Friday 31 July 2009

The Encyclopedia of Julian Dashper

We spent last night talking about Julian - him, his work, and the imitable way he narrated it. As well as doing great work, Julian did great artist. His floortalks were priceless, and when he was in the zone you could sit back and let the well-honed commentary wash over you for hours.

In a post on the Te Papa blog yesterday William scooped a number of my favourite Dashperisms, including the terrific "People say my paintings are deep in the way they say that fat people are heavy". But he missed this one, which I think sums up beautifully the delight Julian took in setting up then subverting easy assumptions about painting:

Someone asked me once at a party 'What sort of artist are you?', and I said, 'I’m a super realist painter' and they said, 'Well that sounds good, what do you paint?' and I said, 'Abstract art'.

-- Interview with Mark Kirby, Luxus, The Hague, 1997, reprinted in The Twist, Waikato Museum of Art and History, 1998.

Julian Dashper, Untitled (1991), 1991. Printed industrial canvas over stretcher, 860 x 860 mm. Collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Thursday 30 July 2009


Jim and Mary Barr have just posted that artist Julian Dashper died this morning.

I only got to know Julian over the last few years - he was one of those people who, after studying their work in art history class after art history class, it was a little terrifying to meet in the flesh. I quickly found out that the person behind the work was generous, funny, worldly, curious, and engaged with life, art and people with a level of energy that was almost ferocious.

Someone observed to me once that Julian had been a venerable elder of the New Zealand art world since he was about 23. It's too soon to eulogise, but I - like hundreds, thousands of others - will miss him.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Get in quick

On Saturday night I tweeted that I would give one finger (after consideration, I selected my left-hand little finger, because I don't use it to type) or up to two toes (I figured if you lost one, it would be easiest to balance if you took one off the other foot too) if it meant I could live with this painting.

You have today and tomorrow (Wednesday and Thursday ) to catch it and other works on paper by Julian Dashper at Hamish McKay's; the exhibition is online too.

I missed Dashper's early career; in 1989 I was wearing Adidas three-stripes trackpants with the cuffs rolled up to primary school. It was lovely to see early works in the flesh, especially this very elegant Phillishave drawing. If only I'd had a trust fund when I was ten and parents who encouraged me to spend it on art.

Julian Dashper Phillishave 1989. Acrylic and graphite on paper. 600 x 800mm
Image from the Hamish McKay website

Monday 27 July 2009

Spot the pigeon

When I was researching my thesis at the Auckland Art Gallery library, some of the most interesting material I found was correspondence between AAG director Peter Tomory and British art historian Ellis Waterhouse, at the time (the mid 1950s-mid 1960s) director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham.

The two were obviously good friends as well as professional colleagues, and it was always interesting to compare what Tomory said about the Gallery's collection in reports to the Council and interviews, compared to what he wrote to Waterhouse. Waterhouse was also part of an international network of art historians Tomory called upon to assist with attributing works, sending letters and photos flying round the world for a good old connoisseurial appreciation.

I got reminiscing about these letters when I saw this Guardian article last week, about an exhibition of fakes and copies from the collection that the National Gallery, London, will be holding next June. Director Nicholas Penny is taking a charmingly pragmatic approach to the matter:
"The history of mistakes encourages extreme caution and extreme humility," he said.

"I wish we had more fakes [in the collection]. You only get good at spotting them by seeing them."

The article also notes that intentional forgeries often look 'right' to contemporary eyes, but within decades start to look very strange. The same point is made in one of my favourite essays from last year, a review by Peter Schjeldahl of two books on the forger Han van Meegeren. He concludes:

The spectre of forgery chills the receptiveness—the will to believe—without which the experience of art cannot occur. Faith in authorship matters. We read the qualities of a work as the forthright decisions of a particular mind, wanting to let it commandeer our own minds, and we are disappointed when it doesn’t. If we are disappointed enough, when the named artist is familiar, we get suspicious. But we can never be certain in every case that someone—a veiled mind—isn’t playing us for suckers. Art lovers are people who brave that possible chagrin.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Question I would like to ask curators who work in public galleries

In one sentence: what is your job?

*The best answer I've received so far began: First, do no harm ....

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Web muster

This week, an art conservation theme

Caitlin Jenkins from Brooklyn Museum blogs about using sunlight and water to bleach prints

The Art Newspaper reports on a Getty initiative to prevent knowledge about the structural treatment of panel paintings dying out

Funding from the Mellon Foundation is being used to kickstart the development of specialist software to help art conservators do their jobs

On ArtBabble: small clips from MoMA conservation staff

My favourite tweeting conservator: Richard McCoy

Friday 17 July 2009

Big ups

I've been meaning to write about the Christchurch Art Gallery's website redesign for months now. With a graphic overhaul, an information architecture tweak, and the release of a properly searchable collections online (underpinned by Vernon), the Gallery has, I think, put itself streets ahead of other municipal galleries, which appear dark, cramped, and unnavigable in contrast.

For a reminder of what the CAG site used to look like, here's a February 2008 shot from the Internet Archive's way back machine (which I recommend: you'll discover things like; the GBAG has not changed its homepage layout since November 2002 (when records begin) - here's November 2004).

Between Feb 2008 and today there's been at least one refresh of the homepage, as I recall, and now this whole new treatment. Taking a lesson from MoMA and Apple, CAG have gone for the hero image treatment, banking that the major temporary exhibitions are the main reasons people are visiting the site. Inside, navigation has been shifted over the right-hand side, and the font size mercifully increased - pages are big, bright, and white.

A few little moans:

When I click on Exhibitions in the top-level nav on the homepage, then on Publications inside the second-level nav, I'm suddenly shunted off into a second-level page in the Shop section. I *know* people use their back buttons, but breadcrumbs could still be a useful orienting device here.

I'd love the News and Events section to have RSS feeds, so the information is pushed to me (I'm lazy, and I'm not local - this is the best way to get it to me).

I'm not convinced by the right-hand placement of the nav, and I'm not convinced that the designer is convinced either, when I see how the nav is being repeated in the body copy in the Education section. I wonder if the pale grey meets web standards guidelines for contrast, and I'd really like it if the navigation changed visually to reflect where I am in the site. Actually - I just double-checked that statement, and the background of the top-level nav does change ever so slightly to a more tomatoey shade of scarlet - I'd still consider using tabs at this level, and something else at the second and third.

What I am convinced by though is the improvement to the Collection search (no more browsing by artist name!) and the number of digitised publications that are available online (with sensible linking through to Christchurch City Libraries) . Like Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch has really got its act together here.

The collection search, the publications, and dates of shows are the three reasons I visit the CAG site. I guess you could say my motivation is primarily 'research', not 'visit'. The site does a good job of delivering up content for schools, but not so much for the adult researcher; the content is all there (history, publications, exhibition archive, collection search) but the Library in particular is hard to find.

All up though - a please to use, a surprisingly deep reservoir of content, and a big improvement. Belated congrats to all responsible.

Monday 13 July 2009

Mr Blobby

Over the weekend I had a small outburst when a radio host described Len Lye's work as 'just blobs moving around' during a preview of the New Zealand Film Festival programme.

I'm not sure if it was coincidence or if my rather intemperate tweets prompted it, but shortly after that Paul Reynolds blogged about the soon-to-open Lye show at ACMI in Melbourne.

It's great that the Len Lye Foundation has found another international opportunity to profile Lye's work, but I do still wish they'd address their web presence. The Govett-Brewster website has links to photos of Lye's work on Flickr, but no links to his film works which have been loaded up to YouTube. They do link to the British Film Institute site however - where the videos are locked down so only registered UK schools, colleges, universities and libraries can access them.

One small step that the GBAG could take would be to add a link to the 10 minutes' worth of 'Flip and Two Twisters' that's available on the NZonScreen site.

But one biiiiig step would be to start talking to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), the organisation behind ArtBabble, a showcase of high-quality video content from art galleries, collections & channels. Fortuitously, Daniel Incandela - Director of New Media at the IMA - is one of the keynote speakers at this year's National Digital Forum conference in Wellington in November. ArtBabble is always looking to expand its content - this could be a match made in international-access heaven.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Web muster

Possibly the most endearing mash-up I've seen; social history should be more like this. Time wastes too fast - Maira Kalman

I wonder if the other paintings in the Mona Lisa gallery feel jealous. I can imagine a lovely animation where someone from one of the other works creeps out at night and paints a moustache on her.

When your Naum Gabo turns into over-washed tupperware: Sam Kean on preserving plastic art.

The Guardian crowdsources coverage of Antony Gormley's fourth plinth project

Saturday 4 July 2009


After I publish this post, I'm going home to hunker down on the couch and finish Professor James Flynn's What is intelligence?

Back in my uncouth youth, I took Flynn's first year Political Philosophy paper at Otago. In a classic example of how university is wasted on the young, all I remember is him (justifiably) scaring the bejesus out of me when I fell asleep in class, and how long it took me to figure out what this "morays" thing he kept talking about was. It wasn't until quite recently that I've appreciated that he's might be one of New Zealand's most overwhelmingly unknown public intellectuals.

Now, I make a concious effort to try to broaden my outlook. When I look back at the time I spent doing degrees and working in galleries, I'm a little shocked by how narrow my view on the world was.

So, in the spirit of sharing, here's some of the stuff and the people that keep me wide-eyed and entertained:

Business consultant Lance Wiggs: Idealog interview | Blog

Open Library (and former Flickr) staffer George Oates: Guardian interview | Blog

New Yorker political editor Hendrik Hertzberg: Blog | Weekly podcast

Web guru Nat Torkington: Blog | 4 short links

Composer Nico Muhly: Blog

Designers Jack Schulze, Matt Webb, Matt Jones: Pulse Laser blog

Thursday 2 July 2009

Web muster

Judith H. Dobrzynski talks to Arnold Lehman (Brooklyn Museum) about permanent collections

Art Baloney, a blog for examples of torturous art writing (oh, the temptation to start a NZ spin-off ...)

Jerry Saltz talks with Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, about gender disparity in the display of MoMa's permanent collection

Tim Barton, president of Oxford University Press, on the Google Books settlement:

We cannot now predict all of the places where the settlement will take us, which should make us understandably cautious. But even as we debate the important issues surrounding it, we must not shirk our responsibility to take forward-thinking, tangible steps now — today — by conjuring perilous futures and retreating to the safety of inaction and paralysis.

The settlement raises other interesting challenges: The scholarly world is drowning in information already, so we will need better paths through all this newly rediscovered older material. But what an enviable problem to face.

So we at Oxford University Press support the settlement, even as we recognize its imperfections and want it made better. As Voltaire said, "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien," the perfect is the enemy of the good. Let us not waste an opportunity to create so much good. Let us work together to solve the imperfections of the settlement. Let us work together to give students, scholars, and readers access to the written wisdom of previous generations. Let us keep those minds alive.