an interesting post on the Walker Design blog today, about the site they've built to accompany the Walker exhibition 'Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes', which 'demonstrate[s] how the American suburb has played a catalytic role in the creation of new art'.

First off, the post is interesting because the writer talks about both the tech specs of the site (which incorporates a wiki - more about that later) and about how the designers worked to make the design of the site and the print publication sympathetic and coherent - not just visually, but by trying to make a similar reader / user experience. I'm not sure that the outcome is very successful, in terms of the site being a bit hard to control and navigate, but it's interesting to see this attempt at a consistent approach on a large-scale project.

The site includes essays, artist bios, a selection of videos loaded to YouTube by visitors / interested people, and a lexicon of terms, which is an editable wiki (think Wikipedia). It's this last one that I find really interesting (and where I got the words in this post's title).

The lexicon grew out of the curators' research for the exhibition; they found a lot of great words and phrases that had been invented / adapted to describe suburbia and urban design, and rather than just let them go to waste when they didn't fit into the wall panels, they're printing them as a lexicon in the publication. They've also loaded the terms into this wiki, where the definitions can now be edited by anyone, and further terms added. So - here are the definitions for crunchy suburbs, logo buildings and pork chops.

I really like this idea. When you research a show or an essay, so many beautiful small details have to be dropped, due to word limits, or to simplify narratives, or simply because they are small details, and and you need to concentrate on getting the big ones across. It also gives a sliver of insight into the kind of things that curators do when preparing shows. Yay for the Walker, again.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

What we talk about when we talk about art

Posting will be patchy for the next ten days or so.

To fill some time between now and then, here's a nice article about the way Ikea products are named.

There's an article on Art World Salon about Leipzeig's Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst's new long-term project: over the next two years, the museum will invite 11 collections, collectors and galleries to display their collections of art in any way they see fit. It's called Carte blanche.

(By the by - I suddenly thought when typing that I wonder what the phrase really means? Turns out it means 'blank cheque', so I'm figuring that (a) they're using that term metaphorically and (b) I'm going to start using it more carefully).

Comments after the article raise interesting points about museums as arbiters of taste, and as vertically integrated content providers. My first reaction was - how do their curators feel about being turned into project managers for two years?

For some real light relief though, and apologies in advance if you've already seen in - Aardman animation's 'Creature Comfort' series includes this brilliant 'What is art' clip. Watch out for the print-making beagle.


Monday 4 February 2008


Has anyone else noticed that the art reviews have disappeared from the Listener? Never fear - as announced in this week's edition, proud curmudgeon Hamish Keith is about to commence a fortnightly art column for the magazine.

Also noted

Sarah Jessica Parker's production company (Pretty Matches) has teamed with the creators of Project Runway (Magical Elves) and is shopping an art world version of Project Runaway around the networks. Will SJP take Heidi's role? Who will play Tim Gunn? And what is with the names of those companies?

And just now noted

Gordon McLauchlan's motion(via Beatties' Book Blog), at the monthly meeting of the Auckland branch of Pen (the NZ Society of Authors), to lobby government to relocate some of the national cultural institutions - namely Creative NZ - to Auckland. Seconded by said Hamish Keith.

Friday 1 February 2008

Friday muster

You now have until February 13 to tell Utah how you feel about oil drilling near Spiral Jetty.

If you happen to collect Coke memorabilia, meet you new best friend. Coca-Cola has its first blog, and it's being run by the company archivist.

Street art / street-influenced art? Graffiti in the gallery system.

Opening tonight at Hamish McKay - Mikala Dwyer

Artbash on Ilam