Monday 31 August 2009


My Name is Charles Saatchi and I Am an Artoholic, by Charles Saatchi & published by Phaidon, is released on 8 September. The book records his answers to questions from critics, journalists and the public, to whit:

Do you think you have messed up anybody's life by flogging off all their work?

I don't buy art just to make artists happy any more than I want to make them sad if I sell their work. Don't you think you're being a bit melodramatic?

More extracts are available on the Guardian site

Thursday 27 August 2009

Who are you?

Is provenance a big deal in the New Zealand art world?

In terms of the market, I can't think of many examples where the name of the previous owner might increase the perceived value of an artwork to a private buyer. Charles Brasch, Ron O'Reilly, Jim Barr and Mary Barr?

I do think provenance becomes more interesting in terms of public collections. In this context information is captured about the way artworks have circulated in New Zealand - through gift, sale, bequest and wheeler-dealing - and then is presented publicly that as part of a work's history & importance. It becomes art history.

I started thinking about this this morning because of this post about provenance research on the IMA blog. It looks at the provenance of one of the IMA's key works, van Gogh's
Landscape at Saint-Rémy (Enclosed Field with Peasant) . The early history of the work is well documented, but the record gets scanty in the mid 20th century, putting the work under the cloud of Nazi-era looting,

All is well with the IMA's van Gogh; curator Annette Schlagenhauff found papers in the New York Public Library showing the work came to America in the private owner's hands. However, the blog post brought my attention to a part of the IMA site that I haven't seen before: the World War II-Era Provenance research project. The section lists European paintings "created before 1946 and acquired after 1932", and also contains info on how to read provenance texts.

Like their deaccessioning database, putting this provenance research onto their website brings transparency to the inner workings of the institution, but also makes them interesting. It's things like this that make me an IMA fangirl.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Call and response

Two stories, two reactions ...

The Telegraph's Roya Nikkhah on the £500,000 the English Government spent on its art collection last year: "Made from old plastic bottles and low energy light bulbs, held together with electric flex, it resembles a tangled string of Christmas lights. Yet this light fitting has been brought by the Government at a cost to the public purse of £14,000 so that it can be put on display at the new British High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka."

Counter-point: The Guardian's Jonathan Jones on the Telegraph article: "I hate having to defend the government art collection. And – sod it – I'm not going to. But a defence does seem to be called for."

Point: The NY Times' Robin Pogrebin on corporate collections muscling into public galleries: “Smaller community museums with more need began to ask for our program,” [Rena DeSisto of Bank of America] said. “They just don’t have the deep pockets, and they don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘We don’t do corporate collections,’ nor do they frankly have the snobbery about it.”

Counter-point: Edward Winkleman on his eponymous blog: "As someone hoping to sell work to many corporate collections, I am predisposed to thinking kindly of them, but I can honestly say that corporations' curators are indeed among the most knowledgeable and passionate curators out there, and most of the ones I know are delightful and fun to talk with about art in general. The biggest question for me in all this is one of disclosure."

Update: Jonathan Jones calls bullshit on the NYT, says connections between corporations and art galleries are hardly anything new and scandalous.

Friday 21 August 2009

web muster

Nina Simon on museum photo policies

I've been surprised to learn that some museums have restrictive photo policies and aren't sure why. I've heard stories of museum staff at two large institutions trying to figure out who "owns" the policy--conservation, marketing, curatorial, etc.--so that it might be revised. If you don't know why you restrict photography in your institution, please think about both the benefits AND the drawbacks of allowing photography before you perpetuate the policy.

Shelley Bernstein on kiosks and screens in galleries

Why would you take space in a museum to show off your web site? Has anyone seen this work well? Is this kind of thing helpful at all?

Noni Stacey on the blockbuster exhibition circuit & the people who store & move the art

One viewing room, housing a Donald Judd sculpture, resembles a pristine, climate-controlled prison cell, all white walls and concrete flooring. Potential buyers file in to sit on the chair placed in front of the sculpture while they decide whether to bid or not.

Over the net on the Hutt Council considering the sale of a major McCahon from the Dowse's collection

Back in 1978, after its purchase the previous year by then director Jim Barr, (God bless him) City Councillor Chen Werry claimed the painting was worthless. Now, 31 years later, a different set of councillors is complaining that it is worth too much (it was valued at $1.52 million in 2005) and should go on the block.

Wednesday 19 August 2009


The story of New York art collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel has to be one of the most endearing in 20th-century art history. Dorothy, a librarian, and Herbert, a postal clerk, have acquired over 4,000 works together since marrying in 1962 (they marked their engagement with a Picasso ceramic).

The couple made the decision to live off Dorothy's income and devote Herb's income to buying art. Their story reflects that of several other collector-couples I know; the enduring relationships of mutual support and enjoyment with artists, the early adoption of new artists and trends, and the utter lack of regard for the question "where the hell it go?".

In 1992 the Vogels entered an agreement with the National Gallery of Art, and since then over 1000 works from their collection have either been donated or promised as gifts to the NGA. In 2008 an even bigger scheme was announced: The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States. 2,500 works from the Vogel's collection are being distributed through the programme.

The 50x50 website is one of the most enjoyable art sites I've seen. Only 350-ish artworks have made it up there, but the way the Vogels' story is told through text, image, video and audio is lovely, and interlinking between artworks, artists, and institutions is nicely handled.

I spent quite a lot of time clicking around - more than I spend on the average gallery site, digitised collection or exhibition website. I think this was because the scope is broad - nearly 50 years' of art - but the narrative is tight, and you can take one without the other. The search by date feature I found particularly appealing, perhaps because it's tied to people's lives. (I buy a bit of art every now and then, and when I look around the house, each piece is tied to a person, event or milestone - that roadtrip, that birthday, that job change) . The site obviously has a lot of content to add, but there's something delightful about it, without being the least bit hokey - kinda like I imagine the Vogels to be.

Friday 14 August 2009

Brought to Light

I've really been enjoying Christchurch Art Gallery's new 'Brought to Light' blog about the redevelopment of their collection galleries.

I've always felt that collection galleries play second fiddle to temporary exhibitions. It's nice to see them getting a little bit of love here, not just in terms of the revamp but an increased level coverage.

It's also a smart move by CAG. Rather than starting up "The Christchurch Art Gallery blog" they've picked a time-bound project so they can test out blogging and see how staff and readers react. Come the end of the installation, they can turn the blog off and, if it's a miserable failure, move on. If it works (and I'd define "works" as attracts a steady readership + staff finding it a fun thing to do) then they can decide what to do next.

I for one hopes it works.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

morituri te salutant

It's a toga party! It's a water fight! It's AWESOME!

The New Yorkers get all the fun. Artist Duke Riley is staging a naval battle with ships crewed by staff from Queens Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and El Museo del Barrio as an artist in residence work for Queens Museum.

Those about to die salute you riffs off Roman Naumachia and Elizabethan England pageantry, with a soupçon of conceptualism thrown in for good measure. I think the thing that appeals to me most - aside from the spectacle, and the absurdity, and the fact that I studied these things in third form Latin and goddamn it, that finally came in useful - is the competitive, trash-talking, silly side of the museum staff that it's bringing out and showing to people.

When I first started out in the visual art world (and before I departed on my current tangent) my mother was appalled. Why? she asked me. Why would I want to spend my time with those people? She'd seen museum and gallery people on the telly. They looked mean. They didn't look like they enjoyed their work. They didn't look like they liked other people. Maybe I should show her these photos.

Monday 10 August 2009


It's not often that an art project outrages me.

My visit to the Adam Art Gallery's current show, The Future is Unwritten, was flat. The only work that really grabbed me was Peter Trevelyan's pencil lead sculpture - such a formally perfect work felt out of place amongst the provisional bits and pieces dotted throughout the other spaces. If I'm brutally honest though, the work grabbed me because by the time I got to the Chartwell room I'd become pretty desultory, and almost missed it: I stopped in the doorway, saw a dim empty room, and was about to move on when I saw a strange haze at the end of the space - the laugh was on me in this case, the lazy visitor. I might as well have been running through the show viewing it through my iPhone (if I had an iPhone, that is).

It was when I was clicking around on the exhibition website that I came across the work that got me going. The first time I clicked on the link to Amit Charon's page on the site, and my browser slowed and then crashed, I thought maybe something was up with the Adam's recently redeveloped site. The second time it happened, I began to wonder if this was intentional. I visited the link again and again, trying to read the text on the page before the tab disappeared, to see if it would confirm this. Each time, my browser crashed, although at least I'd learnt my lesson by this point and closed all my other tabs and applications. Eventually, I made it out in time: Slowly add pressure to the site. Wait until breaking point.

I decided to err on the safe side and emailed curator Laura Preston, asking her if the crashing was intentional and, if so, would she cast some light on the project for me. Laura replied and said yes, the crashing is on purpose, and gave me an explanation of the piece. A sentence of her explanation inflamed the part of me that gets all righteous about the web and the communities of people who live on it, and had me ranting all weekend to friends and colleagues.

When I asked if I could publish what she sent me here, Laura demurred, and came back with other explanation that she had checked off with Charon. This piece had the sentence that got me all worked up removed and a more common-sense explanation appended, as follows:

For the exhibition project The Future is Unwritten, Amit Charan has made a subtle site responsive work. He has built a transparent 'skyscraper' which in digital speak is a vertical advertising banner 160 x 600 pixels. The invisible skyscraper is placed on the right hand side of his project's webpage. By dropping this very large file on top of the Adam Art Gallery website, Charan is simulating weight as a sculptural quality in digital space. Consequently, the added strain causes the browser window to slow down, stall or even crash as the skyscraper is downloaded and shifts from the gallery website to the user's temporary files folder stored on the desktop. To view this work is to give up one's own space/time.

Charan's work also connects back to the actual exhibition as it quietly relates to Daniel Malone's project - Bricks break dialectics 2009 a performance Malone proposed five years ago and realised at the opening of the exhibition, which involved throwing a brick through the gallery's front window.

For his supplementary material Charan has selected to highlight Santiago Sierra's 300 tons (brief information here: which also places viewing restrictions due to the overwhelming weight of the work.

Reviewing the show, Mark Amery found the online projects "dull, undeveloped and too disconnected from the exhibition in situ". I too found the other projects pretty dry. I'm also not keen on Preston and Charon's site/site pun, which I think is kinda slim.

However, Charon's complete violation of web standards, his theft of my time, and his disregard for my activities and property is to my mind far more confrontational than Daniel Malone's exhaustively discussed and documented brick throwing. Bricks might break dialectics, but getting permission to bust a window hardly breaks open the conventions of the gallery. Downloading huge files onto my computer without telling me breaks the conventions of the web, and for many millions of people that's far more outrageous (if you don't believe me, listen in the next time a free service like goes tits up, or the Failwhale shows up on Twitter).

I do query though the seeming decision not to explain the project for unsuspecting victims seeking reassurance that their computer hasn't now been filled up with malware. The catalogue notes and the website have only the vaguest descriptions of Charon's work. From the catalogue "For this project Amit Charon has constructed a skyscraper, an intangible form that make its effects known": this doesn't help at all. If you're going to play jokes on me, I'd appreciate it if you shared the punchline afterwards.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Advice for collectors

"If shaky finances mean you've put the freeze on your art collection, leave an empty space on the wall and tell guests you've lent your Cy Twombly / Ed Ruscha / Bridget Riley to MoMA for a year"

-- Vogue's advice for thrifty chic, April 2009.

Wednesday 5 August 2009


This slideshow on the Guardian website, showing how the British Museum conducts its annual cleaning of its Haida totem pole (hint: a cherry-picker, a special vacuum and a "conservation-grade" sponge) reminded me of my favourite moment at the Christchurch Art Gallery the other week when I saw a woman in white gloves slowly moving round Michael Parekowhai's My Sister, My Self

and gently wiping the dust off its glossy paint finish.

I'm intrigued by Parekowhai's glamorous blow-ups of dinky figurines, and would love to see My Sister, My Self joined by this new work currently on show at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Seldom is Herd.

Michael Parekowhai, My Sister, My Self, 2006. Fibreglass, automotive paint, mild steel and wood. Collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery.
Michael Parekowhai, Seldom is Herd, 2009. Automotive paint on fibreglass. Installed at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

Monday 3 August 2009

Down south

It feels like a long time ago now, but the Wednesday before last I went down to Christchurch for the opening of the Ronnie van Hout, Seraphine Pick and et al shows at Christchurch Art Gallery.

It's a great piece of programming. I think Pick's work will bring people into the gallery, but my guess is that it will be et al's that's obvious! that's right! that's true! that stays with them the longest.

(In a side note, I had wondered before seeing the show whether Justin Paton would be able to successfully pull off another van Hout show so soon after the big DPAG survey show. I was proved wrong - I think there's only one work included which was in the previous show, and the activity book is inspired. It's a light-hearted piece of publishing, and if you pass it by you lose nothing. But if you pick it up and use it in the gallery it adds a second layer to your visit, a bit of gamesmanship from van Hout that double-exposes all the gags, tricks, evasions and non-senses in the works.)

The Pick show is an extremely comprehensive survey of her paintings from art school to this year. In fact, it's possibly too comprehensive, and I look forward to see the scaled-down version that will come to City Gallery Wellington. In any other New Zealand gallery I think the experience would have simply been overwhelming, but the soaring stud of the CAG's temporary galleries and some clever hanging mitigated this.

I heard some people rumbling that they wished they could see the paintings at the top of the two big groupings of works more clearly, but this didn't bother me. This may have been because the wall of watercolours and drawings reminded me of my favorite experience of Pick's work, her 2005 show at Michael Lett's, which, with its walls covered in small, fragmentary and seemingly half-finished works, evoked the intimacy of the studio and the joy of riffling through drawers and forgotten piles.

Anyway - back to that's obvious! that's right! that's true! Visiting the gallery the morning after the opening, I was surprised by how many people were in the show. There's this impression that et al's work is difficult - something only experienced arty types should dare to tackle, like an artistic Everest. But standing in the installation and watching other visitors, I realised that while the work may be hard to make sense of, experiencing it is effortless. I felt rebuffed, intrigued, nervous when forced to mount the scaffolding, wrong when I tried to avoid it. We were all drawn into a tangle of words and signs and sounds and small, heavy details.

Installations that rely this heavily on physical experience are so hard to describe in words. A series of beautiful photographs on the et al website help a little. Best of all, this is the first time I've seen a NZ-based art site use a Creative Commons licence, which makes me feel I can reproduce two of the images here without fear of a take-down notice.

Installation views et al's
that's obvious! that's right! that's true! 2009 at the Christchurch Art Gallery. Reproduced from the et al website.