Friday 30 May 2008

Mission impossible?

Ed Winkleman's latest post looks at the appointment of two former museum heads to positions at dealer galleries. Ed writes:

with all due respect to my friends in museums ... I've always gotten this sense from many of them that the commercial gallery system is seen as somewhat, shall we say, tainted, in their circles. This notion is exemplified by nothing so much as the fact that it's widely believed to be harder for a commercial gallerist to become a major curator or director of a museum than it is for a camel to squeeze through the eye of needle. And yet, as we see, the constriction seems to apply in only one direction.

This something I've thought about before. There seems to be little flow between dealer and public galleries in New Zealand. Hamish McKay got his start at the then-National Art Gallery; several dealers and dealer gallery staffers (including Melanie Rogers and Michael Lett) have walked the floors as attendants at Auckland Art Gallery. John McCormack and Dominic Feuchs at Starkwhite both had careers in public galleries before shifting over.

Ed cites this quote from an article about David Ross (former director of the Whitney and SFMOMA) and Robert Fitzpatrick's (most recently director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago) move to commercial galleries:

“I wanted to work more closely with artists, rather than patrons and trustees,” says Ross, explaining his transition to the commercial side of the industry. Fitzpatrick agrees, describing dealers as having a “passion for art, artists and helping their work become better known.”

I can't think of any examples in NZ where a person from a dealer gallery has moved into a (senior) position at a public gallery. Anyone?

Meanwhile, in a sad side-bar to the Bill Henson fiasco, the recently-launched Art World magazine has been forced to pulp 25,o00 copies of its next issue, which included a reproduction of the image at the centre of the storm. I was really enjoying Art World (the pulped issue was only the third, I think?) and hope the $100,000 this has cost its publishers doesn't send them under.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Dear Artbash

You are like the wobbly tooth I knew I shouldn't play with but missed when it fell out.

Where have you gone?

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Holding hands with Olafur

More Olafur Eliasson visitor engagement, as the SFMOMA show 'Take your time' tours to MoMA and PS1.

I recently wrote about the SFMOMA experience of trying to get visitors to the show to share and discuss their experiences. At MoMA/PS1, visitors are being invited to apply for a "special cell-phone camera" to hang around their necks. As they walk around the show the cameras take pictures at random intervals, "documenting the visitors' journeys through the exhibition in a candid and experiential way".

Some of the photos are then being incorporated to "appear in the background" of the online exhibition (which is nice, but BEFORE YOU CLICK know that it's a slow loader). I wasn't sure initially what 'in the background' meant, but I think now that it means 'underneath this long piece of expository text'. After a bit of back-and-forward buttoning, I got this page, which shows just the visitor images. (It's not listed in the nav, as far as I can see).

The online exhibition is very beautiful, btw, and has a nifty little feature where when you hover over images it displays the title and the site where the work is on show - subtle, but useful for a multi-site exhibition.

At first, I wasn't sure about this hang around your neck, random timing thing. Why not let visitors decide what to photograph and how? And then I thought, if the whole Eliasson thing is about experiencing the work, having a visitor thinking about documenting the work instead of just being in it constitutes failure (or at least, the failure of the museum to fulfil the artist's intentions).

So I came around, and although I reckon some visitors must be subverting the instructions and pointing the cameras at things they hope to photograph, I like the idea that I'm seeing fragments of people's visits in quite an unmediated way (except - god, it's always except, isn't it? that they're being selected by someone inside the museum. Maybe they could put the whole unfiltered set up on Flickr).

Olafur Eliasson,
1 m3 light, 1999, photograph by Matthew Septimus. From

Monday 26 May 2008

Three links for Tuesday

Busy busy day, so it's a link round-up, I'm afraid ....

The Otago University Art History and Theory blog is written largely by (post-grad?) students. Posting is a little erratic, but definitely worth subscribing to the feed so you catch the occasional gem, like this assessment of Hamish Keith's 'The Big Picture'.

For type-freaks - The Ampersand, a blog devoted to the elegant &.

And Jerry Saltz's latest column on Louise Lawler, who photographs artworks in collectors homes, in galleries, in auction houses and in museum storage. The review contain's this week's best sentence:

To see a Delaunay crowded behind a TV, a Warhol “Green Stamps” painting on a hideous red wall, or an extraordinary Mondrian behind an armchair is like seeing how meat is processed.

The Bill Henson thing

One of the interesting aspects of the furore over the seizure of photographs by Bill Henson due to open in an exhibition at Roslyn Oxley's gallery in Sydney last week is that 'art experts' seem to be getting some space in the media coverage.

[The photos were seized by police after complaints from members of the public of child pornography. A column by Miranda Devine in the SMH put Henson's work squarely into the context of child sexualisation; PM Kevin Rudd denounced the photos as "revolting". The seizure has raised discussions about art censorship in Australia, and the RO9 Gallery is getting phone threats. Their site is still offline]

AGNSW curator Judy Annear

Former NGA director Betty Churcher

'Artists jump to Henson's defense' (oddly, no visual artists are quoted, but hey)

Anna Schwartz describes the seizure as a 'dark day for Australian culture'; her daughter recalls posing as a child for Henson (not nude though)

And the ever-popular vox-pop: Punters at the AGNSW have their say

Credit has to go to Why Are They Getting So Mad At That Dude From The Muppets? We Thought Kids Loved Him?

Meanwhile, Outpost (the AAG blog) was the first to talk about the story in NZ, with Sarah Eades making a comparison to the criticism the Gallery received at the time of Robert Leonard's 'Mixed Up Childhood' show.

UPDATE: I forgot I meant to link to a recent discussion on Ed Winkleman's blog, about 'Exhibition spaces responsibilities with regards to potentially offensive material'. Interesting comments.

Friday 23 May 2008

Yay for Don Driver

My cup runneth over with Don Driver goodness in the coming months.

First, a show of works from 1968-2008 opening at Hamish McKay Gallery on 28 May (I'm hoping for something with the enjoyability of last year's Mrkusich show, but with a few more pieces).

Second, a exhibition of Driver's banner works from the 1970s to the present at the Govett-Brewster, opening 31 May.

I wasn't around for the big Driver retrospective in 1999. Over the last few years though, as I've seen bits and pieces of work here and there, I've become more and more interested. With Spirit was a standout work for me in Reboot, and I really enjoyed the Driver/Dashper pairing at Hamish McKay's last year. The pieces that really ring my abstractophile bells are the painted relief works, which I've been lucky enough to see at people's houses - where the banners squawk and the assemblages growl, for me, the reliefs sing.

Don Driver, La Guardia, 1966, mixed media
Don Driver, Another Belt Pocket, 1981, mixed media
From the Hamish McKay website (now in a nice chocolatey tone).

Don Driver, Horizontal Relief, 1973, acrylic on canvas and stainless steel.
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery (and nice to see that the AAG's collection database is now regularly returning results on Google Image searchs, alleviating the poverty of images of New Zealand art on the web).

Wednesday 21 May 2008

o hai! welcum 2 teh art galleries! or, the yellow band solution.

It's a terrible conundrum, but one of the things I'm learning with websites is that the better you know your audience, the harder things get.

What do I mean? Take for example an gallery that wants to engage with a teen audience. How do you balance lolcats and unicorn memes with the organsational info you want to deliver teachers, parents, sponsors and other galleries?

The Walker Art Center's solution is characteristically elegant and playful. Go to the teens page on their site, and you're presented with two sets of info ("the business side of things" and "the play side of things") each with its own design (let's call them art gallery chic and MySpace). A yellow band bisects the page, and by sliding it you can choose for yourself: admin-type stuff for adults, or glorious teenage tumult.

The yellow band solution is genius. It fulfils both audiences' needs: teens can avoid all the institutional information and shape their own experience, while people interested in other aspects of the Walker's work with teenagers can get the information they want. But, importantly I think, both spheres are contained in the same place and accessed from the same start point. You can read about the way the Walker developed their approach in this paper from the 2008 Museums and the Web conference.

Actually, to call it "admin-type stuff" undersells the info the Walker provides for galleries looking to build their teenage audience. The Walker's work with teens is mediated through WACTAC, their teen council - a group of teenagers who meet weekly to "design, organize, and market events and programs for other teenagers and young adults". The Walker has a really useful Teen Programs How-To Kit (warning:PDF) that describes their learnings from different tacks they've tried.

p.s. you've got to love the pink unicorn

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Crit session

In an interesting article on the Guardian's art blog, Molly Flatt asks why is it so difficult to "praise interestingly"?

As Flatt notes, sarky reviews are often more fun to read than nicey-nice ones, especially online, where "funny negatives are much more likely to go viral than gracious accolades, and bloggers seem particularly keen to avoid the smear of gentle amateurism by showcasing a rigorous vitriol."

The spiky language of insult also seems to be more interesting than the milky language of approval - take for example AA Gill's famously withering restaurant reviews.

I've recently finished reading Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's Perfume: The Guide, a collection of reviews of over 1200 perfumes. [Part of my ongoing intellectual crush on Turin - see also here and here.] Scent is a terrifically difficult things to describe (try attaching more adjectives than 'fruity' or 'clean' to your shampoo next time you wash your hair) but Sanchez and Turin do it beautifully - from the loving tribute to the cutting one liner. But best is when they wrangle with the mysterious in-between. Here's Turin's review of Lancôme’s Trésor:

I once sat in the London Tube across a young woman wearing a t-shirt printed with headline-size words ALL THIS across her large breasts, and in small type underneath “and brains too.” That vulgar-but-wily combination seems to me to sum up Trésor. Up close, when you can read the small print, Trésor is a superbly clever accord between powdery rose and vetiver, reminiscent of the structure of Habanita. From a distance, it’s the trashiest, most good-humored pink mohair sweater and bleached hair thing imaginable. When you manage to appeal to both the reptilian brain and the neocortex of menfolk, what happens is what befell Trésor: a huge success.

In a review of Perfume: The Guide (ohhh - meta-review) John Lanchester writes: "[
Turin and Sanchez’s] work is, quite simply, ravishingly entertaining, and it passes the high test that their praise is even more compelling than their criticism." And that is why I will read the book all over again. Probably soon.

Monday 19 May 2008

Best outreach ever?

Another week, another best ----- ever .

I'm filled with admiration for Christchurch City Libraries' dedication to online outreach. Last week, for the second year in a row, CCL sent a fully-equipped team of writers (4 staff members, I think) to blog the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. You can browse all the posts here.

Writers Festival aren't my thing (I'm always scared an author will ruin themselves for me). But the CCL bloggers covered the Festival with spark and vim (and MP3s). They secured media passes (or at least pass) and managed to interview authors as well as cover talks, panel discussions, and Noelle McCarthy's shoes. While I have no way of gauging whether people were following the posts (although there are comments on many of them, and that's a pretty good indication of strong engagement) I think the whole endeavour is worth it - as much as anything, because it makes you aware that the real live people work at the Libraries, and they love what they do. And I like that.

P.S Palmerston North City Libraries were also blogging the Festival. If Palmy can do it, can someone PLEASE blog the Melbourne Art fair for me this year?

Friday 16 May 2008

A little sugar in my bowl

I've been pondering recently what it must be like to be a curator in charge of buying for a contemporary art collection. How do you spend your budget?

Do you collect horizontally (as widely as possible across the spectrum of art being made at any given time) or vertically (collecting in depth a few artists who you believe to be of greatest importance)? Do you try to represent an artist's oeuvre with a single outstanding (probably expensive) piece, or do you buy around the fringes - a small painting, a set of prints, a couple of drawings instead of the epic canvas?

Do you focus your acquisitions on works to appear in/which have appeared in your exhibitions? I s'pose this is particularly significant when you're commissioning new work for a show - but what do you do if the commission produces a dud work?

How much of a personal take is desirable? And what about staff turnover: are 5 different personal takes in the span of 20 years going to create an invigorated or a haphazard collection? Might buying by committee result in a well-rounded collection, or will the usual death-by-committee rule apply?

To try to answer some of my mulling, I went to some websites. Auckland Art Gallery told me that they were NZ's oldest and biggest arts institution, but didn't give me a collections policy to look at, or an outline of the areas they're actively collecting in. Te Papa has a collections policy page, but it didn't give me any specific information about how works are selected for the art collection (although I did find out that they have a responsibility to "collect works of art and items relating to history and the natural environment" a sentence which puzzled me until I inserted a mental comma after the word 'art'). Christchurch confirmed that they focus on significant Cantabrians, but the link to their Collections Policy brought up a quite terrifying Community Artworks Process Diagram (warning: PDF. second warning: I think this illustrates my 'death-by-committee' point). Dunedin is focusing on contemporary work.

The gallery that gave me the most information was the Govett-Brewster. Even if the recent acquisitions page doesn't appear to have been updated for a while, they give interesting detail, including acknowledging their deaccessioning policy. Normally I find the GBAG site frustrating, but today they win the rosette.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

all stars allstars all stars

An unrelated-to-art post...

The image above is a screenshot from a new and quite intriguing site: When you visit the site you'll be presented with a product logo (e.g. American Apparel, Bic, Corona) and a box into which you're encouraged to type the first word or phrase that enters your mind.

All these entries are collated by the site into tag clouds - the above is a snippet of the tag cloud for Converse. Not only is this the nicest typographical treatment I've seen for tag clouds; the clouds themselves offer a voyeuristic view into what people think of various companies: contrast Apple (biggest tags: 'cool' and 'design') and Microsoft (biggest tags: 'computers' 'software' 'windows' and 'monopoly').

Be warned that the site doesn't have the fastest loading time. If you want to skip the whole contributing part and just see what people think, go to the browse page.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Walk a mile

In his most recent column for the Listener, Hamish Keith goes from Crocs

to Bill Hammond

to Shane Cotton

to the Venice Biennale.

Sadly, no mention of Hany Armanious, surely the go-to guy for art/Crocs metaphors.

Images, from top:
Crocs Beach in Seafoam, from
Bill Hammond,
Bait Station, from the Brooke Gifford website
Shane Cotton,
Delta, 2007, from the Brooke Gifford website
Venice Biennale logo, Venice Biennale website
Hany Armanious,
Year of the Pig Sty, 2007, from the Foxy Productions website

Monday 12 May 2008

Best Idea Ever

Well - best idea for multi-location art exhibitions: branded rickshaws...

Pace Wildenstein provided these bicycle rickshaws to transport visitors to their Zhang Huan exhibition to other openings in Chelsea. Convenient, eco-friendly and a brilliant form of advertising.

The photo is from, where you can also see images of the show - including an enormous painting made out of ash, with its own attendant/caregiver.

Friday 9 May 2008

They were the only ones in the room

Quite a few months ago, I briefly blogged SFMOMA's online project for their Olafur Eliasson show - a kind of virtual visitors book for people to record and share their experience of the exhibition.

Last month, I had a chance to hear Peter Samis from SFMOMA speak about the project, in one of the most open and generous presentations I've heard. As Samis explained in his talk, Eliasson wanted to put the visitor's voice, rather than the curator's, at the centre of the dialogue around the show (sorry - that's a terribly art-history-essay sentence, but I'm sure you know what I mean).

For Eliasson, the visitor's experience completes the work. The objective of the virtual visitors book was to "encourage visitors in their own critical process of self-observation". The site included some multi-media interpretive material from the Museum, but the point was to engage the visitor to build the discussion of the works.

So, people came, they saw, and they wrote. And what they said was a mixed bag. But the key point for me in Samis's presentation, in his own words, was this:

We said our piece in our multimedia voice(s)
We opened the blog door to let visitors voices in
... And we left

They were the only ones in the room.

SFMOMA staff didn't respond to the comments on the blog. I find this fascinating, and not totally unexpected. It's one thing to get people talking to you. It's quite another when you suddenly realise you might have to talk back.

If you're looking at ways to engage (with) your visitors online, I'd really recommend Samis's paper, which gives a description of the why and the (technical) how of the project, an analysis of activity on the blog, staff's feelings about the visitors' comments, the kind of insight into your visitors you get from this sort of project, and what you could do with that information. Slides from his presentation (which you can follow pretty well without reading the paper) are on Slideshare. And some great notes from another attendee are here.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

No post today

The stuff I've been getting in the comments on yesterday's post is way more interesting than anything I'd been planning to write ...

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Can you get a curator to blog?

A few weeks ago, Tyler Green pointed out in a two part post that he felt that he was the ideal audience for most museum blogs: a "web-aware, art-loving, institution-approving, hetero-WASP-atheist".

The problem with this, Green noted, is that museums "tend to think my ilk is their audience when their audience ought to merely start with me, and grow outward from there". In the second part of his post he suggested that getting curators to blog (rather than marketing or web team staff, who often bear the brunt of these initiatives) was crucial to widening the audience.

I've talked recently to a number of people (mostly in museums/galleries, mostly in the web/'interpretation' areas) about this idea. By and large, curators are the 'most wanted' of writers, yet they also seem to be the hardest to get on board. [As an example - and I'm not picking on the AAG here, because good on them for doing what no-one else is doing - Outpost has 24 posts, 2 of them by curatorial staff].

Part of this, as Seb Chan of the Powerhouse Museum has noted, is to do with the exhibition development process. Curators' involvement in an exhibition usually starts to tail off soon after it opens, as they move on to the next project. But for an exhibition blog to work, it has to build up to the opening, and then really kick in once the public starts coming through the doors.

Seb has an interesting interview today with Mal Booth of the Australian War Memorial about curator-blogging. The AWM started out with exhibition-specific blogs, like Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse: the road to Damascus, but have since decided to consolidate efforts into a single blog, using the categories function to help readers zero in on content that's of interest to them.

Seb's interview covers the creation of the blogs, the staff time spent on them, how success is measured/thought about, and whether the AWM has had to change the way it works to accommodate blogging. He also points to this useful post by Nina Simon, How much time does Web 2.0 take?, which gives some ideas for what you can accomplish online in 30 minutes or 3 hours or a day a week.

But for a quick primer, I think Tyler's pointers (summarised below) are a good place to start if you're thinking of getting your museum/gallery blogging:

-- Get curators, conservators, etc. to contribute

-- Follow the well-established blog 'rules'

-- Write with verve

-- Recognize that it takes a while to build audience

-- Try things that might fail

-- Write about art

To which I'd add

-- Don't write blogs if you don't read blogs

-- Trust your staff to be sensible

-- Forget about the 'institutional voice'.

Monday 5 May 2008

Let her down easy ....

An engrossing article from New York Magazine by Andrew M Goldstein details the gradual retiring of Alanna Heiss, founder/director of P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Space.

Heiss founded P.S. 1 in 1976; in 2000 it merged with MoMA. Now Glenn Lowry is gently but firmly nudging Heiss towards retirement.

The article gives an account of the merger of two very different institutions and management styles (imagine if The Physics Room got taken over by Te Papa). But beyond that, it's a really interesting (and seemingly very honest and open) look at when and why galleries need new leadership. Lowry and Heiss are both interviewed, as are former P.S. 1 staffers and Robert Storr:

“It really is exactly the time when the institution should make the transition from its founder’s vision and mode of operation to a new generation,” [Storr] says. “Alanna has built something that is very important to New York. She should be very proud of it and she should be lauded for it, but it has outgrown her, and she needs to graciously let it go.” In the years since the merger, he adds, “it’s become a semi-museum institution, where what it really needs to be is the sexiest, fastest-moving, most dynamic non-museum institution in town.”

Succession planning was on mine and Over the net's minds last year - maybe Art New Zealand could pick up the meme?

Thursday 1 May 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright and Web Analytics

Okay - a post that's for people who like pictures and/or metrics.


If you're a FLW fan you'll want to check out this post on, with a bunch of images from the Lakeland campus of Florida Southern College, the largest single-site collection of his work.


If you work with websites or have to report website metrics to your managers, you'll want to read this recent paper by the Powerhouse's Seb Chan, Towards New Metrics Of Success For On-line Museum Projects (which could be aptly retitled 'Web metrics are slippery suckers, but here's some ways to wrangle them').