Friday 30 January 2015

Recommended reading

I cannot recommend this piece by Jessamyn West on the quandary of inheriting a person's digital remains enough. Take ten minutes from your day to read it, you won't regret it. (Especially the passages about her father's house.)

Thursday 22 January 2015

Confirming that there are few things worse than listening to your own voice

This week's edition of The Dowse podcast sees Sasha and Cat embark on their mission to demystify museum jobs by talking to me about being a first-time director.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Yo Yo Yo

Today was a good day at work for a few reasons. One of the big ones was that we launched a new experiment - The Dowse Podcast.

The podcast is designed to be a short, quite playful look at the workings of the art world and art galleries. You can read more in this blogpost.

I'm thrilled about the podcast for two reasons. The main one is that Sasha Greig (front of house host) and Cat Auburn (exhibition preparator) have taken this idea from pitch to reality. This isn't a comms or curatorial project - it's two people who are interested and interesting, trying a new way to share The Dowse spirit.

The second, smaller, reason is that Sasha and Cat agreed to call the inaugural podcast Yo Yo Yo when I asked them to :)

Sunday 11 January 2015


Every so often, I toy with the idea of a PhD.* I don't know what it would be on, exactly, but it would be something to do with tracing webs of connections - whether that's relationships between changes in arts funding and arts practice, or the way curators/directors have moved around the country and how that's influenced programming, or a study on women in the museums profession, or the movements in influence between Dunedin at the start of the 20th century, Christchurch in the 1930s-1950s and Auckland from the 1960s onwards. History, so far as I can make out, is the outcome of the jostling of personality, social connections, opportunity and hazard, and I'd like to test that idea against some research and data.

I'm thinking about that this weekend as I've been reading this NYT article on MOMA's Object:Photo project. A 'multi-platform' project (exhibition, book, website and symposium) that's taken four years to develop, it is based the Thomas Walther Collection of ~300 photographs from the 1920s and 1930s which MOMA acquired in 2001. As with our present moment, that period was one of rapid technological development and new infrastructures and conversations sprang up around photography.

MOMA's team has taken the collection as a microcosm through which to explore the moment. I can't speak for any of the other formats, but the website is what's got me thinking about the connections that are the building blocks of art history. Using the Visualization section of the site you can compare photo techniques and trace artist's geographical movements. But the most interest tool lets you trace connections between artists, by school, major exhibitions, cultural hubs, photo industry hubs and publications, allowing you to ask questions like which artists identified with the Bauhaus movement also worked for Vogue? 

As I continue to chip away on our Wikipedia project at The Dowse, I've realised that 'joining up' pages are very important to the endeavour. We needed, for example, a page about the New Vision Gallery to flesh out the early careers of many artists. A page was needed on Bone Stone Shell. I'm currently pulling info together one about the Portage Awards, and we've added info about the Arts Foundation Laureate Awards and the Creative New Zealand Craft/Objects Art Fellowship and Pacific Arts Awards, all to provide greater context.

What's missing though are the generational and social connections, and that's where I could see something like MOMA's project being really interesting for New Zealand art history. So much to ponder.

*The reason I think I couldn't ever undertake a PhD is that I've discovered I really like to work collaboratively - or even more accurately, socially - on projects, and I don't think I could apply myself to such a solitary task for such a long time. If however a way of taking on PhDs in a more collaborative way emerges, I'll be there with boots on.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Some things I read this morning

37-year-old curator Dr Nicholas Cullinan has been announced as the new director of London's National Portrait Gallery, the 12th in its 158-year history. Currently a curator at the Met, and co-curator of the Matisse cut-outs show, Cullinan worked as a host at the Portrait Gallery in his early 20s. Cue Drake.

artnet News asked 20 women in the visual arts whether the art world is biased.

I've been lucky enough to work only under women directors but all the institutions they inherited had an annual budget of $15 million or less, which is the glass ceiling of female women directorships. Sexism is a broad problem that cannot be reduced to simply men oppressing women, but is about the set of expectations we have and the goals we set for each other that need serious reevaluation.
—Naomi Beckwith, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
George Oates, now of Good Form & Spectacle, has worked with Tom Armitage to create the V&A Spelunker, a way of mining through the V&A's vast collections using the fields in the collection catalogue that a 'normal human' could interpret. I'm particularly interested by what George says in her blog post about the Date Graph, where they have matched up 'data created' with 'date acquired'.

Perhaps because I've spent a lot of time with digitised collections, or because I'm not easily swayed by visualisations and maps and graphs, I find it hard to get extremely excited about these projects, but that feature really does trigger insights about how the collection has developed, and gets you asking questions.