Thursday 31 July 2008

Monobrow mania

(a.k.a "My day of Ronnie van Hout")

I defy any reader to suggest a better example of the monobrow in New Zealand art than Rita Angus's 1938 portrait of Leo Bensemann

However, Melbourne's Hell Gallery recently staged a Monobrow exhibition, featuring work by several NZ artists, including Jacquelyn Greenbank, Emily Ireland and Ronnie van Hout:

Try getting that picture out of your head.

Images from top

Rita Angus, Leo Bensemann, 1938. Oil on canvas. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, gift of the Rita Angus Estate 1998. From the Te Papa website.

Ronnie van Hout, c. 2008.

Opening today: R.U.R

Ronnie van Hout's R.U.R, an 8m-long prone robot figure, is being unveiled today at the Melbourne Art Fair. The work is being presented by Satellite Art Projects, and is situated in the forecourt of the Royal Exhibition Buildings.

Promo photos reveal a blocky grey form with a scary set of teeth. Not being in Melbourne, I can only imagine what the "unveiling" is going to be like. I prefer to imagine that the work is currently shrouded in a white wrapper, which is going to be slowly removed in front of a humming crowd. I will be very disappointed if I find out later that they put screens around it instead.

Image: Ronnie van Hout R.U.R 2008, from the Satellite Art projects website.


Following on from the news of the smashed totem, Laura Barnett details other disasters to befall artworks, this time at the hands of gallery and auction staff, including a Lucian Freud drawing that Sotheby's put through a shredder.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Photography in art galleries: the dark side

Another day, another story about an art work accidentally smashed by a visitor to an art gallery.* This time it's a 9ft tall ceramic totem by Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez, selected by Tracey Emin for the show she has curated at the Royal Academy.

The bit of the story that stands out:

Pictures of the incident's aftermath were taken by onlookers, something the RA took a dim view of to the point of threatening legal action against one person who had taken a picture of it.

*cp. for eg. the Qing vases at the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2006, or, for a bit of light relief, the mogul who put his elbow through his Picasso in the same year.

Image: Tracey Emin with the then-unsmashed sculptures,

Monday 28 July 2008

So, when you say 'affordable', you mean ... what, exactly?

Driving home last night I noticed the banner on the overbridge advertising the Affordable Art Show. Every year when this event rolls around my blood boils a little bit. I find myself wanting to picket the venue with a sign that says For crying out loud, for $5000 you can buy proper art from a proper art dealer. In fact, you could probably buy 2 or 3 pieces of proper art. Maybe more. Sheesh.

But that's where I guess I get mixed up between what I feel it's appropriate to spend a couple of thousand dollars on, and what other people believe. An article in the Guardian by Jonathan Jones about collectors of unrespectable art illustrates this point nicely:

Rolf Harris is the Del Boy of the art world. He's lovable, people know him.

I saved up from my acting work to buy this - I won't tell how much I paid for it; it's sort of irrelevant, isn't it? There's a sense of pride, too. It was done by a bloke who painted the Queen. That's an honour. At the end of the day you'll always get critics saying what they say, but the Queen adored her picture and that, to me, says everything.

Friday 25 July 2008


Today's challenge: read Tessa DeCarlo's review in The Brooklyn Rail* of the SFMOMA/Walker Art Center Frida Kahlo exhibition, and replace every instance of 'Kahlo' with 'Angus'. I'm almost willing to wager it'll be the most insightful review of the show that you'll see.

From the review:

The knock on Kahlo is that her fame has less to do with art per se than with the “victim chic” of her biography—polio at six, a gruesome, crippling trolleycar accident at 19, marriage, divorce, and remarriage to Rivera, incessant infidelities, miscarriages, and surgeries—and the fact that, as a half-Jewish, half-mestiza, intermittently lesbian, disabled Mexican woman, she’s a veritable political-correctness punch line. It doesn’t help that she’s also wildly popular with people who are more likely to read People than ArtForum.

Indeed, many of Kahlo’s images are so familiar that encountering them in person is like a celebrity sighting: they’re smaller than you expect, yet denser with significance than anything else in the room. But unlike many celebrities, they look better in real life than on glossy paper.

Besides that, I think this is one of the best short reviews I've read in a while. Lively, informed, thoughtfully hooked into contemporary events, tackling the artist and the work, makes me want to write myself.

* By way of Tim Paul's quite splendid Museum Hours blog - thanks for the tip-off J

Thursday 24 July 2008

Play time

Andre Breton's First Surrealist Manifesto, 1924, visualised using Wordle (click for a bigger image). Have a play with your own text.


Turns out Art New Zealand is a fab source for making these things:

hint: use Google Advanced Search to find ANZ articles - enter your key words and do a domain search using

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Art and money


I'm currently reading* Artists' Estates: Reputations in Trust, by Magda Salvesen and Diane Cousineau, which looks at the management of (mostly) mid-century American male artist's estates, often through the medium of interviews with 'art widows'.

One of the interesting points that comes up in a few of the interviews I've read so far is the 'art widows' reluctance to sell to private collectors, and desire instead to place works in public collections. This seems to be driven by two motives: first, to hopefully enable the work to be seen by a bigger audience, and second, for the tax breaks. One widow noted that a gift of two works to a public collection meant she didn't have to pay income tax for two years.

The American tax system is beyond me, but there's an article in the Wall Street Journal today that looks at the effect of Congress's decision to crack down on tax breaks for fractional giving, where an owner donates a work to a public collection over a period of time, generating tax benefits along the way. Museums are now pressing for another change to the law, and wealth advisors are "steering donors away from fractional giving and toward an array of other complex art-giving vehicles, such as charitable-remainder trusts and donor-advised funds." The desire to give remains strong, according to the article:

"People are very interested in doing things with their art during [their] lifetime," says Lynn Lederman, a senior vice president at Bessemer Trust, a New York firm that advises clients with at least $10 million in assets. This satisfies their philanthropic desires, can reduce the size of their estate for tax purposes, and lets them take active control over where their prized collection goes.

Donating art also shields them from a big tax bill. Though many collectors could make a bundle selling into a hot market, they'd be hit with a sharp federal capital-gains tax -- up to 28% -- on art and collectibles (as opposed to the lower 15% rate on stocks and bonds). That gives them an additional incentive to donate and take a deduction instead.

In New Zealand, there's no financial inducement for an owner to gift (or sell) a work to a public institution, rather than putting it up for auction or placing it with a dealer to sell. I can't help but wonder** whether introducing tax benefits to encourage the gifting of works to public collections might actually be of greater benefit to New Zealand at large than the proposed resale royalty scheme.


In other interesting reading today, Jen Graves considers in the Stranger*** how America's precarious financial situation might impact on her experience of art. Graves notes that while art might belong to the wealthy, the ability to see it is far more open:

The vast majority of people don't even enter art's primary economy, the buying and selling of art, but they interact consistently with art's secondary economy, the viewing economy. We don't pay for art; we pay for the right to see it. And mostly, we pay very little.

I try to resist buzz words, but I'm kinda drawn to that notion of the viewing economy. Graves also notes that, "commercial galleries, paradoxically, are always free". I totally agree - you want to see the most recent and - occasionally - the best and most adventurous? Get thee to an art dealer. They're friendlier than you might think.


I can't finish a post about art and money without pointing you to Jen Bekman's 20 x 200 project: tagline "Great Art $20. Really".

Every week Bekmann makes two art works (a drawing/painting and a photograph) available in three editions: 200 small-sized $20 reproductions; 20 $200 medium-sized reproductions, and 2 $2000 large reproductions (occasionally the original work). All over the net, all equally accessible (providing you're in the right time zone and can handle the postage costs - considerably more accessible in the States!). I think it's fab.

*Well, I'm reading in between the times when I go oh, for godssake and put the book down until my patience reserves are restored. There's a slightly smug, self-entitled but put-upon tone to many of the interviews that I find a frustrating, often, I think, because the 'art widow' is struggling to promote the work of an artist who curators and dealers aren't interested in. On the other hand, I can understand their position, and god knows the emotional pressure must be enormous. That's why I keep picking the book back up.

**Nope, haven't seen the movie, don't plan to unless I'm having a really rough week and it's out on DVD. In which case I think many of the feelings described in * above may apply.

*** Some advertising may offend more sensitive readers

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Review II

More on the reviewing / critic front; Jonathan Jones writes (on his new one-man Guardian blog)

What happens now in professional criticism is that you start where you like, write about the object under study in any order and at any depth you fancy, and perhaps don't even give a single material fact about it. In other words, the idea of the critic today is not more modest but more arrogant - almost messianic - in its freewheeling claim to subjective authority. No wonder people don't like us! We're just loudmouths giving our opinions, at least unless we escape this arid play of free critical expression.

Meanwhile, John Hurrell asks - when reviewing a group show, are you assessing the curator's work or the individual artist's work? To which my short answer is - both, surely?


Last night I went to my first Montana Book Awards. One of the things I regret about my directional changes in the last few years is that I don't get to work on books like I used to - and I loved working on books.

It was kind of fascinating, being dropped neck deep in another cultural community and seeing people rumble and seethe (and, occasionally, whoop and holler) over matters I didn't fully understand.

And it was really pleasing to see the finalists in the Illustrative section get due recognition. All friendships and biases aside, the competition between Aberhart, Bill Hammond: Jingle Jangle Morning and comma dot dogma [Tom Kreisler] saw three of my favourite designers pitted against each other. Wholehearted congratulations to Aaron Beehre for his multi-award winning design for Jingle Jangle Morning: he's a helluva designer.

Monday 21 July 2008

Review me this

So - the results are in for my first foray into quiz land. Here's what I found:

First, I found out that my methodology sucked: 100% of you are reading art blogs (well duh - it's a survey posted on an art blog. My apologies). The dark horse finding though: 90% of you are still reading the New Zealand Listener. I thought - possibly mistakenly - that they'd pretty much quit the steady art reviewing with the change of Arts Editor, and I finally decided to quit my subscription. Was I wrong?

Meanwhile, all the other options came in at under 50%:

40% Art New Zealand
40% Art News New Zealand
33% Lumiere Reader
33% Local newspaper
25% White Fungus
17% Natural Selection
17% Uni student mag

However - you might be reading the Listener, but 60% of you trust the views expressed on art blogs the most (and not an editorial guideline in sight!). Art New Zealand and Art News New Zealand also limped in with a couple of votes each.

No clear winner emerged in the reviewer race: John Hurrell, Bruce E Phillips, Peter Ireland, Andrew Paul Wood, Virginia Were and Justin Paton all got a mention or a few.

Interesting omissions: Mark Amery (Dom Post - I think? bugger, I gave up reading that too), TJ McNamara (NZ Herald) and David Eggleton & Sally Blundell (both regulars at the Listener - at least, back when I was still reading it - which y'all apparently read but don't rate).

But don't just listen to me on this topic. Arts on Sunday featured a segment on visual art criticism yesterday, with Mark Amery, Judy Darragh and the guys from White Fungus variously suggesting that editors, money, journalism training, money, more opportunities, and money might help us arts consumers digest our art meals.

Friday 18 July 2008

What does it mean to be a curator?

I've just read a really interesting interview with Douglas McLennan, creator of, an all-time favourite site of mine, and one of the five sites that opens automatically when I launch Firefox in the morning.

McLenna's not just a creator. He's a curator. To quote him:

The good thing about ArtsJournal is that it's a curated service. We define what the territory is and then pick out the most interesting things. The curation aspect of ArtsJournal is its strength, but it is also a weakness because the curation reflects mostly my taste.

As users have more access to more information on the Web, the sheer amount becomes overwhelming. So increasingly you have to depend on curators — other people — to find the good stuff that you want to see over time. So you find the curator whom you trust. That way, you have a way to navigate through a lot of information.

So, in this context, being a curator means winnowing the best* stuff from all the other stuff, as a service for an interested audience. Which suddenly made me think - what does it mean to be an art curator these days?

So I went to the web and typed in a few search terms: "become a curator" "career curator" "curator job". Sadly, I didn't find anything risible. What I did find though were some fairly happy outlooks: Monster predicts an increase of 10 to 20 percent in employment of curators through 2008, and rates the career outlook as 'good'

Less positively, the British careers guidance website Prospects notes that long-term career prospects are uncertain and the US Dept of Labour notes that competition is tremendous as there are far more MA grads than jobs.

But best of all, our very own New Zealand Career Services site has a literal forecast:

Funny as I find that, the info about this career option on the site is interesting and, I think, probably very useful if you have a teenager at home keen to throw themselves into the arena:

  • Turnover among curators is low, partly because of New Zealand’s small population and the limited number of curator jobs available. Vacancies usually occur when people change employers or move into more senior roles. Because of this, curators need to be flexible about moving to where jobs are available
  • Curators usually earn between $40,000 and $70,000 a year depending on their level of responsibility and the size of the institution they work in.
  • The highest proportion of people were employed in the Wellington (28%) Auckland (26%) and Canterbury (11%) regions.

*McLennan recognises that 'best' in this context means 'what I consider to be the best'.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Buzz word a-go-go

New York's New Museum has announced that it will be kicking off its own triennial next year. The museum-speak around the announcement is chockful of kicky key phrases: "Younger than Jesus", "Gen Y", the ever-useful "emerging artists" and the perhaps inevitable Web 2 linkage "Facebook".

Meanwhile, NY museums are outsourcing art installation, packing and shipping work, in combination with off-site storage, leading to the creation of 'art campuses'.

Finally - don't forget to take the reviewer survey - it's a close-fought race for top reviewer right now.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Cross sell, up sell

File these in the god, why didn't my marketing team think of that? folder:

Cosying up with a brewery to promote (the work of) your students

Parcelling up exhibition entry with tickets to REM concerts

Going the whole hog with your exhibition merchandise (Diego Rivera paper doll anyone?) a la SFMOMA

And while you're here, don't forget to take the Reviewer Survey - results next Tuesday.

Frida Kahlo socks in the SFMOMA store, via

Monday 14 July 2008

The new influencers?

The "bloggers are replacing paid critics" meme is getting another workout in the Observer - is it curtains for critics? asks Jay Rayner, a food critic who had to ask his dining mate (and food blogger) to pull down a review of the restaurant they'd just dined in until his own, dead-tree, review appeared.

The Observer follows up with snippets of comment from print critics, (who, on average, have been reviewing for 39.5 years) musing on the rise of online reviewing.

So, inspired by Cheryl Bernstein's recent findings, this week I'm asking: Where are you reading reviews of art exhibitions these days? What source do you consider to be the best? And who's your favourite reviewer?

Take the survey here - it closes next Monday.

Friday 11 July 2008


Today I'm going to look at art, not write about it. Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Oh, go on

One of the things that interests me professionally is serendipity. How can you introduce play into search? How can you help people wade through the depths of your online collection is a way that's so elegant, so lightweight and so satisfying that they're unaware of effort, and only aware of the joy?

I played a while ago with, which lets you build colour palettes out of selected images - the principle is, I think, that a colour image that's easy on the eye can be developed into an appealing colour palette.

This morning though I found Multicolr search lab and it's a whole new ballgame. Using Flickr's API, the tool lets you search nearly 3 million images by colour.

Now imagine that this was laid over an online collection; selecting shades of ochre, black and white would bring up McCahon, while jade and purple would give you Reuben Paterson. I could play with this thing for hours.

Images from top

Screenshot of a search on Multicolr

Colin McCahon,
A grain of wheat, 1970. Acrylic on canvas. Collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Purchased 1978. New Zealand Lottery Grants Board. From the Colin McCahon website.

Reuben Paterson,
Anticipating, 2007. Foil on canvas. From the Gow Langsford website.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Round the web

Ed Winkleman on overprotective gallerists

Lisa Boyle on closing a dealer gallery

Sarah Eades with pictures of an emptied out Auckland Art Gallery

The Guardian's competition for young critics includes advice from the professionals. From Adrian Searle: "If you don't like looking, don't write about art."

UPDATE What every gallery needs - ducklings

Tuesday 8 July 2008

What are you thinking? Take Five

Search queries coming to Best of 3 over the past month have been predictably dominated by two memes: Bill Henson, and the selection of Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard to represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale.

For some inexplicable reason, 'mondegreen best-of-3' brought a bunch of visits. And someone's been shopping ... 'yvonne todd framing' came up a few times.

Seraphine Pick remains the most-searched-for artist, with an honourable mention to Michael Parekowhai.

My favourite search this month is "time to get to a curator", which I hazard is either a student seeking a career path, or an artist whose calls aren't being returned.

How do I know all this? Because I use Google Analytics on this blog. Through GA, I can delve into all kinds of tasty details about visitation to this blog ... including, for example, how many visits I get from various galleries and tertiary instititions around the country.

You can use these kinds of tools for good or evil. You can enter your organisations IP address/es into this page on Wikipedia & see what your staff have been editing on work computers ... or you could find relevant entries, go to the History tab, then set up an RSS feed to be alerted to changes on the entry (you'll find the RSS link on the left-hand side of the page).

You could snoop on your staff and potential hires' personal lives on Facebook and Bebo - or you could talk to your staff about using social networking sites as part of their work.

You could set up some Google Alerts, Google Blog search RSS feeds*, and Technorati alerts (do some searches on relevant phrases - e.g. 'christchurch art gallery' or 'auckland art gallery building', then click the orange 'Subscribe' icon. Note that not all versions of IE support this, so you're better off with Firefox - but then again, you always were.) Then you can listen in to what people are saying about you.

Or do some targeted Googling; try the command link:your_url_here to see where links to your sites pop up. Or go to Google Blog search and use the command inurl:search term.

All of this stuff - it's what I mean when I say 'web presence'. You're more than just your website these days (and that means individuals as well as organisations). You're (hopefully) spread all over the web, the subject of all kinds of conversations. Get out there and find out about them.

* Hey - has anyone noticed it's Marc Chagall day on Google?

Monday 7 July 2008

Foxy lady

Last weekend I fell head over heels for this new work by Seraphine Pick, on show at Hamish McKay's. What I love about the work is that Pick seems to have stopped painting at exactly the right moment, leaving the work with a sense of undone-ness that matches beautifully with the precariously-clothed model: the bold streaks of dusty rose down the right-hand side of the canvas, the curls and wisps of brushwork on the nape of her neck, the light that pools under her chin. It's a lovely, sexy bit of painting.

Pick's girl reminded me of Raymond McIntyre's women with rosebud mouths - in particular, the McIntyre portrait reproduced on the cover of the first Art New Zealand. Perhaps she's the same young woman, brought forward 85 years .

One of my favourite works in Te Papa's collection is what I've always mentally called "the foxy young man" portrait (as with Rita Angus, I have a suspicion that when McIntyre painted other people he was always really painting himself).

The foxy young man in question (and I mean that, of course, in the vulpine manner, rather than the phwoaarr manner) is of course Edward McKnight Kauffer, the later-to-be-famous graphic artist, and like McIntyre, London-based expatriate.

Images from top:

Seraphine Pick, Untitled, oil on canvas, 2008, from the Hamish McKay Gallery website

Squitty little image of the cover of the first Art New Zealand, from the Art New Zealand website

Raymond McIntyre (1879-1933) Edward McKnight Kauffer, about 1915, oil paint on panel. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Gift of C Millan Thompson to mark the occasion of the retirement of the Director [of the National Art Gallery], S B Maclennan, 1968. From the Te Papa website.

E. McKnight Kauffer, (1890-1954), Soaring to success! Daily Herald - the early bird [Daily Herald] 1919, planographic colour lithograph, photolithograph. National Gallery of Australia. Gift of the estate of Garry Anderson. Accn No: NGA 97.641. From the National Gallery of Australia website.

Friday 4 July 2008

Sense and sensibility

Maybe I don't read the right newspapers, but there's been less coverage than I expected of last week's Venice announcement.

The most awkward moment was when Judy Millar and Frances Upritchard 'met' for the first time since the announcement in a three-way call with Lynn Freeman on Radio New Zealand. The interview itself was quite interesting, especially when the inevitable "will your work reflect New Zealand" question arose.

Freeman asked Millar "We know you for your abstraction [blogger - huh?]; is there going to be a New Zealand feel to the abstraction?". Millar stated that she wasn't interested in "ideas of pure abstraction", and was more interested in the "idea of an image". Freeman then asked her if her imagery would have a New Zealand feel, or if it could be "more subtle than that" [blogger: god, I would hope so]. Millar was pretty clear she wouldn't be painting abstracted kiwifruit or All Blacks any time soon.

Upritchard noted that it was hard to see where "the New Zealand" was in her work anymore, and that Venice itself was in some ways the origin of the work she'll produce for the Biennale; the figurines she's been working on recently, which will feature in the work, emerged from the experience of seeing medieval carvings in Venice.

Later Freeman moved into the "furore and bad feeling" that surrounded et al's Venice project, and the "responsibility" that placed on Upritchard and Millar to help "mend bridges" with the New Zealand public. At this point both Millar and Upritchard [blogger: rightly] pretty flatly said it was their job to make good art - nothing more, nothing less.

Reading Christopher Moore's piece in the Press , with his talk of a 'distinctive New Zealand sensibility', I had to wonder if he'd heard the interview. Even more surprising was this statement:

For the first time in several years, it was also a genuinely representative national team, rather than one that was drawn from the tight introspective world of Auckland's curatorial elite.

Maybe it's a Christchurch thing (bearing in mind Andrew Paul Wood's Artbash rant about the Auckland-centric Walters Prize), but I'd never thought that the previous Venice projects had any Auckland clique-ness. If anything, the artists we've sent to Venice are notable for the amount they work outside of New Zealand.

So my weekend question: who is this mysterious Auckland curatorial elite? Does it have something to do with wearing the right shoes?

Thursday 3 July 2008

Eight words to describe an artist


1. Emerging

2. Established

3. Significant

4. Important

5. Major

6. Leading

7. Acclaimed

8. Preeminent


1. Ace

2. Hilarious

3. Deep

4. Well-endowed

5. Noxious

6. Zaftig

7. Punchy

8. Sanguine

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Five art words that I've been glad to see the back of

1. Palimpsest

2. Discursive

3. Self-reflexive

4. Rhizomatic

5. Any word with its first syllable wrapped in parentheses: (con)textual, (re)present, (re)produce ....

UPDATE: A reader suggests

6. Slippage

thanks J.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

No 850

Martin Creed's new work for Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries - the latest in a series of sculpture commissions for the space - involves an athelete sprinting the length of the gallery every 30 seconds for the next four months.

The instructions to the volunteers taking part in No 850 are to "run as if their lives depended on it". The runners will have to negotiate visitors in the galleries, but visitors are not allowed to join in.

According to Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian, a person at the launch of the piece asked if it was pretentious. Creed replied: "No, it is not pretentious. No one is pretending." It reminded me of Rohan Weallan's reponse to a question from John Hurrell about the meaning of his work.

Launch of Martin Creed's No 850 at the Tate. Image from the Guardian's photo gallery.