Friday 19 December 2008

When I said 'last post for the year'

I meant 'until something like this came up' ....

Installation of Permanent Collection and Then Some from Modern Art Museum of FW on Vimeo.

From the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Don't forget to check out the music credit at the end.

The Besties: 2009

The last post of the year, dear readers, and a summary of events:

Best news

Shane Cotton's long-overdue Laureate award, Elizabeth Caldwell's appointment to the DPAG director role, Emma Bugden's appointment to Artspace.

Best PR campaign

It's gotta be Te Papa and the colossal squid. Hats off to the comms team there - they've turned a pile of old seafood into a national phenomena.

Best new NZ blog (with best origin tale)

The Paint and Bake

Best philosophical stand-off in a public space

Wystan Curnow and Bronwyn Lloyd at the Rita Angus symposium

Best attempt at online engagement

The AAG blog. It's somewhat sporadic and has reached McCahonian levels of existential angst, but the AAG are the only people I'm aware of trying to foster community online.

Best international online engagement

The Commons on Flickr

Best photographs of a modern painter at work

John Xceron

Best art experience

All things being equal, this year I got the most out of the Rita Angus retrospective, mostly because I spent a heck of a lot of time with the works. However, 2008 lacked a stand-out magic moment with a individual work or collection of works.

Best place to hang out

Hamish McKay's wood-panelled art-den

Best discovery (and temptation to abandon blogging)


Best font

Vogue, 1930

Best use of a single adjective in multiple reviews

John Hurrell

Best art-related video

SFMOMA erasing a Sol LeWitt

Best interpretation of a Rita Angus painting

Annah Oxley

Best place to see art

In people's houses.

Best wishes for the holidays

Best of 3 will be back around 5 January 2009.

Thursday 18 December 2008

The final post of 2008 on the topic of Twitter

I realise Twitter has been something of a Bo3 meme this year, but this is the post to end all posts. Or arguments.

When I introduce people to the idea of Twitter ("it's kinda like a little broadcast service where you type little short messages into a box and send them out so people can find and read them") they tend to look at me blankly and ask: what's the point? what will this add to my life? what possible meaning can you get out of a 140-character long message?

Previously, I've kind of waffled in reply, about ambient information and buzz monitoring and social networks and smart people who write funny and thoughtful things that I like to know about.

Now I have a better answer. Twitter fulfils our hard-coded curiosity about the people around us, and our deep-set desire to share. My proof? A friend's discovery today of 'Personal Items' in historical NZ newspapers - the 100-year-old equivalent of Twitter.

You can get to thousands of these here - amazing little snippets of shared and published, mudane and hilarious and wrenching detail from people's lives a century ago.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Summer countdown

If you haven't already hustled over to Hamish McKay's to see the current Rose Nolan exhibition, you have until Friday to do so.

The show is a beauty, and McKay has plumped it out with examples of older work, so it almost makes up for missing Nolan's show at Artspace Sydney earlier this year. Nolan is currently working on a book (with Blair French) due to emerge mid next year.

Also coming to a shelf near you next July: Ed Winkleman's ' How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery'. [Yes, he is aware of the irony of publishing a book like this in times like these]

Installation view, Rose Nolan, 'More homework experiments', 2008. Image from the Hamish McKay website.

Monday 15 December 2008

Feel the burn

Very witty short film based on actual requests submitted to Hulton Archive/Getty Pictures.


  • Can I have a photo of a dodo in the wild?
  • Can I have a photo of an Edwardian lady in the Victorian era?
  • Can I have a photo of Jack the Ripper?
  • Can I have a photo of Neil Armstrong on the moon? You know, the one where he's surrounded by a group of people?


The following is a list of the artist names that people have Googled and, as a result, ended up at Best of 3 in the past month:

Judy Millar (a particularly popular search: television judy millar hamish keith)
Rita Angus
Daniel du Bern
William Fox
Liz Maw
David Cross (full search: david cross massey relational aesthetics)
Gavin Hipkins
James Oram
Julian Dashper (searches for 'prices' and 'essays' and 'robert hughes review')
Len Lye
Leonard Mitchell
Peter Madden (actual search: peter madden + john hurrell)
Peter McIntyre
Rohan Wealleans
Raymond McIntyre
Peter Robinson
Simon Ingram
Ronnie van Hout
Seraphine Pick
Shane Cotton
Colin McCahon
Yvonne Todd


Richard Lummis
Jim Barr
Damian Skinner
Mary Barr
William McAloon
John Hurrell
Hamish Keith
Una Platt
Tina Barton (twice paired with Hamish Keith)

Most curious search term of past month: Paula Savage + corporate head hunting

Most cute: 'pronounce mrkusich'

Award for increasing frustration: 'wtf use is an art history degree'

Wednesday 10 December 2008


Frankly, many of my visits to galleries involve bad surprises. Conversely, this is for a good reason - I'm often overly-excited about the new show, new work, new space, whatever. So gallery visits can end up being a bit like Christmas - better in anticipation.*

Of course, this means that a good surprise becomes a great one. I had this with the Yinka Shonibare show at the MCA in Sydney. After not enjoying the Fiona Hall show at City Gallery Wellington, I thought I'd be equally put-off by the highly wrought tableaux that Shonibare creates.

And yet not. There was a spaciousness to the show - not just in the hang, which gave plenty of space to individual pieces - but to the way I could look at, think about and interpret the works. The excessive craftiness that gave me the willies in Fiona Hall seemed not the point of the works, but simply the way that Shonibare's ideas are brought into being.

And I loved Reverend on ice (2005). As with Maurizio Cattelan's We are the revolution, it made me want to laugh aloud - that sheer delight that I so rarely get and so treasure when I do. The fact that it reminded me of Johnny Depp circa Sleepy Hollow also did no harm ...

NB: Best of 3 will be away until Monday. See you then.

* Hey, who knew? I'm a gallery grinch.

Yinka Shonibare, Reverend on Ice, 2005. Life-size fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax-printed cotton, steel. Image from

Tuesday 9 December 2008


Avid Twitterer and art blogger Tyler Green has struck out at the inanity being spouted forth by museums who are twittering.

To paraphrase Green - maybe y'all could just tweet about art? Museums sometimes seem to fall into one of two traps (and sometimes both in alternate tweets). Either you feel like you're being feed 140-characters of marketing plug, or you're wondering why the hell you're listening in on someone's private life during work time.

Don't get me wrong. I tweet about work. But I don't tweet on behalf of my workplace. See the distinction?

So, if you're NZ gallery or museum that's thinking about Twittering in the new year (and I would encourage you to consider this- it's one of the fastest, cheapest ways of entering the new-ish web world) here are some things things that I as a Twitter user want you to do:

  • be informative - tell me about new acquisitions, interesting projects, vacancies
  • be visual - link to installation shots or video
  • be helpful - remind me of special events, and the opening and closing of exhibitions
  • be generous - tweet about other people's events and exhibitions if they align with your own (I want to think staff at my local gallery have their finger on the pulse)
  • be genuine - treat me like your friend, not your target audience

Having said this - I wonder if The Big Idea is thinking of tweeting vacancies as part of their site overhaul? It would be a very savvy move.

Monday 8 December 2008


One of my disappointments of a recent trip to Sydney was that I was a little too late to catch Gemma Smith's show at Sarah Cottier Gallery. So I was really pleased when I found out that Smith was one of the artists featured in Primavera, the MCA's yearly young-artists outing, which I did manage to catch.

I'm really attracted to Smith's crisp, buoyant abstract paintings, and it was great to see a group of small works in the flesh, complete with gently visible brushwork.

However, it was her adaptables - three-dimensional works made of painted plywood, that can be manipulated into various origami-like forms - that I was really keen to see, especially after reading an interview with Smith in issue 5 of Art World.

Smith is very eloquent about her work, and her description of how the sculptural works had emerged made me really keen to see them:

'With the small paintings I acquire certain rules in regard to the types of shapes and colours that I use. In the process of making the work, these limitations build up to the point where I find it's necessary to shake them. The sculptural works came about as a way of solving ceratin problems I encountered with the painting process and its two-dimesnional plane. Over time, the sculpures began to influence the paintings to the point where, now, the relationship between the two is a continuous cycle.'

Sadly, while the single adaptable shown in 'Primavera' did give an inkling of this relationship between the paintings and the sculptural works, it didn't give me the experience I wanted after reading the interview.

Partly it was the presentation: a video showing the adaptable in various forms should have been dropped in favour of including more works; it made as little sense as one painting and a screen with digital examples of more. Partly it was that the form chosen for the adaptable on show seemed to be one of the less adventurous positions it could take on, as demonstrated in the video. And - admittedly - the work featured a certain shade of salmon-pink that I find very off-putting.

On the upside, one of the best things about the visit was an exhibition upstairs that brought together a range of works acquired by the MCA from Primavera's of the past. Acquisitions shows can be higgledy-piggledy and disjointed, but this one not only brought together some real gems, but also gave context to the exhibition downstairs, showing how Primavera has grown alongside the artists it has featured.

Images, from top
Gemma Smith Untitled #1 2008. Acrylic on board.
Gemma Smith Adaptable (lemon/turquoise) 2006.
Gemma Smith, installation view of 2006 exhibition at Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
All images from the Sarah Cottier Gallery website.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Sometimes it can just be simple

The Powerhouse Museum web team are heroes of mine. Here's something super simple and effective that they've just done:

That little vid is made using some pretty standard software and a scan of a collection item. As Seb Chan said in his blog post about this:

These little 90 second videos are a very simple but effective way of ‘digital storytelling’ - something museums should be quite good at, being as they are, repositories of stories. The technology at work here is nothing more than a very high resolution original scan and a copy of the consumer-grade iMovie - something which, for us, is important to emphasise.

Good ideas trump expensive technology every time.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

rockin' robin

Y'know, on a really busy day, bombing Twitter with 140 character messages is a lot easier to handle than blogging. So instead of reading me today, you could read Tim O'Reilly on why he likes Twitter.

If you're not the prudish type, you might like to check out, a realtime aggregator of people swearing on Twitter. I find it hilarious, YMMV (so don't say I didn't warn you).*

*Your Mileage May Vary

Monday 1 December 2008


Last week I was at a cultural sector web conference which left me thinking further about the relationship between galleries online (virtual - yuck, hate that word) and offline (physical) presences.

I'd started thinking about this about a week ago, when I visited the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney for the first time. I'm an avid follower of the Powerhouse online - their website, online collection, dhub, work on Flickr, and Seb Chan's Fresh + Newer blog. The Powerhouse is an incredibly sophisticated user of and contributor to the web, very user-focused, very much about tapping into and assisting communities, and always very close to the 'bleeding-edge' of developments.

So it was quite weird when I visited the Museum offline to not have this experience replicated physically. To begin with, I was quite taken aback that there's an entrance fee - not because this fact is at all hidden on their site, but because their online work is so open and generous that charged entry seemed disjunctive.

Secondly, the entry lines are a bit of a mess - and god, didn't the poor kid administering them know it, telling us that he'd lost count of the number of times he'd told Visitor Services that visitors got confused and pissy.

But over all, the physical experience didn't mirror my online experience. It wasn't as elegant, the design wasn't as good, I never saw a floor person (the web services are very "friendly"), the shop was jumbly and unfocused and didn't appeal to my niche interests (which is what the web is all about).

These criticisms could be applied to almost any institution. The thing was, my expectations of my 'visitor experience' were sky-high, because I thought it would match my online experience. In general, it's the other way around (a so-so online experience is exceeded by the real visit - the AGNSW on- and off-line experiences being on about a par). So, if you run a gallery or museum website, here's some questions to ask yourself:

-- Is your online branding and design work as good as your exhibition and print design?

-- Do people answer questions submitted online as quickly as they'd answer them in real/physical life?

-- Do online visitors have access to the same kind of information physical visitors have (esp. wall panels, essays, curatorial insights....)

-- Is it as easy to find out what exhibitions and events are happening online as it is in your foyer?

-- Can you make bookings and buy things online simply and without having to hand over any more info than you would offline?

-- Is a visit to your website the same kind of experience as a visit to your real space?

Here's a quick test. Ask someone (who doesn't work with you) to sit down and explore your site for a minute or two. Then ask them: if this site was a car, what kind of car would it be? And if they call you a people-mover when you think you're really a Ferrari, you have some work to do.*

*PS please do not ever use this focus-group question too seriously. Really, what's the likelihood that anyone will ever identify you as the beautifully restored classic finned 50s Cadillac you think you are? Sometimes it's just good to motivate yourself with a little self-flagellation.