Friday 29 January 2010

Engage your community conference, Christchurch

Engage Your Community
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology
16 April 2010
Registration between $40 and $85

Last year I attended and gave a workshop at the Wellington version of this event. It was awesome.

The Christchurch version looks equally interesting and useful (not to mention cheap as chips). The programme is structured as a series of short workshops, bookended with a presentation and a panel discussion. It looks like a good chance to survey a range of free or cheap web-based services that could help you with internal and external comms, from how to save money on long-distance calls by using Skype, to how to make beautiful word images using Wordle, to how to run a fund-raising campaign on Facebook.

In a little shout-out to my peeps, I'd highly recommend the sessions being run by Christchurch City Libraries staff, and Emma McCleary's Facebook workshop.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Good sports

The Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art are wagering artworks on the outcome of the 44th Super Bowl, where the New Orleans Saints will take on the Indianapolis Colts for the title.

Tyler Green has been shuttling between the two directors (Maxwell Anderson and E. John Bullard). The bet now stands at a three-month loan from the home-town of the losing team to that of the winning team; the IMA has put up a Turner, NOMA a Lorrain.

There are three things that I love about this. Firstly, it's fun - it's unusual to see museums being playful in a way that's not a bit saccharine. Secondly, it's been conducted in the real voices of the directors concerned, and doesn't feel like a PR stunt - this is helped in particular by Anderson being a steady Twitterer. And thirdly, it breaks with that weird culture-sport dichotomy, and says actually, people can be interested and passionate about both.

Thursday 21 January 2010


I watched this astounding video at my desk yesterday, and it brought me to tears

The Eyewriter from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

The EyeWriter is a combination of lost-cost hardware to create an eye-tracking device and FOSS software that enables graffiti writers and artists with paralysis to draw with their eyes. It is amazing.

Thanks to Matt G at the IMA for bringing this project to my attention in his awesome blog post about graffiti, technology, and the web.

Monday 18 January 2010

Ronnie van Hout talk

Ronnie van Hout
Friday 29 January (thanks DC)
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa
Free entry

More information

You win some, you lose some; one man's meat is another man's poison; and other cliches ...

One US news outlet lists 'curator' as one of the Top 50 Jobs for 2010

Another puts 'curator' in the list of Stressful Jobs that Pay Badly

via 'Ten tips for Aspiring Curators', Hyperallergic

Friday 15 January 2010

Web muster

Adrian Searle reviews Christian Boltanki's Monumenta installation

Brooklyn Museum announces new copyright functionality on its online catalogue

Hoefler & Frere-Jones launch a new font with their usual literary verve

The visual identities of the 2000's

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Risky business?

Problems with quantifying risk can water down, drag out the development of, and even kill good ideas.

I see this over and over again in my professional life, especially when it comes to 'social media tools' that allow 'users' to interact with, add information to, or reuse collection items or 'authoritative' information sources.

When activities like these are proposed, questions are raised. What if we allow tagging, and people add racist tags to collection items? What if we enable reuse, and people cut and paste Hitler's face onto the photograph of someone's ancestor? What if we ask people to clean up OCR'd text, and they paste in spam instead? What if we start a community, and Russian mobsters come and steal members' identities?

Often, the questions have no answers, because there's no evidence yet. You can't deny that there's a risk, but nor can you measure it effectively so that you can allay concerns. And sometimes this unquantifiable risk becomes the thing people get stuck on.

I feel like I'm seeing this with the appointment of Jeffrey Deitch as the new director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Commentators are not writing reams of content because he's known to be stupid and lazy, or to have a history of fraudulent behaviour, or the beneficiary of a nepotistic decision by the board.

Instead, they're hung up on the following:
  • he is currently a commercial dealer (a practice he has stated he will give up)
  • he is currently an art collector (a practice he has stated he will not give up).
It is unusual (but not unknown) for a director of a commercial gallery to be appointed to lead a not-for-profit art museum (notably, it is not at all uncommon for staff to leave not-for-profits and go to dealer galleries and auction houses, and conflict of interest is rarely discussed on these occasions). I'm unsure of how common or not it is for a director to have a personal art collection (not so uncommon that there aren't clear and well-publicised guidelines for this situation).

So there's commentary like this (from Tyler Green):

Imagine that MOCA launches a group show. Imagine that one of the artists is not so well-known, and that her inclusion in a show at America's top contemporary art museum would represent a substantial elevation of her profile. Imagine then that Deitch then decides to sell three works by that artist from his collection. That would be deeply problematic. I'm not suggesting that would happen, I'm merely pointing out the sort of situation that should be prevented.

And this (from Jorg Colberg)

I'm wondering how Deitch being director of LA MoCA does not open the doors to a potentially huge set of conflicts of interest. A commercial dealer obviously has very different priorities than the director of LA MoCA. This is where things might get pretty iffy, especially if (that, of course, is a big if, and I'm not implying in any way that this is going to happen) in a few years Deitch decides to step down as director of LA MoCA to become a private dealer again. He could then end up in the situation where he would trade the very same artists he might have promoted as director of LA MoCA, thus benefiting from decisions he made earlier...

I also think Tyler Green is unfairly harsh on Roberta Smith's piece on Deitch's appointment; as far as I have seen, she's the only person to put it together with the recent appointment of Bill Moggridge (an industrial designer and businessman) to lead the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and ask if this is the beginning of a new trend (following on, I guess, from the MBA trend of the 1990s/2000s).

One of the most thoughful responses I've seen so far is Andras Szanto's comment on Ed Winkleman's ArtWorld Salon post yesterday:

... we’ve been handed a phenomenal opportunity to think out loud about art-world roles and the lingering sentimental attitudes attached to some of them.
... Our choice, ultimately, is between a guild-like hardening of professional silos, or a more fluid opportunity to mingle successive jobs and careers. The art world is coming late to this party–behind lawyers and scientists and even politicians. There may be unexpected benefits.

I tend to agree with Szanto. Deitch's behaviour will come under incredible scrutiny. His appointment may trigger the development of further conflict of interest guidelines. But we're all going to lose out long-term if we blanket-ly say that people who have worked in certain kinds of jobs in the art world shouldn't move into other roles because the (potential, unquantified) risk is too great.

P.S. A friend (who runs the site I Heart Eyeglasses) has noted that Deitch's specs are awesome.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Web muster

Most of the news from America the past two days has been speculation over, and confirmation of, dealer Jeffrey Deitch as the new director of the troubled Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). The appointment of a dealer gallery owner as the head of a not-for-profit art museum is unprecedented, and raised a lot of discussion about whether this is an appropriate move:
A long and thoughtful article by Andras Szanto on the year ahead for US museums (with some interesting stats on changing visitor demographics)

In the wake of the Bill Henson fiasco, the NSW Child Pornography Working Party has recommended removing artistic merit as a defence for the use of images of children deemed to be pornographic. Makes interesting reading alongside this piece on the ethical implications of photographer Elinor Carucci's work in the Guardian today (which dwells on Sally Mann, but doesn't mention Henson)

And some eye candy - photographs of renovations at the Stedelijk

Monday 11 January 2010

I cannot emphasise the first line enough

I wrote the following article on copyright for the most recent edition of the Christchurch Art Gallery's Bulletin.

Two observations and a note

1. I am not a copyright expert, and I don't pretend to be one. I have a working understanding of copyright, and it's an issue that comes up a lot in my work life and my non-work/free-lance/free-time life. I'm grateful to Lewis Brown at DigitalNZ for reviewing this article pre-publication. All mistakes remain my own, etc.

2. While writing this article, I bemoaned the inability to use hyperlinks. Obviously, these couldn't be included in the print publication, but I have added some here. I've left the original footnotes intact as well.

NB: Like all original text on this blog, this article is published under a BY-NC Creative Commons licence.


First, I should make it clear that I'm not a copyright expert, or a lawyer. Instead, I'm somewhere between an interested bystander and a participant: consideration of copyright is part of my day job at the National Library of New Zealand, an important issue in my interest in open data and the digitisation of cultural heritage materials, and something that often crops up in my blogging.

In this essay, I’d like to look at how copyright forms part of the day-to-day running of an art gallery. First though, some copyright basics.

Copyright was first recognised in England in 1709 with the Statute of Anne, which gave authors rather than printers control over the reproduction of their works. It is a legal concept that gives the creator of an original work rights over if or how that work is copied, distributed, shown, performed, communicated or adapted, for a set period of time.

Today, copyright applies to a wide variety of creative works, from screenplays to maps. In New Zealand, the Copyright Act 1994 applies to original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, communication works and the typographical arrangement of published editions. Under the Act, copyright in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works lasts for the life of the author plus fifty years.

Perhaps one of the most widespread confusions around copyright is whether as a creator you need to register your work to assert copyright. You don't. The minute you press stop on your digital recorder, take the brush from the canvas, or stop typing, you gain copyright over what you’ve just made.

The copyright owner is almost always the first creator of the work. There are two main exceptions. When you make a work as part of your job, your employer is the copyright owner. And when someone commissions and pays, or agrees to pay, for a work (other than a written work) the commissioner is the copyright owner.

And now to copyright in action.

There is a difference between owning an artwork and owning the copyright on it. While artists can bequeath or assign copyright control to a gallery, or licence a gallery to use their work, this is relatively rare.[1]

By and large, whenever a gallery wants to reproduce a work from their collection or a work from a temporary exhibition that is still in copyright – to put in a book, on a poster or postcard, on their website, in their magazine or annual report – they must seek the artist's permission to do so. (A provision is made in the Act for reproduction for the purpose of criticism and review, with credit to the creator.)

This is entirely fair, but it's also very time-consuming. This is particularly the case when digitising artworks to make them available online.

Copyright is a significant consideration in the digitisation of collections, such as the work undertaken by Christchurch Art Gallery to make their collection available online. Searchable collections like this are invaluable resources for researchers, be they art historians, students, or bloggers like me. They are also labours of love and perseverance for collecting institutions. Before a work can be digitised and displayed online, its copyright status must be ascertained. Generally, if a work is out of copyright, it can be copied without permission. If it is still in copyright, its creator (or creator's descendants) must be contacted and asked for permission – and sometimes there’s a fee involved. Sometimes, searching for the copyright holder can be a lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful process. Spend some time in Christchurch Art Gallery’s online collection and occasionally you'll see a notice saying 'Sorry, image not available due to copyright restrictions.' The Gallery’s registrar, Gina Irish, says that "usually this is due to either not being able to track down the copyright holder, or, very rarely, permission being declined by the artist or holder".

Earlier this year, staff at Te Papa blogged about copyright clearance for their Collections Online. Adrian Kingston noted:

"Sometimes we have images for things we don’t have rights clearances for; sometimes we have rights clearances for objects not imaged. Sometimes we have permission from an artist or estate for one work, but not others. We try to align our digitisation projects with rights clearances, but the overlap doesn’t always happen straight away."[2]

And as Te Papa's rights manager Victoria Leachman observed, sometimes artists and copyright holders are simply not comfortable with having their works reproduced online. [3]

Personally, I find it both frustrating and saddening when an artist refuses permission. Frustrating because the internet is now the first place I go with questions, and saddening because these refusals limit the audience for an artist's work. I was discussing this with a colleague recently, who said she wasn't surprised I felt this way because I'm an optimist about the web. However, it can't be denied that allowing images of their artworks to be available online reduces an artist's control over the context in which their work is seen, and knowledge of who is seeing or using it.

In recent years, and largely in response to the opportunities and risks the internet poses, a new movement in copyright has emerged. Copyleft describes the practise of removing some restrictions on copyrighted works, so that copies and derivations can be easily made and shared.

The Creative Commons organisation is at the forefront of the copyleft movement. In the words of founder Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons aims to make it easy for "people to build on other people's work, by making it simple for creators to express the freedom for others to take and build upon their work."[4]

Creative Commons has done this by developing a set of licences that are freely available for creators to take and apply to their own work. The licences are recognised in over fifty jurisdictions, including New Zealand. As Lessig writes, if content is given the CC mark this "does not mean that copyright is waived, but that certain freedoms are granted."[5] The licences are basically a pre-emptive granting of certain uses of a creator’s work.

The most restrictive licence Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works (BY-NC-ND) allows redistribution of a work, denies alterations to the work, permits only non-commercial uses and requires the copyright owner be credited. By applying this licence to their website, the artist collective et al. made it okay for me to reproduce installation shots of the exhibition that's obvious! that's right! that's true on my blog. I followed the requirements of the licence and used the images as et al. permitted; et al. didn't have to spend time approving a clearance request from me. It's worth noting that using this licence on their website does not prevent et al. from issuing another licence under different conditions – for example, to a commercial publisher.

In my own opinion, et al. is ahead of the curve here. A series of posts on the Collection Australia Network blog in September this year revealed significant philosophical and practical differences between the Australian arm of Creative Commons and the Australian copyright collecting agency Viscopy over the ways artists might licence their work for use and reproduction.[6] I'm not suggesting that artists should be forced to rescind control (or royalties) as a consequence of the rise of the internet. I do believe, however, that now is a good time for artists and collecting organisations alike to look at how they can make use of copyright and licensing agreements to help bring more New Zealand art to the world.

More information

Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand
Information about choosing and applying CC licences

Creative Freedom NZ
A forum for New Zealand artists’ views on issues that have the potential to influence their collective creativity

Make it Digital
A one-stop shop for information and questions about creating digital content, including digitisation and copyright

Copyright Council of New Zealand
A non-profit society providing copyright and cultural based industries with a range of services.


[1] Unless explicitly stated otherwise, copyright in unpublished works automatically transfers in a will. This would apply in situations such as when an artist leaves their archives (sketches, correspondence etc) to a gallery.

[2] Adrian Kingston, 'Te Papa's collections and digitisation', 11 June 2009, accessed 27 September 2009.

[3] Victoria Leachman, 'Digitisation, Copyright and Collections Online', 10 June 2009, accessed 27 September 2009.

[4] Lawrence Lessig, Free culture: The nature and future of creativity, London: Penguin Books, 2004, p. 282.

[5] Ibid, p. 283.

[6] Copyright series, Collections Australia Network, September 2009.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thursday 7 January 2010

Web muster

The Brooklyn Museum solves a perennial problem (where best to eat when you're an out-of-town visitor to a museum or gallery?) by aggregating staff picks and Yelp reviews of local cafes and restaurants

I'm a little obsessed with the Royal Society at the moment, so it's good to find a digitised copy of Robert Hooke's Micrographia

Local arts organisations in Auckland have combined to form the Arts Working Group to take part in the Super City transition Meetings minutes etc are available on the Creative People's Centre website

Art curators: one of the 50 best careers for 2010

How pizza can be part of your permanent collection - C-Monster interviews a MOMA conservation technician

And an oldie but a weirdie: a meditation on Nicholas Sarkozy's stamp collecting activities (bonus description of art collecting as the "anorakless and hip branch" of collecting activities)

Wednesday 6 January 2010

The collected year

One of my nerdy little ideas for this year is that I'm going to start collating and storing all the great bits of writing that I stumble over during the year, but which tend to get consigned to the ever-growing pile of New Yorkers in our house, or the depths of Instapaper.

The first piece to enter my anthology is Atul Gawande's 'Testing, Testing', from the December 14 2009 issue of the New Yorker. The strapline for the article asks: "The health-care bill has no master plan for curbing costs. Is that a bad thing?"

Gawande's topic is the American healthcare reform package. He points out that medical care currently absorbs 18 cents in every dollar earnt in America, and that if this current trend continues, "the cost of family insurance will reach twenty-seven thousand dollars or more in a decade, taking more than a fifth of every dollar that people earn." He continues:

So what does the reform package do about it? Turn to page 621 of the Senate version, the section entitled “Transforming the Health Care Delivery System,” and start reading. Does the bill end medicine’s destructive piecemeal payment system? Does it replace paying for quantity with paying for quality? Does it institute nationwide structural changes that curb costs and raise quality? It does not. Instead, what it offers is . . . pilot programs.

Tuesday 5 January 2010


Andy Freeberg's 'Guardians of the Art World' series contrasts photos of seated female gallery attendants in Russian museums with photos of (the tops of the heads of) seated female gallery attendants in New York dealer galleries.

On visits to three public galleries over the summer break, I saw:

  • In one gallery, no attendants except the person on the front door desk (and all visitors behaving themselves, regardless of the lack of supervision)
  • In another, one person walking around briskly with a clipboard (the attendants in this gallery always carry clipboards and walk around briskly - I wonder if that's part of their training?)
  • In the third, at least one attendant in each space, often chatting with co-workers or leaning on the wall reading a paperback (which is pretty understandable)
Andy Freeberg, Nesterov’s Blessed St. Sergius of Radezh, Russian State Museum. Image from The Morning News.