Wednesday 26 November 2008


I had really high hopes of my first visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales last week - and within a few minutes of walking in the doors they were crushed.

First up, the dreary permanent collection hang of pre-20th century Australian and international art. I'm a big fan of the elegant, spacious hang of the NGV International, and I guess I had similar expectations of Sydney. But the galleries were in ratty, tatty condition (peeling paint, little piles of dust, rocky floorboards, crooked signage) , the hang looked like it hadn't budged since the 1950s, the spaces are huge, making showing small works really tricky, and there was enough hanging wire for James McCarthy to play a day-long symphony.

One small highlight - all the sweeter for the respite it offered from huge academic paintings - was a small nook of a gallery that contained a small number of 16th-century Flemish works. There's something in the restraint and gravitas of these small works that slows your breathing when you're feeling visually overwhelmed.

The modern art galleries were better. I admit to not being at all informed about Australian art, and can't help but look at it in comparison to New Zealand art history. For example, I find it interesting that Australian artists took to surrealism at the same time ours took to neo-romanticism, and I came out of the modern rooms interested in the idea of a history of Australian and New Zealand women artists from the 1870s to the 1940s - looking at their training, careers, and critical reception.

Then I went in pursuit of contemporary work. After making my way past the snaking lines for the Monet show and the Monet giftshop and wandering around for a while, I finally found a sign that said that the contemporary galleries were closed while the escalators were being replaced. It would have been nice to have known this before I visited, but I missed any announcement of this on my pre-visit scan of their website.

The highlight of the visit, to be honest, was seeing a stunning example of installer's crack, and a trolley that for some reason had the word POO scrawled across it in big black letters.

Coming next week - an account of a far more enjoyable visit to the MCA. In the meantime, Best of 3 of out and about again - back on Monday.


Ambrosius Benson (Flanders, d.1550),
Portraits of Cornelius Duplicius de Scheppere and his wife Elizabeth Donche, circa 1540. Oil on panel. Gift of James Fairfax 1994. Art Gallery of New South Wales, image from the AGNSW website.

The Master of the 1540s (Flanders, active 1541-1551, Portrait of a young woman, 1541.
Oil on panel. Gift of James Fairfax 1993. Art Gallery of New South Wales, image from the AGNSW website.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Think of the little people

"On Thursday, up to 17 of the 22 people who make the pills for Hirst's drug cabinet series were told their contracts were not being renewed, according to two sources close to Science Ltd, Hirst's main art-producing company. Another three who make his butterfly paintings were also told they were surplus to requirements."

Recession reaches Hirst's studio - The Guardian

Monday 24 November 2008

Smells like modernism

It was lovely to be greeted at the entrance to the Powerhouse Museum's Modern Times exhibition by non-other than that international artist we love to clasp to our parochial bosoms, Len Lye.*

Looking at the show from a New Zealand perspective, it was interesting to note the similarities and differences.

The wave of European refugees in the late 1930s and early 1940s had a similar effect in Australia to that in New Zealand - particularly in terms of architecture, and I'd like to see a Antipodean modernist architecture show. One of the differences that quickly became apparent was that while NZ was still firmly fixated on Britain, and London was the place to go for aspiring artists right into the 1960s, Australian artists turned their eyes towards America much earlier.

One favourite part of the show was seeing Margaret Preston's Implement blue displayed with swatches of paint samples and colour wheels - according to the exhibition info, the work was named after a paint colour, although that's not what the AGNSW says.**

Another was seeing the maquette for and correspondence over Alexander Calder's Crossed Blades (1967) commissioned to sit outside Harry Seidler's Australia Square building. The correspondence had been arranged into a collage by Penelope Seidler, and while that's probably not a conservator's dream, it suited the very personable tone of the letters, and in particular Sandy's wee sketch of the sculpture with jokey two human faces on the uprights.

Now, some gripes. For a design exhibition in a design museum, the lighting was often crappy (a dark-toned Grace Cossington-Smith practically disappeared behind its glass barrier) and the signage crooked or confusingly placed. Several interactives were inactive (including the colour-theory spinning tops, which I really wanted to try).

And a suggestion. This review of Sanchez and Turin's afore-mentioned book Perfume: The Guide ponders how a perfume like Guerlain's Après l’Ondée could be fitted into "an exhibition of Edwardian art and design where it so obviously belongs, the olfactory equivalent of what Yeats called “the faint mixed tints of Conder”, alongside many other nearly contemporaneous manifestations of the beautiful pre-war cult of paleness?".

Likewise for Modern Times. The exhibition had interior design, art, architecture, advertising, ceramics, film, textiles - you name it. How about a few bottles of Chanel No. 5, Je Reviens, Joy, or Shalimar?

*The fit between the curve of the jaw and the deco-y plinth is hilarious, but also rather beautiful.

**Hmmm. "Implement blue' represents the extremity of Margaret Preston's pictorial pursuit during the late 1920s, and has rightly become regarded as one of the iconic images of early modernist Australian painting. But its very simplicity of design, which Preston could not sustain for more than a couple of years, belies a problem resolved through brief resistance to her natural predilection. For in spite of the domesticity of its motif, Implement blue signified a conquest over the real potency of her female sensibility." Barry Pearce, 2005.


Rayner Hoff,
Decorative portrait (Len Lye), 1925. Marble, 30.5 x 22.5 x 16.5cm. Purchased 1938. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Image from the AGNSW website

Margaret Preston, Implement blue,1927. Oil on canvas on hardboard. Gift of the artist 1960. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Image from the AGNSW website.

Alexander Calder, Crossed Blades, 1967. Steel. Australia Square, Sydney. Image from the Art Business website.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Best of 3 is out and about

Off-line for a few days folks ... see you next Monday.

Take a load off

Two very different items about gallery seating appeared in my feedreader today (obviously a hot topic in the States at the moment).

The Brooklyn Museum blog posted about the importance of providing seating for weary and contemplative visitors, and notes that they have different styles of seating for different parts of the Museum:

In our American Identities galleries, we created four seating islands, which consist of a carpeted area with chairs and reading tables. In our new contemporary galleries, we have incorporated commercial furniture: Kartell’s “Plastics” line of modular seating. And at other times we have created custom seating, such as the benches in our Egypt Reborn galleries, which have Egyptian revival stylings.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, it's a very different story. Blair Kamin blogs on the Chicago Tribune site:

For a fleeting moment Thursday, a hint of tension crept into the voice of James Rondeau, the Art Institute of Chicago’s contemporary art curator. An out-of-town journalist had asked whether the museum would set up benches inside the galleries of its unfinished Modern Wing so people could sit and stare at the knockout view of the Pritzker Pavilion’s metallic shells and the painterly swath of the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park.

No, Rondeau replied, although there will be benches for looking at art. The view to Millennium Park is "quite strong," he said, even describing it as "relentless."

Overall, the latter is an interesting article about the battle between environment, architecture and art display, whilst the former is the kind of quirky post that the Brooklyn Museum excels at.

Monday 17 November 2008


Best of 3 is off to Sydney at the end of the week, and was all excited UNTIL .... I looked at the AGNSW site and saw the exhibition line up:*

  • Monet and the Impressionists
  • The Lost Buddhas
  • Tom Arthur
  • Country Culture Community

What is it with the Impressionists (this is the same show that's coming to Te Papa)? How did this period manage to capture the popular imagination to such an extent that you can more or less smack the word Impressionist into any exhibition title and watch the punters stream in?

But that's interesting. The above link to Te Papa's site brings up a contemporary art show opening on 20 December - "We are unsuitable for framing", presumably titled after the eponymous Barbara Kruger work in TP's collection. I've always thought that TP's Liz Maw full-frontal painting was pretty much unexhibitable in the museum: I look forward to seeing if it's made it into this show about "identity, gender, sexuality, and mythology".

*Personal taste and all, but I was hoping for something a bit more chewy.

Friday 14 November 2008

Today, Best of 3 is wondering ....

... if Art + Object fluffed Don Driver's possum skins specially for last night's Wellington preview.

They were looking exceptionally well groomed. Does this break some kind of conservators' law? Should one brush one's furry mixed media works? Art - so easy to buy, so tricky to look after.

Don Driver, Two Skins with Legging, 1984. Mixed media, 1430 x 810mm. From the Art + Object website.

Thursday 13 November 2008

So so so so busy

Okay, readers. I do my best, but November is a busy month in Best of 3's real life. So posting this month is going to rely on me pointing you to things that I wish I had time to read more closely, mixed with some random observations.

On that note - if your institution is still struggling with the why-tos and where-fore-art-thou's of getting involved with Flickr, check out this great discussion on the Ideum blog, with their thoughts on understanding the platform, making time estimates, working with the community & planning for problems.

You might like to follow that up by revisiting Nina Simone's thoughts on how much time Web 2 takes.

Nina also has a valuable guide to developing social media guidelines within your organisation. What I like about it is that it focuses on providing guidance and resources, rather than telling managers to freak out in case their staff are doing a Virgin Atlantic.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Money, money, sex, web design

Round the web today, folks:

A long and detailed examination of the Detroit Institute of Arts financial predicament: it lost US$17 million last year, making a whopping grand accumulated shortfall of US$100 million over the past 10 years.

How to raise US$500 million, at Boston's MFA. Sometimes, it's the small things that count: take the case of trustee and regular mega-donor Fred Sharf:

Last year, Sharf attended a meeting in the MFA's conference room. He was disgusted by the run-down furniture. "This is a disgrace," he said. "We should do something." Just like that, he gave $25,000 to have the space redone.

Making use of a hoary public speaking device (SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX!!!!!! Okay, now I have your attention I'd like to speak about waste water management) Jerry Saltz reviews the Guggenheim's Theanyspacewhatever show, and his night in Carstein Holler's satin-sheeted bed.

And finally, Tyler Green on SFMOMA's new site design: "Outside of the Pulitzer, I've not seen a museum use so much Flash. In fact, you don't so much as see SFMOMA's website, you hold still while it throws itself at you."

Monday 10 November 2008


Following the 'deinstallation' of a Sol LeWitt at SFMOMA, the Modern Art Museum of Fort worth shows how you take down a Kara Walker.

Dear Govett-Brewster Art Gallery; will you PLEASE set up a Flickr account & post pictures of the removal of Snow Ball Blind Time?

Thursday 6 November 2008

Model artist

Brush? Check.

Palette? Check.

Beret? Check.

Pipe? Check.

Lack of figurative elements? Check.

Hard-to-pronounce surname? Check.

All images from the Smithsonian's photostream on Flickr Commons

New York City W.P.A.; O.P. 65-1-97-2063; W.P.1 Date: 1/13/42; Photographer: Fredmacher; Negative No.: 6736-3; Location: 1947 Bdway; John Xceron on Mural Abstraction to be placed at Rikers Institute Chapel.

New York City W.P.A.; O.P. 65-1-97-2063; W.P.1 Date:1/13/42; Photographer: Fredmacher; Negative No.: 6736-2; Location: 1947 Bdway; John Xceron on Mural Abstraction to be placed at Rikers Institute Chapel.

New York City W.P.A.; O.P. 65-1-97-2063; W.P.1 Date: 1/13/42; Photographer: Fredmacher; Negative No.: 6736-4; Location: 1947 Bdway; John Xceron on Mural Abstraction to be placed at Rikers Institute Chapel.

UPDATE It occurs to me I was remiss in not giving any info about Jean Xceron (pronounced ksair-OHN). Born in Greece in 1890, he trained at the Corcoran Art School and worked for many years at the Guggenheim Museum. More info in this 1984 NYT review (thank you for the archives, NYT!)

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Really, there's nothing else on

Over-stimulated by Twitter, now using the much calmer, updated every 90 seconds NYT election results dashboard to monitor electoral votes.

Still nothing else

Twitter Vote Report: real-time reporting of wait-times and problems at polling booths, with a clickable map that shows you what's going on where.

Nothing else on

Today I'm finding it hard to tear my eyes away from the Election 2008 stream on Twitter. It's like eavesdropping on America.

If you're a Twitter user already, keep an eye on @TylerGreenDC for regular updates

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Cotton country

Can I just say, I am totally stoked for Shane Cotton. As Overthenet noted, it's been a while coming, but seeing him recognised at last night's Laureate Awards was fantastic.

Normally, sitting through an hour and a half of speeches wouldn't be my idea of a great night out. But I have a soft spot for the Laureate Awards. As well as simply approving of the concept, the aspect of the awards I really enjoy is the tremendous goodwill in the air. Sitting amongst hundreds of people, watching the interview shtick, you can feel the crowd's happiness about what's happening just rolling down the auditorium towards the new laureates.

I wrote not long ago about watching the changes in Cotton's paintings. The slideshow that rolled during his citation last night prompted me to think about this even harder. Looking back at works from the late 1990s you have the sense of ideas, imagery, symbols and language being carefully researched, considered and assembled, creating a work that made the (Pakeha, most likely) viewer work equally hard to unravel all the potential meaning layered into the painting.

In retrospect, the big diptychs in the 2003 survey show point forward to the current works, which have all these elements, and I bet the same approach to working out the painting, but also this sense of freedom and a different kind of mystery that I really love. I don't want to reach for my reference books so that I can "understand what they're about" - I want to stand back and let them work on me. And the best of these works do just that - they're like forcefields, they hold you in their orbit,* and you feel at once helpless and uplifted and entranced. Or at least, I do.

So, yeah. I'm stoked for Shane Cotton, I think it's a travesty he hasn't been nominated for the Walters yet, and I want a last-10-years show soon.

*Apparently, they also make you mix your metaphors, but I know you'll understand what I'm getting at

Monday 3 November 2008

Life support

So Peter Robinson took out the Walters (deservedly, say Bestof3 readers, who correctly picked him as the winner earlier this year) and I have high hopes of tonight's Laureate awards.

Both the Walters and the Laureates provide artists with a healthy chunk of cash. But with the news that Janne Land, 64zero3* and Fishers Fine Arts are all closing their doors, I'm beginning to think - in these hard times, should CreativeNZ be underwriting art dealers, the way the govt is underwriting banks? After all, they've funded every other part of the production and critical apparatus (from making the work to critiquing it).**

*I'm kinda meh about the other two, but really disappointed to hear 64zero3 will shut up after their 64th show next February. They showed a number of artists whose work I really admire, they put the shows up online, were really easy to deal with, and regularly showed newer artists' work. I think it's a real loss.

**Yeah, I know they hand out the occasional grant to support a dealer to show at international art fairs, but I think it's a valid argument that dealers are an integral part of the visual arts ecosystem and are contributing to CNZ's strategic priorities:

  • New Zealanders are engaged in the arts
  • High-quality New Zealand art is developed
  • New Zealanders have access to high-quality arts experiences
  • New Zealand arts gain international success