Friday 31 October 2008

Doom, doom, doom

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

Going down:

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

Going up:

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

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

Thursday 30 October 2008


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

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

Wednesday 29 October 2008

This week's crush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 28 October 2008

The price is right

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

From the post:

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 24 October 2008

No relation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 23 October 2008

This week's crush

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

Wondering if these might also be his handiwork ...

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

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

From top:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Dross, dross, dross, dross, dross, gem

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

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

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

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

Monday 20 October 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 17 October 2008

Typefaces and Te Papa

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday 16 October 2008

Not in it for the money ....

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

This week's crush

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Sports mad

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

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

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

Bull in the Ring from LACMA on Vimeo.

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

Monday 13 October 2008

Twitter post for my blog

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

Friday 10 October 2008

Friday muster


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


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


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


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

Thursday 9 October 2008

Pass it on

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

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

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

Image: Paua Art, by googly

Tuesday 7 October 2008

I love you internet

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

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

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

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

Monday 6 October 2008

Australia to introduce Resale Royalty

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

The scheme applies to:

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

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

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

Artists apparently not all that stoked - SMH

Friday 3 October 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 2 October 2008

Opportunities (for the PSBs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 1 October 2008

My heart starts missing a beat

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

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

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

Colour lovers & Twitter

I posted last week about the palettes on ColourLovers based on Van Gogh's night paintings.

Rob Stein at the IMA also saw the Van Gogh palettes, and has responded by loading works from the IMA's collection to ColourLovers and making new palettes. Generously, he's also invited readers to upload collection works to the site to make their own palettes.

In other news - are any readers on Twitter? If you are, you can now follow Tyler Green - I am, and he's posting on NZ time ....


If you want to follow Tyler, his handle is here