Thursday 30 September 2010

Meanwhile, in my other life ...

I've been trying on our work blog to write about the Agile project management methodology that I've been learning and practicing for the past two years.

As I say in the first of the three posts I've written so far (I think there will be five in the series), the things I love* about Agile are communication and user stories. And in that spirit, I present:
*'Love' is not a word I use lightly here. Whether by chance or inclination project management is now about half of what I do professionally, and Agile is by far the most satisfying and human way I've found of doing it.

Wednesday 29 September 2010


Dear readers

Thank you for coming back. I realise Monday's post might have been a bit of an overload.

As an antidote, can I recommend Alex Monteith's show at the Govett Brewster.

Composition with RNZAF 3 squadron Exercise Blackbird for three-channel video installation from Alex Monteith on Vimeo.

I ducked in for literally 5 minutes yesterday afternoon, and I wonder if in its compressed intense way that may have been the perfect visit duration. The GBAG has given over almost its entire space* to Monteith's video works, which are spaciously laid out through the galleries (a nice change from the smushed-in shows that have been a bit of a characteristic of late). Video art is often tucked away somewhat apologetically behind buffered walls to prevent sound leakage: here, the sounds of whirring rotors and screaming motors reverberate through the dimmed-out galleries, creating an experience of pure visual and aural (over)stimulation. Occasionally a bit of that is good for you.

*The sampling of pop and pop-ish works from the collection tucked away into the corridor space between the lift and the entrance to the Len Lye gallery felt unnecessary, and also jarred you out of the full immersion experience of Monteith's work.

Also - Monteith's website is terrific.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Surrender: an experiment in looking

Last week I finished Laura Miller's The Magician's Book, an exploration of her "long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.". Yesterday, I finished off Lewis's 1961 extended essay on literary criticism, An Experiment in Criticism. Today I visited roundabout at City Gallery Wellington. This post seeks to draw together some threads between these experiences.

As a kid, I got my biblical language (rounded, rhythmical, intonational) from Kipling and my moral compass from King Arthur and Robin Hood, by way of T.H. White and Roger Lancelyn Green. By the time I was introduced to Christian mythology, the space in my imagination where God might have fit was already filled with Greek and Roman and Norse figures, before whom the Christian story paled into dull insignificance.

So it's not surprising that I was one of the legion of young readers - including Laura Miller - left disappointed, angered, even bereft when they discovered that the Chronicles of Narnia were in some ways a retelling of the Christian story. (In my case, the news was broken by a born-again uncle when I spotted a copy of The Screwtape Letters on his shelf).

In the Chronicles I had recognised and rejoiced in seeing Bacchus and dryads and fauns (dear old Mr Tumescent). I had been devastated and confused when Aslan gave himself up to the White Witch and overjoyed when he woke up, but I had no inkling that what I was reading was a version of the Passion Story. When I did unravel it all I was deeply offended that Lewis had tried to pull a fast one on me - to slip me something I didn't believe in by disguising it in things that I desperately wanted to.

Laura Miller had a similar experience (as did Neil Gaiman, and hearing him talk about this earlier this year was wonderful). She writes:

Lewis, Carter explained, was famously Christian, a fact I'd somehow managed to miss. I was shocked, almost nauseated. I'd been tricked, cheated, betrayed. I went over the rest of the Chronicles, and in almost every one found some element that lined up with this unwelcome and, to me, ulterior meaning. I felt like a character in one of those surreal, existential 1960s TV dramas, like The Prisoner or The Twilight Zone, a captive who pulled off a daring escape from his cell only to find himself inside another, another cell identical to the first.

I'm sure my uncle thought he was giving me a greater understanding of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when he explained the Christian symbolism. But rather than gaining something, I felt loss. All the potential had been taken away, and instead I had an explanation of what the book was ultimately 'about'. It closed the book down, rather than opening it up.

Turning to An Experiment in Criticism. In this book, Lewis tests out another way of writing literary criticism:

In this essay, I propose to try an experiment. Literary criticism is traditionally employed in judging books. Any judgement it implies about men's reading of books is a corollary from its judgement on the books themselves. Bad taste is, as it were by definition, a taste for bad books. I want to find out what sort of picture we shall get by reversing the process. Let us make our distinction between readers or types of reading the basis, and our distinction between books the corollary. Let us try to discover how far it might be plausible to define a good book as a book which is read in one way, and a bad book as a book which is read in another.

Lewis defines two kinds of reader: the few and the many, the literary and the unliterary. He characterises them thus:

1. The majority never re-read a book. Once they've finished it, they've 'used' it all up. "The sure mark of a unliterary man is that he considers 'I've read it already' to be a conclusive argument against reading a work."

2. The majority don't see reading as anything special. They read when there's nothing better to do, and abandon the book as soon as something better comes along. "But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished.

3. The many are generally unmoved by what they read - when they reach the end "nothing much, or nothing at all, seems to have happened to them." But for the literary, the first reading of a work can be "an experience so momentous that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison."

4. Finally, for the literary, what they read is constantly in their minds and made part of their lives. They talk incessantly about it when they're with others, and they savour it when they're alone. "Scenes and characters from books provide them with a sort of iconography by which they interpret or sum up their own experiences."

When I read this passage, I felt - well, I felt understood. I didn't like the connotations of 'few' and 'many', although Lewis is quick to deny any kind of value judgment in the following chapter. But these four points so well summed up my own life experience of reading. They explain my confusion at why people would not read a wonderful book again, the puzzlement I feel when I visit a house without bookshelves, the reason why I get up an hour earlier than I need to in the morning (to squeeze in some reading before I start my work day) and the way that I constantly use the books I've read and ideas I've gleaned from them to explain the world around me to myself.

I'm ready to admit that I didn't follow all of Lewis' arguments, and I found some of the passages either howlingly sexist or unconscionably classist. And yet time and time again I found passages that gave shape to the way I feel about books and reading, but have never had the follow-through to articulate.

It was the final page that undid me though:

Those of us who have been true readers all our lives seldom fully realise the enormous extension or our being that we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk to an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly I would learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with the information and emotion it carries for a dog.

In the book Lewis also talks about different ways of looking at art. One way is to look at it, figure out what it is ‘of’ or ‘about’, decide whether it’s a good, faithful, even skilful representation of what it’s ‘about’ or ‘of’, and then move on. He describes it as ‘using’ a picture – you’ve got what you need from it and you don’t need to go back.

The other way of looking is to ‘receive’. You try to put aside all your preconceptions and instead try to let the artwork work on you. The word Lewis uses is ‘surrender’.

I thought about that idea this afternoon when I was at City Gallery. I was drawn back several times to Shane Cotton's 2007 painting The Hanging Sky, which is hung in the new gallery formed by knocking out the old auditorium.

Shane Cotton, The Hanging Sky, 2007. Acrylic on canvas, 265cm x 265 cm. Image from the Anna Schwartz Gallery website.

Cotton is an artist I find easy to 'surrender' to. It is easy to say what is ‘in’ The Hanging Sky – there are dark clouds, overlaid by the falling figures of birds, shadows of foliage, and in the centre a carved face, like one you would find in a wharenui. It's tempting to try to explain what all the elements mean - indeed, assessments of Cotton's works often read like art history as puzzle-solving: post-modern, post-colonial iconography.

But to seek to explain what Cotton's painting is 'about' is to deny it its action as a painting, and Cotton's power as an artist. I went home and re-read that chapter from Lewis's book:

We must not let loose our own subjectivity upon the pictures and make them its vehicles. We must begin by laying aside as completely as we can all our preconceptions, interests and associations. ... We must use our eyes. We must look, and go on looking till we have certainly seen exactly what is there. We sit down before the picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand that any work makes of us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out).

Whenever I see one of Cotton's paintings that really works on me, I can't explain why. It's like he's trying to show me something I can't see yet. But I'm willing to go on looking until I can see it - and hopefully beyond.

Friday 24 September 2010

Absence makes the adventures better

In an interesting article this week children's book editor Leila Sales asked why dead parents are such a common feature of children's books, and suggested laziness was part of the answer:

Dead parents are so much a part of middle-grade and teen fiction at this point, it's not even the "in" thing. It's not "au courant" or "en vogue." It's just an accepted fact: kids in books are parentless.

But I don't accept it, because you know what? It is not believable that so many kids are missing one, if not both parents. Slews of them! Hundreds! To quote Oscar Wilde, sort of: "To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose a parent in nearly every children's book looks like lazy writing." (I assume that is what Wilde meant.)

Of course, dead or removed or simply not-very-involved parents are almost the necessary ingredient in a good adventure or fantasy story (the Swiss Family Robinson aside). Sales's article did make me do a quick mental review of some of my old and current favourites:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis) - absent parents, guardian figure who subtly encourages adventure

The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White) - obscured parental situation results in effective orphan status, one bumbling guardian figure, one guardian figure who subtly encourages adventure

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) - dead mother, obdurate (possibly mad) father, one of the best step-mothers in fiction. The Mortmains remain my favourite fictional family.

Ballet Shoes (Noel Streatfield)- three orphans, collected by an absent eccentric, given two female guardian figures and a handy mechanic.

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead) - absent father, father stand-in, mother. Less mad-cap than the Mortmains, but a beautifully drawn group of relationships.

Summerlands (Michael Chabon) - dead mother, grieving father (who needs to be rescued)

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle) - absent father (who needs to be rescued), preoccupied mother

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O'Dell) - girl and her brother left behind after tribe abandons island

His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman) - secret parentage disguised as orphanhood; helpless mother and missing father

Tender Morsels (Margo Lanagan) - disguised fatherhood, close mother

How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff) - exasperated father, text-book stepmother, guardian figure hurriedly absents herself

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness) - tragedy atop tragedy.

Thursday 23 September 2010


I mused last week about a community archive for Canterbury earthquake memories and records - naturally, the good people at Christchurch Libraries and Kete Christchurch are on to this.

If you have photos, videos, blog posts or just want to write something down, please head to one of those sites.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Coming up peaches

This morning my feed from the New Yorker's Book Bench blog popped up an article about the new Paris Review website.

Frankly, it's the Paris Review takes a less lighthearted approach to reading than I usually follow. But the site is really very attractive

The New Yorker describes it, rather endearingly, as having a 'clean, Frenchy feeling' and notes the use of a lithograph of Paris in the footer which draws a connection back to early print editions). Apparently the site will change out it's key colour with very season and edition of the journal, which I think is a lovely touch.

There was something soothingly familiar about the site, and casting about I realised it reminded me of another of my favourites: Thinking for a Living. Peach has never looked so good.

Friday 17 September 2010

Those were the days

Over on Public Address, Russell Brown has imagined what A.R.D. Fairburn would have been like as a blogger:

Fairburn is generally taught now as a poet, and he wrote quite a bit of that. But he wasn't the best of our poets, and, for me, it's his argument that's the key to him. His cranky, rambling 1944 essay, 'We New Zealanders', certainly has its flaws: most notably a section in which he hails the theories of Social Credit as the answer to New Zealand's economic problems. But it's also possessed of a raging, huge, unmissable voice.

... Fairburn had another key attribute of a good blogger: he didn't need much editing. "One of the remarkable things" about Fairburn's letters, declared James and Helen McNeish in their biography, Walking on My Feet, "is how meticulous Fairburn's English was even in his careless moments."

Suddenly I was cast into an alternate reality, where Peter Tomory, Hamish Keith, Gordon Brown, Wystan Curnow, Nelson Kenny and Imi Porsolt were running the 1960s EyeContact. And I thought: wow. That would be one hell of a read.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Memory and memorials

Yesterday on the radio I talked about how Christchurch's galleries and museums have come through the Canterbury earthquake. Although it's a terrific shame about the damage to the Logie collection at the University of Canterbury, I was greatly relieved to hear how safely the buildings and collections of the Canterbury Museum and Christchurch Art Gallery came through the initial quake and the aftershocks: both have now reopened. It's a true testament to the foresight and skills of their staff.

As I noted in my piece, the Gallery in particular did a fantastic job of keeping its friends and fans up to date via its blog and twitter, and giving us peeks into the surreal sights of a gallery being used as a civil defence headquarters.

As I also noted on the radio, I really hope to see a community archive built around the photos, tweets, blog posts, news items and everything else that's been produced and sent out of Christchurch since last Saturday. There are all sorts of logistics around this, and Twitter is one of the most complicated, both in terms of copyright and the ephemeral nature of a tweet (they start disappearing off the web after about 20 days). While Twitter is lodging their archives with the Library of Congress, that's not going to help us much over here.

It's old school, but I've always dealt with this in the past by taking screenshots. A more sophisticated push to deal with all this stuff might involve using something like the kete software, and combing Flickr and blogs and asking photographers and writers for their permissions to upload copies of their content (a great opportunity to do some Creative Commons promotion and education at the same time). And I really hope that the National Library, which has the mandate to make copies of New Zealand digital content, has been out there collecting madly since last Saturday.

This morning I saw that The Press and are 'crowdsourcing' people's earthquake memories. This is a great initiative, but inevitably it comes with the 'all your copyrights are belong to us" terms and conditions:

You grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide licence to republish any material you submit to us, without limitation, in any format.

We retain the right and discretion to terminate your access to the comments areas if we believe you are abusing the services in any way, or have breached these terms and conditions.

You consent to our collecting and storing your email and IP address for security purposes.

Sigh. There's got to be a better way.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Web muster (YA edition)

Imogen Russell-Williams in the Guardian on swearing in children's books: thank goodness soemthing else found the faux-cussing in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan brought it down from a near 5 star to a 4

Another favourite of mine, Scott Westerfeld, whose ear for invented language is usually sound, grated on me a bit with Leviathan, a steampunk alternate history of events leading into the first world war. "Clart" is a good coinage for "shit" – it sounds appropriately dirty – but "bum-rag" just gets overused by the heroine-posing-as-hero in her attempts to swagger convincingly, and "Barking spiders!" is frankly rubbish. There are loads of better authentic early 20th century swear-words. Even "damn" would do nicely for a bit of variation.

Two of my favourites for children's book swearing (not, on reflection, that I should have such a category): Melvin Burgess's Bloodtide and Michael de Larrabeiti's Borribles series.

A new biography of Roald Dahl is out: (heartrending) extract here; Guardian review here; Telegraph review here.

And the last book in Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay series has hit the shelves. In a New York Times review Katie Roiphe observes:

THE 17-year-old girl at the center of the revolution is a great character without being exactly likable. Katniss is bossy, moody, bratty, demanding, prickly. She treats the world with an explosive aggression that is a little out of the ordinary, to say the least. ... In short, she belongs to a recent tribe of popular heroines: the small, difficult teenage girl who manifests enormous physical and moral strength. She is both murderer and victim, somehow representing female strength and female vulnerability all mingled and entwined, dangerously, ambiguously, into one. She is Pippi Longstocking. She is the girl with the dragon tattoo. She is mesmerizing in her way of defying authority, antisocial, courageous, angry, self-involved and yet somehow sweepingly sympathetic.

So, not exactly Matilda or Tiffany Aching or - as Laura Miller observes on Salon - Bella Swan. (Although if you were going to make comparisons between the eminently infuriating Bella Swan and another YA character, I'm be picking Grace Brisbane in Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls soon-to-be trilogy).

I just picked up Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia yesterday, and am thoroughly enjoying it; I'd really recommend the bibliography on her site for reminders and recommendations of great YA fantasy (you can't link directly, so just hit the Books for Kids link in the left-hand side navigation).

Monday 13 September 2010

Give it away now

Last week a piece by Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune caught my eye.

In Joffrey Ballet's win-win with Groupon is a lesson for Chicago's cultural institutions, Jones recounts how the Joffrey used an online deals site to sell 2,338 (discounted) season subscriptions in 24 hours:

Those subscriptions were sold at a deep, deep discount (61 percent less than usual). And because the Joffrey had to split its take with Groupon, the loss in revenue was even greater. This terrifies many cultural groups. But if those seats were going empty anyway, what the heck?

The smarter arts organizations are realizing that you have to give people a deal. No one wants to pay the sticker price in this economy. Raise the ticket prices and you see fewer people. Give folks a break, and they'll maybe pay more next time and buy a profitable drink at intermission. At the Playhouse Square Center in Cleveland, they just completed a big study on why certain orchestra seats were always empty during the first couple of nights of Broadway tours. They decided to fill them at any cost — thus you can now subscribe to seven Broadway shows in Cleveland for less than $100. Those empty seats are now occupied by warm bodies.

Bodies that talk to friends. Bodies that send passionate e-mails.

Jones fairly describes the downsides of the Joffrey using the Groupon site (like handing their marketing spiel over to the site's editors: “Grown from local soil rich with diversity, steel slag, and saxophones stuffed with meat, the company grew from an ensemble of six dancers into today's world-class, immaculately produced mainstay”). And presumably people who bought full-priced subscriptions might be a little brassed off. But it's an interesting example of an arts brand allying with a consumer site (NZSO and TradeMe, anyone?) to get their products in front of a new set of eyballs.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Web muster

If I had my time over, I'd probably be a scientist instead of a ... well, whatever I am. Because science is cool (and Brian Cox is hot).

Two lovely pieces in the Guardian: Searle on Whiteread, and Jones on Raphael. In his piece, Searle nails the feeling I get when I look at a piece of art and feel like it just works:

It is now more 20 years since Whiteread made Ghost, her seminal plastercast of the interior space of a Victorian front room. When it was finally shown, the sculpture looked inevitable: so simple, so direct, so unfussy, never mind the complications of making, removing and assembling the sections of the cast.

And if you're ever going to read anything about historiography, it should be this piece by James Bridle. Actually, that's hardly a ringing endorsement, so: if you're going to click through to anything today, it should be this piece by James Bridle. You won't regret it.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Ask a curator

Last Wednesday was Ask A Curator day on Twitter - the above was the first question I put out (for the record, @ChchArtGallery and @CityGalleryWgtn said Fiona Connor, @WallaceArtTrust wasn't keen to pick, and I didn't hear back from @Fresh274 and @AucklandArtGal didn't reply to any of my questions).

Ask a Curator was run by Sumo, an English company that works a lot in social media with museums and galleries. It followed on from Follow a Museum day, run by Sumo in February this year.

My own experience of Ask A Curator day wasn't that much different from my average day on twitter, although I enjoyed the backchannel chit-chat with @tinks03 and @cherylbernstein as we talked about the event and the answers. But then, I'm lucky, If I have a question for a curator, I can generally drop them an email and expect an answer. Ask A Curator day wasn't really about or for me.

The point of the day was to start new conversations. The following morning I asked a few institutions whether they'd had conversations with new people, or just the usual suspects.

So, can the event be judged a success? It's hard to tell. Because New Zealand started the event early (due to timezones) we missed the spam attack that took place when the hashtag started trending, which was a bonus for us. Do 10 extra international followers equal a success? Maybe, if you keep talking to them (even more I guess if they all jump on a plane and head over here....). 'Success' is a surprisingly difficult question: one of my favourite exchanges of the day occurred when @tinks03 asked

'Success is a topic I'll be trying to tackle in a panel discussion about social media at the National Digital Forum in Wellington in October - earlybird registration has just been extended until this Friday. I'll be joined on the panel by Renae Mason from the Powerhouse Museum: you can read their account of taking part in Ask a Curator day on their Fresh and Newer blog, and their reasons for hacking the event and using Facebook instead of Twitter.

Other round-ups of the event:

Ema Tavola (Fresh Gallery) and Neil Semple (Christchurch Art Gallery) on the NZMuseums site

An American perspective from Carolina Miranda (aka C-Monster)

Jim Richardson from Sumo (covers the spamming that occurred)

Danny Birchall gives the (professional) participants view

Monday 6 September 2010

Three thoughtful pieces


In my second year at Otago I took a year-long psychology paper, one entire semester of which was devoted to the driest, direst examination of the visual system possible.

The one thing I got out of this course - well, I have to admit, I learned a lot, and 'scotoma' remains a favourite word - but the one thing I treasure out of this course was that I was introduced to Oliver Sacks' writing for the first time. In addition to his collections of case studies, Uncle Tungsten is one of my favourite memoirs. I'm delighted to hear that another collection, The Mind's Eye, is on its way.

So my first thoughtful piece is Steve Silberman's recent interview with Sacks, where Sacks discusses writing, medicine, and his own experience with ocular melanoma:
In my preface to An Anthropologist on Mars, I quoted G.K. Chesterton’s attack on science as a cold, impersonal, Sherlock Holmesian business, whereas his fictional detective, Father Brown, proceeds by a sort of uncanny empathy. I think as a writer, one needs to bring out the passion and the purity of science, the excitement, the beauty, and the fact that science may provide the only way of observing and understanding immense phenomena that lie beyond the unaided senses — the causes of things, things which are below the surface, like atoms.

I hesitate to use the word purity when there have been so many uncomfortable frauds in science. One can feel ideally that science shouldn’t need policing, because there’s much more pleasure in a genuine result than in making anything up. Nothing that one could make up will be as deep and interesting as the reality. Freeman Dyson says something like, “Nature’s imagination is much richer than ours.”


My second thoughtful piece comes from a few months back: Atul Gawande, in the New Yorker, on dying.

I vastly admire Gawande's ability to draw out the strength and vulnerability of both patients and medical practitioners, to move from a single person's situation to a macro-economic one and back again. His essays are always insightful and affecting: this one should be published as a stand-alone edition, a modern manifesto on dying well.


It's a sad but logical segue from my second choice to my third, Aida Edemariam's interview with Terry Pratchett in the Guardian. I rediscovered Pratchett in the past year, after a gap of a decade and a half - the Tiffany Aching series has become a firm new favourite.

Pratchett is living with Alzheimers, and is a vocal advocate of assisted suicide:

He doesn't say it in so many words, but that [grief over losing his parents in recent years] must also be combined with grief for the loss of his ability to write longhand, or type with anything other than one finger at a time (although, weirdly, he is still perfectly able to sign his name — "the bit that knows how to sign my name is an entirely different bit of the brain"); the grief of knowing that while he may have years yet, most of his other mental faculties will go the same way. But probably not suddenly.

"Every day must be a tiny, incrementally . . . incremental . . . incremental . . . – he stumbled over a word; you must write that one down," Pratchett says with a dark, almost-laugh. (Having been a journalist himself, before becoming a PR in the nuclear industry and thence a novelist, he rarely passes up a chance to remind you that he knows how journalists work) ". . . incremental . . . change on the day before. So what is normal? Normal was yesterday. If you lose a leg, one day you're hopping around on one leg, so you know the difference.

Friday 3 September 2010

Town square or cathedral

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal Judith Dobrzynski discusses what she sees as a shift in the metaphor that shapes American art museums - from cathedral of culture to town square. She writes:

Not so long ago, directors were proud to say museums were "cathedrals of culture," collecting, displaying and preserving the best art. Today, that's regarded by some as elitism, and it's not enough. Reacting to demographic and social trends, they are bending the art-museum concept to reach new audiences and remain relevant.

Dobrzynski attributes the shift largely to a generation of younger museum directors:

Ms. Feldman [head of the Minneapolis Institute of Art] is part of a new generation of women and men in their 40s that is taking the reins at America's top art museums. It includes Christoph Heinrich at the Denver Art Museum, Thom Collins at the Miami Art Museum and James Steward at the Princeton Art Museum, to name a few. Shaped by their times, which differ markedly from the formative years of the directors they are replacing, many have different views of what a museum should be.

Dobrzynski further shapes her argument in a blog post
, stating

As you may guessed, I have my doubts about the town square metaphor. Great art requires contemplation; it reveals itself slowly, over time, not in one glance. I don't question the motives of the new directors, or their goals, just their methods.

Last weekend I talked to a friend about the museum/gallery as civic space trend. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for panel discussions, gigs and interpretative dance events. But I'm uncertain how these really mesh into the core objectives of the collecting institution. I don't think this has to be an either/or question (and see Walker Art Center director Olga Viso's thoughts here), but I do wonder whether if museums and galleries are going to be increasingly treated as places for people to gather and share an experience not necessarily linked to the collections or shows, then we're going to have to look at different reasons for funding these organisations, and shifting staff resources.

In the WSJ Dobrzynski writes:

They [the new gen museum directors] believe that future museum-goers won't be satisfied by simply looking at art, but rather prefer to participate in it or interact with it. "The Artist Is Present" show by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art—silent, one-on-one encounters between volunteers and the artist, which viewers hung around to watch—is a recent, popular example.

This seems like a rather weird example to me; Abramovic's well-established practice of audience engagement and intervention wouldn't seem to have a lot to do with touchy-feely 40-something museum directors (I mean, there's no causal relationship).

A much better example is photographer Alec Soth's upcoming show at the Walker Art Center, which Soth himself is running Flickr projects for the public to participate in:

For our first Flickr Project, I’ve created a list of 10 items to photograph. Shoot as many as you can and post them in our group pool, and then check out our “Discussions” pages to talk about your work. I’ll post some of my favorite images on the Walker Art Center Visual Arts blog. On October 1st I’ll pick my favorite treasure hunter and send them a signed copy of the From Here to There catalogue.

Another question that struck me while reading these posts: in addition to building enduring relationships with a wider range of visitors, how might public institutions go about building enduring relationships wkith artists? With some notable local examples (Andrew Drummond and the Christchurch Art Gallery, Don Driver and the Govett-Brewster) most public institutions will work at most twice with any given artist on a solo exhibition. Is this a facet of community building we've overlooked?

Thursday 2 September 2010

Abstract issues

You've got three days left to get to Simon Morris's show at Two Rooms gallery in Auckland (if you're an out-of-towner like me, you'll need a map - god bless you, GPS-enabled iPhone).

Last weekend was my first visit to Two Rooms, and I was smitten with the spaces. It's also good to see a gallery committed to contemporary abstract painting, an area curators of contemporary art in New Zealand seem to have little appetite for.

Morris's new series of Daily paintings looked terrific in the long sun-lit space: one of my favourite things about these works is the way they shift when viewed in natural and artificial light: in natural light they're cooler and more restrained - in artificial light a glow comes through.

I also got my first chance to see Joachim Bandau's work in the flesh, after admiring from afar online.

The next show up at Two Rooms, Colour Light Time, curated by David Thomas, brings Bandau's and Morris's work together, along with a number of other artists working within and over the tradition of the monochrome. With the recent news that Stephen Bambury is joining the Two Rooms stable, this all seems to point towards a concentrated focus on contemporary abstract art.

If you're in the vicinity, you should also check out Steve Carr's very fetching show at Michael Lett gallery (and off-shoot at split/fountain)/ I've always enjoyed Carr's lighthearted work and unobtrusive craftsmanship - I was particularly taken by the carved gloves in 'The Weight of the Sun'.

Images from top
Simon Morris Daily Paintings, on show at Two Rooms until 4 September
Joachim Bandau's March 2010 exhibition at Two Rooms
Steve Carr's Hanging Glove, at Michael Lett

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Web muster

The New York Times looks into the 20 or so thefts of artworks from French museums that take place each year.

Simon Winder, editor of the Penguin Great Ideas series, discusses where he stole the idea from, and the difference between a 'great' idea and a 'good idea'.

Andrew Pettegree on the birth of books.

Greg Allen delves into the Bridget Riley copyright fracas around MoMA's 1965 Responsive Eye exhibition.

Pretty. And likely smart.