Tuesday 22 December 2009

Last post

It's nice to end the year with a discovery rather than a summary. I was a late-comer to American photographer Alec Soth's blog; within months of falling for it, he stopped writing.

So I was delighted to find out this morning (via C-Monster) that Soth is blogging again, as part of Little Brown Mushroom Books.

From the site, here's Soth's Glass Jars

Glass Jars from Little Brown Mushroom on Vimeo.

Best of 3 is taking a Christmas break. See you in the second week of January.

Friday 18 December 2009

Web Muster

I don't just admire London design firm Berg's work - I am totally in love with how they communicate their work. Check out this post & video on their digital magazine project.

Patronising the arts by Josh Silverstein, from McSweeney's.

The Daily Mail reports Hugh Grant was drunk when he instructed an assistant to bid on a Warhol Elizabeth Taylor at auction (which he won, and subsequently sold 6 years later for a healthy profit). The Guardian treats the story as a morality tale.

Information that's nearly beautiful - a graph of the number of negative reviews per art critic published in the NYT in 2009 is a niceidea, but the figures should be percentages.

And the New York Times asks whether arts institutions' rapid expansions in the past 10 years were the result of the economic bubble, which is now popping in their faces.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Besties II

Best news

The Julian and Josie Robertson promised gift of 15 international artworks to Auckland Art Gallery.

Best new comms tool

Twitter is a top competitor for 2009 word-of-the-year. Christchurch Art Gallery, City Gallery Wellington, Auckland Museum and Te Papa's Collections Online twitter accounts are all run by people who give a damn about their audiences, and that's what makes them work.

Best read

New Zealand doesn't suffer from a lack of writing about art, but we do lack of analysis of the art sector and the way it does (and sometimes doesn't) function. David Marr's The Henson Case was published in October 2008 but as I didn't read it until this year, I'm counting it as 2009's best read: a lucid and considered, but pacey, account of the unfolding of the controversy surrounding Henson's photographs of a naked adolescent.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Director swop

The Guardian reports on Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, doing a day swop with Rob Thomas, headmaster of Thomas Tallis school, a "specialist arts college in a deprived area of London that's just been christened a 'national school of creativity' by Arts Council England".

Which begs the question:

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Besties I

et al, that's obvious! that's right! that's true!, Christchurch Art Gallery, 2009.
Photographer David Watkins. Photo from the et al website.

Best show

et al's that's obvious! that's right! that's true! at Christchurch Art Gallery. A brave piece of programming for the Gallery, and a triumph of a show.

Best comeback

Under new director Cam McCracken, the Dowse feels like a place to go to see art again. Unfortunately the Dowse website seems to have gone AWOL this morning, so you can read this old piece instead.

Best (new) (New Zealand) blog

Over the net is still reliably informative & entertaining, but this year's hat tip is to the Starkwhite blog, which moves beyond promoting the dealer gallery's shows & artists and into the wider issues of the New Zealand and international art world.

Monday 14 December 2009


Writing in The Telegraph, Alastair Sooke identifies a return to beauty with Anish Kapoor's large show at the Royal Academy and Richard Wright's Turner prize-winning gold-leaf mural. Sooke sees the return to beauty merging as a reaction to the 'boorish antics' of Hirst, Emin et al. He also argues that in troubled time we seek things that are "luminous and orderly" - "There is a greater thirst for beauty than there has been in recent years, and this is the result of an increased appetite for art that offers an antidote to doom and gloom."

It appears to me though that part of the appeal of these works is sheer scale, and colour. It's often claimed that the punters don't like abstract art because it's "too hard". As with Yayoi Kusama at City Gallery Wellington, when abstract meets spectacle, you appear to have a winning combination.

Anish Kapoor, Royal Academy, London

Friday 11 December 2009

Avoiding the obvious

One of the few reasons I regret not living in Auckland is that Michael Parekowhai doesn't have a Wellington dealer. So a recent trip north has timed to coincide with Parekowhai's new show at Michael Lett Gallery, The Moment of Cubism.

Michael Parekowhai, The Moment of Cubism - installation view, 2009, Michael Lett Gallery

Parekowhai has, since the outset, made incredibly interpretable work.

Michael Parekowhai, Kiss the baby good-bye (The Maquette), c. 1994, Christchurch Art Gallery

As with Shane Cotton, writers and art historians have delighted in unpacking and unravelling all the signifiers in the works, in a kind of cryptic crossword fashion. This has certainly held true with John Hurrell's review of 'The Moment of Cubism' (and subsequent reader comments).

What I admire about Parekowhai - and what keeps me intrigued - is the distance he places between himself and the interpretation of his work. Sometimes it almost seems he's taunting the interpretors with traps baited with art historical quotations and cultural references - although this implies more time and effort being devoted to the cause than I imagine really is.

The themes that to my mind reoccur across Parekowhai's works are:

  • immaculate construction
  • puzzling yet awesome titles
  • experiments with scale
  • realism (often subverted)
  • art-historical/cultural references (I'm as fallible as everyone else, you know)

When you look at the body of work in this way, objects as disparate as taxidermied sparrows and up-sized Wedgewood bookends hook together in a way that makes you hunger for a survey show.

Thinking about The Moment of Cubism, the first of Parekowhai's works that came to mind was My Sister, My Self (coincidentally, part of the last show Parekowhai had at Michael Lett's, in June 2007 - it's been a while between drinks).

Michael Parekowhai, My Sister, My Self, 2006, Christchurch Art Gallery

The Moment of Cubism shares the blow-it-up-big approach to domestic tchotchkes. But the next set of work I thought of was The Consolation of Philosophy, the photographic series from 2001.

Michael Parekowhai, Boulogne, 2001, Michael Lett Gallery

Part of this is purely aesthetic, of course; the creamy tints of the elephants and the deer sculptures in The Moment of Cubism calling to mind the Crown Lynn vases in The Consolation of Philosophy. The Consolation of Philosophy is relatively easy to 'read' (flower arrangements named after major engagements in which the Maori Battalion fought in WWII) - but only once you've been given that information. Like the pieces in The Moment of Cubism, the photographs hold themselves aloof.

The Moment of Cubism comprises two new pieces of work - the cast bronze lemon trees and palette and Te Ao Hurihuri, the elephant sculptures - and a piece shown earlier this year at Roslyn Oxley's, Seldom is Herd (punniest MP title yet?). In Sydney, Seldom is Herd was accompanied by The Brothers Grimm - ten little 'Indian' boys.

Michael Parekowhai, Seldom is Herd (installation view), 2009, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Ten little Indians refers back to a counting song for small kids, and it suddenly occurred to me as I was looking through these images that this is a connection back to the Atarangi works, based on Cuisenaire rods, used to teach children about relationships between numbers and more recently employed as a tool for teaching te reo.

Michael Parekowhai, Atarangi II, 2005, Te Tuhi

According to the Roslyn Oxley press release, the little Indians are modelled on Parekowhai's sons. If I recall correctly, these kids have played Indians before - in Steve Carr's 2004 film, Cowboys and Indians. [Or do I have this completely wrong?]

Anyway. Michael Parekowhai is a smart smart guy, and he likes to fool around with us viewers. Relax and enjoy it. If this show doesn't put him into the next Walters Prize, I'll be a donkey's uncle. Go see it (on til 23 January 2010)

Thursday 10 December 2009

tribal fundraising

I've been meaning to get this down from week now, since hearing Chris Brown speak at the Engage Your Community conference.

The abstract for Brown's presentation didn't really sum up what he spoke about. Brown is director of brand & PR firm Sputnik and co-author with Jill Caldwell of 8 Tribes: The Hidden Classes of New Zealand, a "values-based social anthropology of New Zealanders".

The 8 Tribes analysis breaks New Zealanders down into eight groupings, based on the values they espouse and lifestyle they lead:

The North Shore tribe
The Grey Lynn tribe
The Balclutha tribe
The Otara tribe
The Remuera tribe
The Raglan tribe
The Cuba Street tribe
The Papatoetoe tribe

You can do an online survey to establish your own tribe (in the interests of transparency, I'm half Grey Lynn and half Balclutha)

Now, before you start yelling at me about insensitive stereotypes and pseudo-social-sciences, it's not my book, and it's certainly not The Book.

What it is though is an interesting way for galleries to look at the audiences they wish to engage when they're on a fund-raising drive. This was the best bit of Brown's EYC presentation.

For example. The North Shore tribe are the "ambitious, hard-working, heavily-mortgaged inhabitants of the great suburban jungle". For them, "looking good and keeping up appearances" are really important. This is your audience for black tie celebrity auctions.

Or the Balclutha tribe: "the tribe of the Kiwi heartland, the provincial conservatives, who see themselves as a source of stability and commonsense, bearers of on-going connection with the land – solid, reliable and down to earth, but also deceptively smart". Will lend time and expertise (get them along for a working bee, or help with your accounts) but unlikely to throw cash your way.

Or the Grey Lynn tribe (I reckon this is your hard-core art patron grouping). They're the "highly educated intelligentsia who value ideas above material things and intellectualise every element of their lives." They "prefer to be “challenged” than entertained, seek out authentic experiences". Give them access to important intellectual figures (visiting curators/writers/critics) and artists (not that I'm saying that artists can't fall into the 'intellectual figures' category)

Of course this is just one way of looking at your engagement and fund-raising activities. But a little analysis never hurt anyone. Check out this blog post on the application of 8 Tribes thinking to green politics.

Wednesday 2 December 2009


Earlier this year, I (re)read Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Stephenson piqued my interest in the early history of the Royal Society, and I followed up with Richard Holmes' hugely enjoyable Age of Wonder, James Gleick's biography of Newton, and am currently a couple of chapters into Lisa Jardine's Ingenious Pursuits - like Holmes' book, a history of mid-17th to mid-18th century science and invention told through the stories of the people who made them.

There's a romance to the period that I find irresistible: the way that the natural world seemed to unfold its mysteries at this time, the way literature and art and science and politics all intertwined, and the colourful characters who took personal and social risks to chase their dreams.

So when I saw yesterday in the Guardian that the Royal Society has released 'Trailblazing', an online library of its papers, to celebrate its 350th anniversary, I was stoked. Then I hit the site.

The (Flash) interface is designed as an interactive timeline - you pull it along, and hovering over little grey and red dots brings up pop-ups that contain a heading and a picture. Clicking 'More' gives you a small narrative about an article from the Royal Society's Transactions, and some links - one of which will take you to a PDF of the actual article, on another site.

The Guardian article notes:

There is the letter from the chemist Robert Boyle, asking the physician Richard Lower about the consequences of transfusing blood from one animal into another. Does a dog lose its quirks after transfusion and gain those of the donor? Does blood from a big dog make a small dog grow? Can you safely replace a frog's blood with blood from a calf, and might that change one species into another? The answers were no, no, no and no.

But how do I find it? Trailblazing doesn't have a search box. And if I did happen to find something I wanted to share, through clicking somewhat random red dots, there's no way of linking to it.

I understand the urge to build something 'interactive', although I'd argue that 'interactive' nowadays means being able to personalise a site to your tastes, or add your own information, not click and drag. And I understand the urge to give a browsable interface to what can be quite impenetrable texts. But I don't think Trailblazing makes as good a use of the awesome content as they could. Why not (a) use the people who made the science as your entrance points, rather than dates (b) make the deep content searchable along with the new narratives and (c) combine the two sites into one?

Tuesday 1 December 2009

All about the story

In yesterday's post I mentioned journalist and blogger Julie Starr, which reminded me that I've been meaning to post about a new venture Julie is involved in - AllAboutTheStory.com

AllAboutTheStory is a marketplace for writers and publishers. Writers upload news features, stories, opinion pieces etc, and put a price on their text. Buyers can then browse the site to find pieces for publication. The site has cannily been launched in the lead-up to the slow part of the news year, giving editors a place to find interesting copy to fill the summer break.

The business model sees AllAboutTheStory taking a percentage from the sellers whenever an article is sold. Idealog has already signed up to the site.

At the moment, stories on offer cluster around technology and business. I'm interested to see whether any art writers take up this offer & start populating the Entertainment section (and setting their own value on their effort).