Saturday 30 October 2010


I'm an enormous fan of Kobi Bosshard's work; I bitterly regret not being around 30 or 40 years ago to start amassing pieces then (especially when I look at what Te Papa has). I don't think I've posted about something I've bought, but I'm going to make an exception for the Bosshard necklace I collected today.

Very occasionally, I get to have a pure gut reaction to something, and it's amazing. I had one at the NGV in Melbourne, walking round a corner and discovering a Cattelan, and laughing aloud in surprise and joy. I had one when I wept at a Webstock conference as Rives performed. I had one when I finished Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.

And I had one when I put on the Bosshard necklace. Like the Christian sacramentals, the necklace is designed to be worn with one piece on the chest and the other below the nape of the neck. When you settle the two (heavy silver) pieces in place, they seem drawn to each other - it's like being pressed between a pair of hands. It is the most physical reaction I've ever had to a piece of jewellry, and as I write this now, wearing the necklace, I realise this pure reaction will always be there.

Tuesday 26 October 2010


Thanks to everyone who helped share the news about my ticket giveaway for the Webstock Mini on 3 November.

The tickets have all been snapped up, and I'm looking forward to seeing the winners on the night. In fact, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone on the night - why not check out the list of speakers & rsvp?

Monday 25 October 2010


Just as I get started on the Royal Society's science book shortlist, the winner is announced: Nick Lane's Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution.

I'm currently half-way through James Hannam's God's Philosophers, in which he tries to correct the general conception of the Middle Ages as a period where science was devalued, if not persecuted, by the Church, and position the period instead as a time of development of classical thinking and preparation for the glorious 1500s. It's an absorbing read, if a little too colloquial for my taste; but certainly an amazing insight into the minds of people whose entire thought processes were radically different from our post-Enlightenment positions.

The Guardian has reviewed all the books on the shortlist - why not start on those before you hit the books?

James Hannam - God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science

Nick Lane - Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

Frederick Grinnell - Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic

Marcus Chown - We Need to Talk About Kelvin: What everyday things tell us about the universe

Henry Pollack - A World Without Ice

Brian Cox, Jeff Forshaw - Why Does E=mc2?

Friday 22 October 2010

Bonanza: Webstock Mini ticket giveaway


All the tickets in the give-away have gone. But it's not too late to buy tickets for the event under your own steam. Go on - it'll be worth it.

There are few things more satisfying than chances to support something you believe in.

The upcoming Mix and Mash competition is such a thing. I believe that open data is an inherently Good Thing. I believe in the mantra that if we release our content and data for reuse and remix, amazing things will happen. I believe, as Nick Poole might phrase it, that the data is the sausage and the openness is the sizzle.

But I'm worried that advocates like me might slip into the build-it-and-they-will-come mindset, and then be discouraged - even dissuaded - when data and content are released, but we don't see any sizzle. And I'm even more worried that the people who create and own the data might start feeling like this.

Mix and Mash: the great NZ remix & mashup competition is being run to stimulate the sizzle. Cash and other prizes will be up for grabs for people who make great stuff using New Zealand content and data.

The competition categories and prizes are being announced at a Webstock Mini on 3 November here in Wellington. It will be an evening of awesome speakers and fine hospitality. You should all be coming.

Because I believe in the cause, I wanted to give something back (for me, this is a bit like my Brooklyn Museum giveaway last year). So ...


To get a ticket, all you need to do is email me (auchmill at gmail dot com) or leave a comment on this post. There's just one catch. You need to tell me that you haven't been to a Webstock event before. Like open data and the Mix and Mash competition, Webstock is a Good Thing and, moreover, a community full of wonderful people that more people should join.


1. Tickets are being given out on a first come first served basis.

2. When I was working at the National Library, I was part of the Digital New Zealand team that's running the Mix and Mash competition. Now I work at Boost New Media, a web design & development company that's been working with DigitalNZ since the project started two years ago. I'm professionally involved in helping organise Mix and Mash, but this giveaway is a totally personal activity.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Things you must do

Go along at hear Nick Poole, CE of the UK's Collections Trust, speak in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. I don't care if you don't work in a museum, the man is awesome and his stories and ideas should be listened to.

Nick keynoted (yes, I just verbed that, I'm in a hurry to get this message out) at the National Digital Forum at the start of this week, and brought the house down. It's 90 minutes of your life I promise you will not regret.

Auckland: 22 October (tomorrow!)

Christchurch: Tuesday 26 October

Dunedin: Wednesday 27 October

Nick's tour is sponsored by National Services Te Paerangi at Te Papa.

I love you David Sedaris

It really is that simple

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Things that I'm still in two minds about

Christopher Knight on 'vanity shows':

The visitor experience is rarely satisfying. At a vanity show, exploring an artist's specific talents or a group of artists' larger cultural meaning is secondary. Focus is shifted to the collector's aptitude. The leading question viewers debate is simply: How skillful has this shopper been? Did he buy great things? Did he assemble them in interesting ways? What will become of the collection? Personal consumption becomes the primary issue.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Mr Met

A nice long interview with Met Museum director Thomas Campbell by Charlotte Higgins for the Guardian:

Campbell is clear that while each system has its "swings and roundabouts", there is no chance of
Britain's arts institutions being able to adopt a US-style philanthropic model of funding, as culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has stated he would like them to do. "The American model comes out of a long tradition," he says, "and critically, is supported by the tax system: as a donor you can claim a large percentage of your gift, dollar for dollar, back against tax." (In the UK system, the donor receives less of a tax benefit.) He adds: "It would be deeply naive to assume you could simply transfer the American model to Europe."

Wednesday 13 October 2010


In Finlandia: the greatest architectural mistake ever made? Aalto's benign errors Dan Hill investigates the billowing marble panels on the facade of Aalto's beautiful concert hall.

Dan Hill, by the way, is a keynote speaker at next week's National Digital Forum; full and single day registrations are still available.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Mobile and museums

Shelley Bernstein of Brooklyn Museum responds to Edward Rothstein's NYT article on museum mobile apps.


It is best to consider all these apps flawed works in progress. So much more should be possible. Imagine standing in front of an object with an app that, sensing your location, is already displaying precisely the right information. It might offer historical background or direct you through links to other works that have some connection to the object. It might provide links to critical commentary. It might become, for each object, an exhibition in itself, ripe with alternate narratives and elaborate associations.


Rothstein goes on at length to talk about why none of these apps measure up to the experience he wants in the gallery and there’s a point to that. Each and every visitor walking in our doors is likely to expect something different from an app and every visitor is going to respond differently to what we provide. My point is that it is our responsibility, collectively, to try new approaches and provide as many entry points into content and the museum as possible.

Monday 11 October 2010

An interval

Best of 3 is taking a break for two weeks: posting will start again around October 25. Just to recompense anyone who visits regularly, I'm scheduling a bunch of interesting reading (well, I think it's interesting) to fill the empty air.

Confessions of a Used-Book Salesman: "I spend 80 hours a week trawling junk shops with a laser scanner. I don't feel good about it." - by Michael Savitz

Saturday 9 October 2010


I was ridiculously pleased to see this photo of the carpet being ripped up and the concrete being polished at the Dowse. I've resented those carpeted galleries since the building re-opened; art stands a better chance now.

Friday 8 October 2010

Surprising and lovely

There's nothing better than going into a gallery and being surprised.

Last weekend I was completely taken by Geoff Thornley's current show at Mark Hutchins Gallery. I loved these paintings because, without being aggressive or showy, they give your eyes a lot to do.

Geoff Thornley, No.8. Chronicle, 2010. Oil on canvas on board, 167.5 x 167.5 cm. Image from the Mark Hutchins Gallery website.

Usually when I think of Thornley I think of classic hard-edged works, like Construction #11 - Tondo (1981) in Te Papa's collection.

What captured me about the new works is their rhythm, the controlled dance of the paint over the toothy canvas. The two small works appealed most to me, especially Notion, where the paint is slightly off centre, like a print that's gone off register, leaving a strip of canvas exposed.

Geoff Thornley, No.9. Notion, 2010. Oil on canvas on board, 49.5 x 49.5 cm. Image from the Mark Hutchins Gallery website.

That photo also shows the beautiful construction work that lies behind the paintings. Looking through the web, I can see how these recent works evolved - going back to Birds Chatter #3 (2007), or even further back to Albus no. 13 (1974).Yet these paintings, with their (tender, not in the least sickly) roses and lavenders, sky blues and creams, feel fresh and full of light and energy. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Web muster

One of the most affecting things I've read lately: Steve Silberman on the recent spate of suicides among young gay Americans, recounting his own story of growing up gay, and asking whether legalising gay marriage would allow more gay kids to believe they had every chance of growing up happy.

From deep to surface (but oh, such surface): a collection of beautifully observed close crops of 4-colour process prints in comics

The New York Times always displays such style: an in-depth look at the art in Wall Street 2, and a piece on Philippe S├ęgalot's auction for Phillips, de Pury & Company, with guest spot by hairstylist to the stars Frederic Fekkai, which includes the following priceless quote:

“My father was adamantly opposed to selling this painting, but Philippe was so convincing,” said Alberto Mugrabi, referring to his father, Jose. “Philippe can do things nobody else can. He’s crazy, but good crazy.”

A little like interviewing one's typewriter, but interesting nonetheless: the LACMA blog interviews director Michael Govan on the new Resnick Pavilion.

Monday 4 October 2010


I have sat (and stood) through godonlyknows how many dull, self-serving or canned speeches by various sponsors, stakeholders and dignitaries at godonlyknows how many events. I see this as the collective price we pay for the generosity of individuals and organisations who sponsor events for the public (or, less happily, individuals and organisations the event organisers owe, or wish to butter up to). Some, I think, see this as the collective price we pay for an open bar.

Among the reasons I have largely stopped going to public gallery openings (except for those of artists I know) are the facts that I ran out of patience, and that I'm a hypocrite.

Let me untangle that statement. I ran out of patience with people who chatter amongst themselves or otherwise disrespect the speech-makers (my notion of the collective price means being quiet, and at the very least faking attentiveness). And I also found myself turning into one of those people. So know I either avoid going, or I try really hard to be polite.

Occasionally, however, you get a speaker who is sincere, well informed, even moving. A speaker who adds to the event. In my brief experience, I've been struck by the quality of the speeches that ambassadors deliver. Perhaps its the training, or the natural inclination, but they normally deliver speeches that are well-turned and well-tuned.

I've never before seen a blog post by an ambassador about an exhibition, and I have to say: I'm impressed by US Ambassador David Huebner's effusive and kindly account of visiting the Ron Mueck show at Christchurch Art Gallery.

Friday 1 October 2010


On his blog this week, the adjectival Stephen Fry (a member of the board of the Royal Academy) made a massive push for RA memberships, writing "if I can persuade any of you who are good enough to follow me to befriend this wonderful institution then I have done you a favour and at the same time helped a place I love to continue in its marvellous work."

Early in the post Fry writes about getting his first induction into the world of looking at art from Gombrich's The Story of Art, and notes

To stand in front of an artwork can cause bursts of excitement and surges of pleasure and thumps of intense feeling that are not unlike those an adolescent experiences when glimpsing someone who stirs desire in them. It pleases me that every year more and more people go into art galleries and museums to look at collections or special exhibitions. ...

For any of you plagued by memories of having to troop listlessly after your parents or school group leader as you were shepherded from one masterpiece to another and forced to listen to well-meaning but often confusing, stultifying or irrelevant explanations and interpretations from tour-guides and experts, I have nothing but sympathy. We have all been there. If that has put you off galleries and exhibitions in later life then you have the unimaginable pleasure ahead of discovering what it is like to look at pictures in your own time, at your own speed, just as you please. The beauty of art galleries when you are no longer in a tourist group or family is that you don’t have to go “round” – you can pop in to see just one room, or even just one painting. There are no rules and no “correct” way to look.
This reminded me of an interview with Kristen Denner, the Whitney Museum's head of membership that Nina Simon recently posted.

The Whitney's membership packages are now offered as Curate Your Own

When buying a membership from the Whitney, you get a core set of standard benefits, and one 'series', from the following list, for US$85:

  • Social
  • Insider
  • Learning
  • Family
  • Philanthropy

You can keep adding extra series to your membership, each at a cost of US$40. In the interview, Denner notes

We started with focus groups with current and prospective members, asking about their interests and what kinds of experiences they would really value as part of membership. I wanted to test a hypothesis that we should be segmenting our members not by demographics but by interest, in order to foster that emotional connection. And we confirmed that hypothesis. Some experiences completely cut across demographics - some people like parties, some people want a solitary experience with art... and that solitary experience person might be 20 or they might be 80. People want to experience art in quite individual ways. So we wanted a membership segmentation that reflected their individual needs.

I also thought this was interesting

Were there any needs that came up in the focus groups that you were not able to meet?

Seeing the installation process was a big one. In some cases, the artist is not comfortable, or there are insurance and liability issues. We really tried to figure this one out and decided we couldn't reliably offer it as a member benefit.

One person expressed a desire to spend alone time with a work of art in a kind of member contemplation room. There were security issues, but ultimately the objection was that it's not in keeping with the Whitney's mission. It’s important to us that art be available to all, not just to particular types of members.

This observation seems to point for a desire for more intimate, behind the scenes, personal experiences - the physical equivalent of what all the outreach online (installation views on blogs, video interviews, conversations on twitter, museum staff leaving comments on your blog) is giving people.

Writing this I realise that I've let all my art gallery memberships lapse (and replaced them with super sexy things like InternetNZ). I suppose this can only be because the needs they previously satisfied (shop discounts, information updates, invitations to openings) no longer scratch of my itches. Hmmmm.