Tuesday 30 September 2008

Second chance

Yesterday's post about the video of the painting out of Sol LeWitt's walldrawings at SFMOMA got pushed down the Best of 3 homepage pretty quickly yesterday, so I'm re-posting it now.

If you didn't watch the video yesterday, hop to it. I promise it'll be 2 of the best art watching minutes you spend this year.

Monday 29 September 2008

A lengthy post on blogging

A bunch of stuff came in via my feedreader last week which has all added up to this - rather lengthy - post about blogging. If you just want to read about art, I'd recommend scrolling to the end of the post.

Blogs - here to stay

Technorati recently released its State of the Blogosphere 2008 report. Among the interesting points

- Blogs and 'other websites' are blurring: "Larger blogs are taking on more characteristics of mainstream sites and mainstream sites are incorporating styles and formats from the Blogosphere. In fact, 95% of the top 100 US newspapers have reporter blogs".

- Your brand (read: gallery) is probably all over the blogosphere: "Four in five bloggers post brand or product reviews, with 37% posting them frequently. 90% of bloggers say they post about the brands, music, movies and books that they love (or hate). Company information or gossip and everyday retail experiences are fodder for the majority of bloggers."

- Not blogging? Dummy. "The word blog is irrelevant, what's important is that it is now common, and will soon be expected, that every intelligent person (and quite a few unintelligent ones) will have a media platform where they share what they care about with the world." Seth Godin.

Blogs - making you better at your job

Hot on the heels of Technorati's report, Read Write Web (appalled at the results of a recent Pew 'networked workers' survey) argued that reading blogs at work is a really good thing:

1. You get the 'First Mover Advantage'. Not everyone believes in this, but the guts of the idea is that people who know stuff first have a competitive advantage.

2. You know what other people are talking about. This lets you spot gaps in the market (and fix stupid stuff you've done).

3. You can learn from experts - RRW has a great post on finding the top blogs in your area of interest.

Blogs - some do's and don'ts

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of my areas of interest, so I follow the eminently useful SEOmoz blog.

This week's Whiteboard Friday video was about tips for corporate blogging. If your gallery/museum is still thinking about taking blogging on, don't be put off by the "corporate" in the title: it's packed with repurposable advice.

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday - Corporate Blogging Tips from Scott Willoughby on Vimeo.

The best piece of advice: don't just write about yourself. Join - or create - the wider conversation. Ed Winkleman does an amazing job of this; sure, he posts regularly about what's going on at his gallery and with his artists. But it's his "off-topic" posts that make him such a fresh and enjoyable regular read.

For those that want to read about art: a new blog

Check out The Paint and Bake, written by AUT undergrad painting students. The origin story is too cute:

One day Agnes and Elliot were sitting in front of the macs in studio with Julian Dashper, looking at various art sites and blogs and Julian Dashper said, "hey why don't you guys start up a painting blog?" and we said, "hmm dunno might be a bit of work..." and he said, "come on it'll be fun", and we said, "oh alright then" and he said, "so you'll have it up by the next time i come in?" (as Julian Dashper only comes in every two weeks on a friday) and then Agnes said, "ok", so here it is.

Speaking of Julian Dashper - check out the recent(ish?) collection rehang on the 4th floor at Te Papa. Three pieces by Dashper have been hung along with works by Mrkusich and Driver* in the penultimate room of Toi Te Papa, and a set of drumskins share the final room with new works by Chiara Corbelleto.

*There is a frigging spectacular Driver in the hang - the appropriately named Big Relief (1980). While I think the room would have been enhanced by including one of the relief works, or maybe even a small assemblage, it's still totally worth checking out.

Saying goodbye

This video on the SFMOMA blog showing the Sol LeWitt drawings being whited out (earlier post here) is exactly the kind of thing I want art galleries posting for the public to see. Thrilling and almost sacrilegious, it lays out the workings of the institution for all to see.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Rothko from two sides

Two markedly different takes on the installation of the just-opened Rothko show (blogged earlier here) at Tate Modern.

From Adrian Searle in the Guardian

The dim lighting and contained feeling of the Rothko Room at the Tate has always given it, for some spectators, an air of immanence and mystery. I prefer paintings in plain sight, without the heavy breathing, never mind the intimations of tragedy in the shape of Rothko's suicide at the age of 66. His death tends to obscure his achievements even more than the peculiarly low light levels he preferred for the work's display.

From Mark Hudson in the Telegraph

These pictures work best when they are hung in an enclosed space of the right scale, at low light levels - just as they have been shown at Tate Modern since 2006. In general, the lighting of Rothko's paintings is especially important because over time their condition has deteriorated, so that if they are over-lit you see areas of paint slick or sheen on the surface that completely destroys the illusion of immanence - rather in the way a snapshot is ruined by the reflection of the flashbulb in the subject's eyes.

Which is why I absolutely hated the installation of Tate Modern's new exhibition `Rothko's Late Series'. Tate's Seagram Murals are shown next to paintings borrowed from the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Japan and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in an enormous gallery under relatively strong light in a way that utterly destroyed for me any feeling of atmospheric cohesion or unity.

Where Searle sees benefit in being able to see the effects of time and crappy restoration attempts on Rothko's work, Hudson sees an undermining of the paintings' impact. Ditto their discussion of the curators' decision to hang one work so both its front and verso can be seen:


The show makes a careful study of Rothko's technique, his materials and paint application. One painting, owned by the Tate, is shown alongside close-up photographs of details seen under ultraviolet light, revealing the complex layerings and reworkings the artist subjected his work to. The painting is displayed on a false wall, with an aperture behind that enables us to see the back of the canvas.


The organizers are determined to knock the sacred on the head by emphasizing the status of his paintings as objects made of wood, canvas and paint, even going to far as to display one picture in such a way that we can walk behind it to look at the stretcher, lest we get it into our silly heads that there is something magical about what Rothko did. Turn up the houselights! Away with the smoke and mirrors! After all, they're only paintings.

In New Zealand we rarely get two critics' views on the same show (at least, while it's still on) but it's even more unusual to get criticism of the way shows are hung (at more than the most basic "too crammed" / "small but perfectly formed" level). I don't know if writers don't think the general public would be interested in the decisions curators have made, or if they're generally not interested themselves.

More mid week musing

Today, I'm wondering ...

... why Artbash is so quiet on the topic of Scape

... what Callum Morton and Peter Robinson plan to do with the polystyrene when the shows are over (and what the most environmentally sound art medium is ... conceptual art? sand sculptures?) (and when the GBAG are going to overhaul their website ... I heard plans were underway nearly a year ago)

... if this statistic is for real: "Wu represents artists who make 60 percent of the world's oil paintings."

... when the Walters Prize actually gets awarded. UPDATE: FIRST ANSWER. The Walters Prize will be awarded at a gala dinner on 31 October.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Starry starry night

I've written before about tools that let you extract colours from images in order to create a colour palette.

Now some clever bean in the Colour Lover community has made and shared a bunch of palettes based on the works included in MoMA's forthcoming exhibition 'Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night'.

Image: Starry Starry Egg, by borderhacker

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Still an RSS virgin?

Regular readers will know that I have gone on, and on, and on about the joys of setting up a feedreader. And according to my feedburner stats, some of you have even listened.

For those of you still holding out, Feed my Inbox might be a good introduction to the joys of automatically being notified of new content on your favourite sites. It's a nifty looking little device into which you enter the URLs of sites you're interested in and then - internet magic - it sends you a daily digest of updates.

Check out the Read Write Web review for more info.

Monday 22 September 2008

Blogging Scape

As part of Marnie Slater's work for the Scape Biennial, two keen beans are blogging the event.

Here's what the first few posts look like (click for full size view):

I also met some Elam students who are doing a student project where they're creating a website for their responses which will eventually be collated into a print publication. At least, that's what they said they were doing: itinerantpress.org doesn't appear to be live yet (nor itineratepress.org. or either variation ending with .nz). Any help, anyone?

Sailing away

Christchurch might be laid out in an impeccably logical grid pattern, but that doesn't stop me from getting horribly disoriented. As coping mechanism, I've learnt to use the the city's ample supply of pointy public sculptures as a navigational aid. The latest commission, Regan Gentry's Flour Power, proved a useful addition, erected just in time for the opening of this year's Scape Biennial.

In an event that leaned more towards the subtle than the spectacular, the work that made the strongest impression on me was James Oram's project in Cranmer Square.* His small sailing boat suspended from a crane is a lovely mix of simplicity, effort and daring - possibly too much so, as when I revisited the work yesterday morning the boat was grounded.

On my first visit to Cranmer Square I was spotted by an older lady who announced herself as the wife of the man who owns the crane, and offered to introduce Mr Crane, who was just catching up. My conversation with Mr & Mrs Crane was all that the Scape organisers could have wished for - a healthy debate over what counts as art these days.

Signs of healthy debate were also apparent in the courtyard outside the Christchurch Art Gallery, with local artist Sam Mahon's protest work.

*Unfortunately I tossed all the handouts before coming home, and the title & location of this work don't currently appear on the Scape website - apologies to Oram for the factual lapses.

Thursday 18 September 2008


Off to look at art for the next few days, rather than writing about.

Back on Monday.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Mid-week musing

SFMOMA is currently deinstalling (aka painting over) Sol LeWitt'' s Wall Drawing #935 and #936 in preparation for the Martin Puryear exhibition. Artist Chris Cobbs, who has executed many of LeWitt's works, muses on the event on the SFMOMA blog.

Irving Sandler interviews Jerry Saltz - a sample:

To become a critic I read Artforum religiously. I wanted to write the way they wrote in that magazine, which seemed very cool, smart, and reserved, although I was secretly horrified because I barely understood a syllable of what I read. Worse, when I did understand what I read I kept thinking, “These people hate art!” At first I tried to write like that. Whenever I read what I had written afterwards I had no idea what I was talking about. I had all these other thoughts and feelings I wasn’t sharing. That’s when I began to change in my attitude about writing.

In home town art debate, here's John Hurrell on the Walter's Prize on Radio New Zealand and his blog. From the blog post:

... when the selection committee for this year pick two past finalists (Reynolds and Robinson) to resubmit, something has to be wrong. The message is that Aotearoa doesn’t have the quantity and range of exciting practices to keep the exhibition continually fresh. In this country the inherent vibrancy needed doesn’t exist.

That is clearly not the case. More likely the committee didn’t do their homework and thoroughly scour through all the dealer exhibitions the length and breadth of the land. But with no South Island curator on the panel there was no incentive to ensure that. And with two of the four selectors from Auckland alone, the result seemed predestined to ensure Auckland parochialism, especially when the two repeating artists live in Auckland.
From conversations I've had recently, people are poking holes in the Walters from all directions, with a surprisingly common sentiment being that Reynolds and Robinson should have stepped aside.

Personally, I'm fine with people being re-nominated, if their work is judged by the committee to be at the top of the pile of the past two year's exhibitions. If you don't judge on merit, then the award risks turning into an everyone-gets-a-turn event.* My main complaint still lies in the lack of urgency for a two-yearly prize, and although I didn't get to New Plymouth for Peter Robinson's opening in the weekend, pictures I've seen confirm my suspicions that Ack will look outdated next to Snow Ball Blind Time.

*Sports analogy - sure, it'd reduce the feel-good factor if the same person wins twice in a row. But you don't stop sports people from competing just because they've won before. I guess you could always handicap artists like they do racehorses (make them install in the dark, maybe?)

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Pennies from Marfa

Sometimes I forget to look hard at the art.

It feels like a daft thing to admit, but occasionally you look at a work, and you see what you expect to see. This is why I loved my best lecturers, and why I still enjoy a good public programme event: they force me to stay still, and look, and think.

The Rita Angus symposium last weekend reminded me of the joys of being made to look closely at art.* Two speakers in particular made me look at works all over again.

Wystan Curnow spoke about - I think - the importance of putting biographical knowledge aside and letting/making a painting account for itself. Going back to Portrait of Betty Curnow (1942) in the exhibition, I was struck by just how rock-solid Curnow is within the picture space. In a room full of portraits of women and self-portraits where the female subject slumps, curls, or angles away from the viewer, Curnow is by far the steadiest, strongest presence.

The longer and harder you look at the work, the more uncomfortable the relationship between the torso and the lower body become. You see how the artist's signature aligns with the book spines, which are otherwise undistinguished. You notice how common the picture-within-a-picture motif is in Angus's work, and how often she references her own work.

Richard Lummis achieved something more difficult - he made me stop and look at a work I've always dismissed.

Let's face it - with some notable exceptions**, Angus's images of children are scary. Honestly, you should see some of the stuff that's not in the show.

I've always walked past Fay and Jane Birkinshaw (1938), taking a quick look and going "urrghh - saccharine". Lummis might have relied a bit too much on Fay Weldon's account of the work (something Wystan Curnow has disputed) but he made me look in particular at the strange background to the work - more like a backdrop than a real space, where tea party accoutrements and toys float in flattened space.

Lummis also made me see how different the depictions of the two girls are; one ruffled, energised, and - yes - something of a Rita avatar, the other more passive, tidy, restrained. But Angus has forged a link between the two figures - the checked pattern of their skirts flow uninterrupted across the picture plane. I also have to admit I've never noticed the book in the bottom of the work - another instance on the picture/picture motif.

So yeah - a day well spent.

*It also gave me a new life ambition - to grow up into Robin White.

** The treatment of Curnow's eyes in this work remind me really strongly of the composition of Passion flower (1943) - the same intensity in the centre of the work.

Images, from Te Papa's Rita Angus exhibition website

Rita Angus, Portrait of Betty Curnow, 1942. Oil on canvas. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1970.

Rita Angus, Fay and Jane Birkinshaw, 1938. Oil on canvas. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds.

Monday 15 September 2008

Not going quietly

I remember at the time of the McCahon survey 'A Question of Faith' talking with people who felt that the sentiment of the show - "the artist's spiritual quest, demonstrating how he explored questions of faith, doubt, hope and eventually despair" - was a bit pat, a too narrow way of viewing the late paintings.

I was reminded of this reading this recent interview with Kate Rothko Prizel, daughter of Mark Rothko, and her thoughts on the forthcoming Tate Modern Rothko show, which focuses on the later works:

'Seeing these paintings standing alone may have a very different effect on the audience,' she says. 'This time, there will be no side-by-side comparisons with the bright works of the 1950s, and [thus] the audience will not have a tendency to see the darkening colours as representing a change in his mood. With retrospectives, there is often a feeling [as you approach the monochromatic late works] that this was the ultimate walk towards his suicide. But look at them in isolation, and instead you simply feel something opening up before him. I do not connect any feeling of frustration in him at this time with a frustration over where his work was going. I see these paintings as a new beginning for him rather than a reflection of his mood.

'No one would deny that my father was very depressed towards the end of his life. I used to be very engrossed with that idea, too. There was a terrible tendency for me to see the paintings darkening, becoming less accessible emotionally, more hard-edged. I had a hard time separating them from his depression. But then I saw an exhibition at the Menil Collection in Houston, work that followed his completion of the paintings for the Rothko Chapel [commissioned by Dominique and Jean de Menil in the mid-1960s]. I hadn't been familiar with those works. It was a period when I wasn't in the studio a lot, and my father didn't have any at home. It was fascinating to see how those works had grown out of the chapel, and then how they led to the black and greys. That was the beginning of a whole new way of seeing for me.'

Emerging artists

In the late 1960s Rita Angus became increasingly irritated by repeated requests to reproduce images of her iconic early works Cass (1936) and Portrait of Betty Curnow (1942). Angus was concerned that the focus on these early works drew attention away from her current practice - here was an artist in her late 50s-early 60s, being represented by the work of her late 20s and early 30s.

I find it hard to remember, looking at the work of artists who I know through art history, not through association with my own life and age, that once they were young too. The first two rooms of Te Papa's current Rita Angus retrospective, for example, consist of works the artist produced before she was 30.

The Aviatrix (1933) is a new favourite - Angus was around 25 when she painted it.

Cass (1936) was painted when Angus was about 28 and

the masterly Self portrait (1936-1937) was finished before she turned 30.

Likewise, McCahon had already produced his early religious works by the time he turned 30: in 1947 alone, the year he turned 28, he painted Crucifixion according to St Mark, The Angel of the Annunciation, Entombment: after Titian and Crucifixion with lamp.

But no pressure, young artists! Take comfort from Gordon Walters: born in 1919 (same year as McCahon), he was a comparatively late starter. The Poet (1947) and New Zealand Landscape (1947) are probably his best known early works, and he was still a way away from the korus when he turned 30.

Images, from top, all from Te Papa's Rita Angus exhibition website

Rita Angus, The Aviatrix, 1933. Oil on canvas. Post Family Trust Collection.

Rita Angus, Cass, 1936. Oil on canvas on board. Collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, purchased 1955.

Rita Angus, Self-portrait, 1936-37. Oil on canvas. Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Now reading

If, like me, you're fascinated by tales of art collectors and semi-fascinated by the machinations of dealers and auction houses, Art Market Monitor is must-add to your feedreader.

I'd put it up there with Arts Journal and Tim Paul's Museum Hours as one of my favourite clearing-house sites.

The tagline says it all

The Lolvante Garde: Bringing you the inevitable convergence of contemporary art and internet slang...

If you have a strong stomach (and certain level of irreverence towards feminist core imagery) do a site search on the blog for 'Judy Chicago'.

With thanks to Betsey on Hankblog

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Too good not to share

Graphic designer Christoph Niemann, who has developed a style of illustration based on rendering images in pixel-like squares, has posted on the New York Times about tiling his bathroom using everything from Titian to Beuys as inspiration.

A great read, and I love the handwritten style. Thanks to Julie Caniglia at the Walker for the tip-off.

Image: A detail of the Venus of Urbino pixellated in black and white: "made the 1530s feel too much like the 1980s". From Niemann's post.

Monday 8 September 2008

Now it comes in 'pretty' too

I have endless admiration for the way the scientific community has gone all out to build awareness of its work and the issues it feels the public should know and care about.

Often this has been through a mutually beneficial relationship with the media. Many years ago I went to the talkfest that launched the New Zealand Humanities Council, and the only thing I remember from that day was Russell Brown saying that the arts and humanities could do a lot worse than to look to the example of the scientists when it came to building useful relationships with the media. Take for example the Royal Society of NZ's collaborations with Radio New Zealand and the Science Media Centre, a web service connecting journalists with scientific spokespeople. Otago Uni even has a masters degree in science communication.

Some of my favourite science communicators include Luca Turin and Atul Gawande, and I've blogged before about my love for these annual science writing anthologies.

Over the weekend I found a new intellectual crush: particle physicist Dr Brian Cox. As a member of the team working on the Large Hadron Collider, which goes live in a matter of days, he's been all over the media, including this interview with Kim Hill on Saturday. He's an immensely talented communicator, and I have to say, it doesn't hurt that he is also very easy on the eye.

Friday 5 September 2008

Money, mouth, money

I had a little whinge earlier this week about the Walters Prize, and noted that my main reservation is the time lag between the show an artist is nominated for and the final award. You all (well - 75% of those of you who voted - thanks!) predicted Peter Robinson will take out this year's award, which I feel underlines my case: Ack already feels like a long time ago in terms of Robinson's fast-moving practice.

So it was interesting to read this article about the Canadian Sobey Art Award this morning. The Sobey is "Canada's pre-eminent prize for a young Canadian artist", awarded annually to an artist 40 years old or younger. The winner gets CA$50,000. The long list this year included 25 artists: the short list is made up of 5 artists, one each from the five regions.

But where's the interesting bit, I hear you say? Well, the article is about the Sobey's responses over time to criticisms from the art community. The Sobey is now handed out annually rather than biannually, a move to retain media interest which evaporated in the off-years. Prize money has also been ramped up for the winner and the runners-up (as I recall, this has also happened for the Walters).

Personally, I like the Arts Foundation awards. Say what you like about the selection of recipients, to me they seem to get to the crux of the matter of supporting artists - identifying people who are doing well, and giving them a bundle of (pretty much) obligation-free cash in the hope this will enable them to do even better. One day, when I have some money of my own, I hope to put it where my mouth is.

Now, off to find out how to make squillions by running a hedge-fund ....

Thursday 4 September 2008

"A return to connoisseurship"

Artinfo.com has asked a group of curators, dealers, artists and other folks what the next big trend will be (thanks Ed for the tip - go to his site for more reader forecasts)

There were two interesting themes that came through in the predictions:

  • India is the next China
  • Big flashy art is over - small, considered (aka cheaper) pieces are coming back. Sweetly, New York dealer Leigh Conner suggested that with fine artists going back to making fine art, "gallerists will scramble to become sincere about art again."
So - no skulls, no antlers. New Zealand's 2007/08 meme seems to be public sculpture in all its guises. What does 2009 hold for us?

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Predictive power


I completely blew the timing of the announcement - thanks Sarah Eades for commenting & letting me know that the announcement won't be made until the end of October (that'll teach me for recycling things before reading them properly). The WP exhibition opens on Sept 13.

Still, all the more time to vote .....


The Walters Prize winner will be announced at the end of this week (if you're not feeling up with all this, never fear ... you can take a course!).

I have some reservations about the whole exercise, mostly because I feel that there's too long a time lag between the exhibitions artists are nominated for and the competition. Peter Robinson's Ack, for example, was staged almost exactly two years ago. That's just silly - and even sillier if Robinson has to reconfigure Ack to open at the AAG on the same day that Snow Ball Blind Time opens at the G-BAG.

But anyway. Let's test the wisdom of crowds ...

Monday 1 September 2008

I recently finished reading Don Thompson's The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Art and Auction Houses.

Like the art widow book, it had me alternatively engrossed (especially the bit about art institutions deaccessioning via sealed bid auctions) and squeaking with frustration (maybe - just maybe - some of these artists are actually amazing, not just mega-well-branded).

I almost quit at the introductory chapter though, when Thompson ruled out writing about photography because he's not that sure it's art. He doesn't really get it, he says, so he'll stick to paintings and sculpture.

I can't quite believe that people who obviously care about and are interested in art still stick at photography. So I'm throwing the question open here: