Tuesday 30 June 2009


Too good not to share ... Sebastian Puig's observations on the very special wall texts in the Kandinksy exhibition at the Pompidou. The post also has some lovely shots of the recreation of Brancusi's studio at the Pompidou, which I find pretty fascinating.

Monday 22 June 2009

art school

One day in the not so distant future (say 2015 or 2020) I predict that a PhD student will tackle the question: Did the introduction of PBRF* at New Zealand's art schools change the kinds of artists recruited to head up and teach at these schools? And did artists who were teaching in these schools change the way they made art?**

A post last week on Art World Salon, titled 'What's wrong with "professionalization"?' put me on to James Elkins' new book, coming out soon through New Academia Publishing, a print-on-demand publisher of peer-reviewed academic publications.

Artists with PhDs: On the New Doctoral Degree in Studio Art examines the studio-art PhD, or practice-based doctorate, described by Elkins as "a hot topic in art instruction in the US".

He says:

in the UK there are up to 2,000 students currently enrolled in such programs, and there will soon be 10 universities in Australia that offer the degree. At the moment there are about 10 programs in the US and Canada, and another dozen more under development. It appears that the PhD in studio art will become the next MFA--that is, the expected terminal degree for artists who want to get jobs teaching. In twenty or thirty years' time, it is likely that every major art school and department will offer the PhD. The degree is controversial wherever it exists, and there is a fair amount of resistance to it: there have been some stormy sessions on the subject at conferences. Most of the formative issues, from grading to accreditation, remain unresolved.

The first half of the book is made up of essays about doctorate programmes; the second is made up of excerpts from PhD dissertations produced in such programmes. Elkins describes the book as "as a resource to help artists, teachers, administrators, and students assess and compare the new programs".

This might all sound dry, but in advance of reading the actual books, to me it seems like Elkins is setting the cat amongst the lengthily-educated pigeons. In an interview on Bad at Sports (start at about 6mins in), Elkins talks about his book and research, and his personal bugbear, the body of literature emerging from the UK and Australia that argues that research in the fine arts is the same as research in science or maths, in that it is producing new areas of knowledge. He observes that this argument is made partly in response to funding pressures - in the UK these arguments have had to been made in order to get more money for art programmes, which otherwise would not be funded as they don't produce research outputs.

You can read a draft version of the final chapter of Elkins' book online. Here Elkins predicts that the art PhD will continue to spread - regardless of whether it produces "better" art - as eventually, like the MFA is today, it will be the prerequisite for a teaching position. It's a forthright and interesting piece of writing, which questions whether more education really is what artists need, but also argues that if it is, then that education should be rigorous and meaningful, not half-assed and incompetently overseen. From the final page:

For the small percentage of art students who really need to master some body of knowledge, the PhD is not only a good idea, but an essential one. The art world is filled to overflowing with half-digested theories, bluster, incoherence, and disorganized, impressionistic writing. In a sense that's the status quo, and it would not make sense to critique it: but in some cases, when particular claims are being made about specific concepts and philosophic positions, then the PhD would be the only place an artist could got to really join the conversation of contemporary visual theory. ...

Let's work to raise the bar, and make art education more difficult.

*Performance based research funding
**Obviously a PhD candicate would use more polysyllabic words, such as pedagogy and methodology, but uni was a long time ago for me now ...

Friday 19 June 2009

Web muster

Three interesting posts from my favourite art dealing blogger (or blogging art dealer), Ed Winkleman about ACEC (Art in the Current Economic Climate)

The Re-pricing Question 1

The Re-pricing Question 2

Starting a Commercial Art Gallery In This Economy

On the drive back from New Plymouth in last weekend I listened to one of (what I think is) the best-ever installments of This American Life, a programme focused on classified ads, first broadcast in 2002. Seven years on in the Trade Me era we no longer go to the newspaper for these little snippets of life, but these stories remain utterly engrossing.

If you're a TAL fan, or just plain good at heart, the team are running their yearly fund-raising drive to help pay their bandwidth costs. Donating is painless, and can be done from the This American Life homepage.

And in exhibitiony news: McCahon's Landscape theme and variations: series B has gone on show recently in the Level 5 galleries at Te Papa.

Monday 15 June 2009

Anything but scared

A trip to New Plymouth in the weekend, and the happy discovery that the collection hang which the website says closed on 31 May was still up.

The conceit of the show was that collection works were paired with each other, in variously happy and indifferent relationships: Francis Upritchard and Octavia Cook (crafty); Francis Upritchard and Rohan Wealleans (colourful); Billy Apple and Michael Stevenson (fluorescent lights and distance).

Once again, as with the Don Driver show, the curators have built extra walls and squeezed works in cheek by jowl. Of course, this means you get to see more of the collection - which, with the lack of a collection publication and the online collection still a WIP, is no bad thing - but the works simply don't get enough room to breathe, and the sightlines of the upper galleries are obliterated. It kind of makes you sigh for the days when the Gallery would give a whole floor over to Pae White's paper sculpture.

These quibbles aside, it was great to see some old friends. After spending quite a lot of time last week at Te Papa immersed in the two recently-acquired McCahons from the 1976 Scared series that have been put on display in the Level 5 galleries ( Mondrian's last chrysanthemum* and I am scared; I stand up) it was fantastic to compare these two with the Govett's Am I Scared, and get all connoisseurial over the brushstrokes and paint splotches & use of acid yellow. I would love to see the all six works from the series on display sometime.

It was also fantastic to see Shaun Gladwell's 2004 video work Multiple Descent [Taranaki] again. The work is very simple, and very beautiful - one after another, on a repeating loop, Gladwell accompanies two skateboarders to the top of the Centre City carpark in New Plymouth, filming their ascent in the lift and descent along the parking levels and ramps, lit by the late afternoon sun, the skateboarder going first, Gladwell following on his own board with a handicam. The only editing effects seem to be the slowing of the film, and the screening of sound so only the skateboards' wheels and the occasional indrawn breath can be heard.

One of the things I love about the video is that occasionally you catch sight of Len Lye's Wind Wand, but the work - which has become central to New Plymouth's new foreshore-focused identity - is treated without any ceremony, and is as much of a side-issue as the lone shopper caught pushing her trolley to her car. Instead, all the focus is on the two lanky teens; the slow scrolling motion of the leg that propels them forward, the way their hands hang from long thin wrists when they're not in use, the minimal lean and sway with which they navigate the concrete passages. In its own cool, self-contained way, Multiple Descent [Taranaki] is a very sexy piece of work.

Sadly, I can't find decent clips of any of Gladwell's video works online. Here's a stolen snippet of Storm Sequence (2000) though, complete with visitor commentary.

*The colour in that photo doesn't do justice to this work, it's definitely worth making an effort to see it in the flesh

Thursday 11 June 2009

Round of applause

This week I've been admiring how Te Papa is opening up about its digitisation work on its blog.

Blow by blow, the conversation has gone like this:

Victoria Leachman, rights manager at Te Papa, blogs about a new batch of images of collection works that are now available online.

Over the net raises questions about how Te Papa prioritises its digitisation work

Leachman replies on the Te Papa blog* with an explanation that focuses on the (hey, let's be upfront about this) incredibly vexing issue of copyright clearance

Over the net responds with big ups and more questions ...

And today, Adrian Kingston is at it on the Te Papa blog with a lengthy and cogent article about digitisation at the museum, which touches on many of the pertinent issues and gives a solid big picture view.

It's not simply noteworthy that Te Papa is both fronting up to the questions, and using the correct vehicle to do it. It's actually bloody impressive that staff are doing the posting so quickly. I'm not saying you need to be this prompt, and this fulsome, with every enquiry that comes your way. But when the people who do the asking really care, and when the topic at hand really matters, you should. Congratulations, guys - long may it continue.

*Side issue - Over the net doesn't have commenting enabled; usually a reply to a post would be appended to it, but in this case Leachman did the right thing, IMO.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

All our ducks in a line, all singing from the same hymn sheet, and all paddling our canoes in the same direction

From today's Arts Journal

A More Subdued, Toned-Down Venice Biennale?
"There were also fewer flashy parties, fewer celebrity sightings among the national pavilions and an absence of hit-you-over-the-head installations."
The New York Times 06/08/09

At The Venice Biennale - The Opulent Parties Roll On
"Recession be damned. Evidence of ludicrous wealth is everywhere at the Biennale, which officially opens today. Cartoonishly sleek yachts, all registered in the Cayman Islands, line the Grand Canal near the entrance to the Biennale. Politicians and art collectors have arrived at the numerous exhibition openings all over the lagoon by water taxi, many of the men with trophy wives in tow."
Boston Globe 06/08/09

Looks interesting

VUW Art History Lecture

Thursday, 18 June, 6.00-7.30pm

Geoffrey Batchen
Professor, Art History
The Graduate Centre, CUNY, New York

Perplexity and Embarrassment: Photography as Work

This paper considers the degree to which a history of photography should be based on a business, rather than a fine art, model. It proposes that we need to think of photography as a form of work, and the photographer as a worker or business owner, if we are ever to grasp the full complexity of the photographic experience.

Particular attention will be paid to Henry Talbot's effort to establish a photography business in Reading in the 1840s and to the competition he faced from daguerreotype studios operated by Richard Beard and Antoine Claudet.

Stressing the economic and social contexts of industrialization and consumer capitalism, an alternative mode of photographic history will be offered, a mode with implications for our understanding of photography's past, but also its present and its possible futures.

@Victoria University
Murphy Lecture Theatre MY LT101
Level 1 Murphy Building,
Kelburn Parade

Thursday 4 June 2009

On private collectors and their public displays

I like the stories behind the creation and growth of art collections.

One of the things I've noticed is that the stories of private collectors are usually less self-recriminating than those of institutions ("we got mugged by the local arts society" "we let some lady in Britain make all the calls on international purchases for two decades" "we're underfunded" "we just didn't understand X artist at the time").

This is not to say that public collecting institutions are not sometimes brave, or even inspired, in what they buy (or emotionally charged about what they don't buy: there's a great telegram in the Auckland Art Gallery Library where Peter Tomory vents his annoyance to a colleague after missing out on some old master: "Nuts repeat nuts lose this bargain"*).

But I think it's interesting that when a private collector puts their accumulated works out on display, it's the personality as much as the art that goes on public trial. Would a journalist writing about a collection show at MoMA, for example, query whether it was essentially a self-promotional activity to show how great the curator is, as Agnes Poirer suggests about Francois Pinault's newly opened gallery in Venice?. Or, likewise, charge the curator with being "a bit cavalier with the works he buys and shows" as Adrian Searle does in this this review of the latest Saatchi Gallery show?

Personally, as a visitor to both public and private collections, it's the story about why a collector chose to throw in their lot with these particular works that fascinates me. I'd love to see more presence of the curator-as-collector in public galleries. It's all about making me care.

*Inexact mental transcription of a record not seen in 6 years

Monday 1 June 2009

Web muster

Crisis stations everyone. It's the end of art journalism as we know it (András Szántó, Arts Newspaper), perhaps even the end of art book publishing ( Jamie Camplin, Arts Newspaper).

The Smithsonian has gone all wikified for the creation of its Web and New Media strategy process.* I'm still a bit of a wiki sceptic, I'm afraid - mostly because I personally find them a little daunting if they're not part of my daily routine. But I do think its smart the way the homepage suggests different things you can do based on the time you have available. The YouTube channel they've set up is small but worth picking through; here's video that's been uploaded, about - of course - Twitter.

And another wiki initiative, this one from the UK National Archives. On Your Archives people can sign up and start adding to the information known about collection items by expanding catalogue entries, transcribing digitised documents, or providing research guidance.

*Surely one of those business-case words is redundant?