Saturday 16 December 2017

Reading list, 16 December 2017

A beautiful piece in the NYT's 'One Little Thing' series by Jason Farago on Manet's Mademoiselle V … in the Costume of an Espada.

Daniel Penny's long essay comparing our current Instagram moment with the development of the picturesque drifts towards the end, but is good up top.

I still hope to revive the idea of an art podcast sometime, and when I do this guide from NPR's Alison MacAdam will be getting a lot of exercise: The journey from print to radio storytelling: A guide for navigating a new landscape.

It's a long path between a speech and legislative change, but French president Emmanuel Macron has made some strong statements about repatriations to African nations.

The Odyssey's most recent translator, Emily Wilson, on its 'complex and truthful articulation of gender dynamics that continue to haunt us'.

Boris Kachka for Vulture on The Director and the Pharaoh: How Thomas Hoving Created the Museum Blockbuster.

Saturday 9 December 2017

Reading list, 9 December 2017

The National Museum of African American History's community curation project, digitising family collections and archives.

'How a Trove of Nazi Art Wound Up Under Lock and Key on an Army Base in Virginia' in the Washingtonian

"Conserving a building’s skin while destroying its heart isn’t historic preservation. It’s taxidermy." - Feargus O'Sullivan in Citylab on the V&A's acquisition of part of a 1960s social housing project.

I've really enjoyed Philip Kennicott's writing this year. Here's another: The new Bible museum tells a clear, powerful story. And it could change the museum business.

And on the topic of new museums, from Holland Cotter: Louvre Abu Dhabi, an Arabic-Galactic Wonder, Revises Art History

Ignore the bombastic title - this piece on artist educators at PAMM (Pérez Art Museum, Miami) is really interesting.

Everything I hate about the current fixing-art-with-apps conversation in one handy article.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Reading list, 11 November 2017

I find the current musings on shapeless women's clothes quite intriguing: Modest Dressing,
as a Virtue (bonus for gallery assistant viewpoint on selling art, not sexual availability)

Alexandra Lange has a fascinating take on the Museum of Icecream, through the lens of play theory

Kyle Chayka's article on the 40th anniversary on Walter De Maria's Earth Room is actually a lovely feature on the man who cares the the installation

A gorgeous interview with classicist Emily Wilson in the NYT: The First Woman to Translate the ‘Odyssey’ Into English

Saturday 4 November 2017

Reading list, 4 November 2017

Carolee Schneeman on developing 'Double Knowledge' - "the knowledge I knew I had to live by and [the] knowledge that the wall of male culture insisted was appropriate, but that was not true to my experience." (A funnier and more touching article than that extract might have you assume.)

Jerry Saltz's tribute to art historian Linda Nochlin, who died at the end of October.

Fiona Clark recalls the gay and drag scene of 1970s Auckland for The Spinoff.

The Remai Modern in Saskatoon (headed by ex-GBAG director Gregory Burke) is ready to open.

On Racked: ‘Menocore’ Is as Much About Wealth as It Is About Age by Sara Tatyana Bernstein. You start off thinking "God, now I have another fashion mistake to worry about' and end up having a fascinating insight into social trends.

A ghastly story of historical child abuse from Tuam, Ireland, told by the New York Times with matching gothic gifs and photographs.

On the new Zeitz Mocaa in Cape Town, and musings on whether a private museum can do more public good than restricted government-funded museums.

You only need so many articles about mid-century apartments laid out with astonishing art, but this is a good one.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Reading list, 21 October 2017

The New Zealand Labour party's Arts, Culture and Heritage election manifesto

Why fancy restaurants have Aesop soap in their bathrooms

Artsy previews the 2017 Culture Track report: "The number one barrier to all forms of cultural participation? “It’s not for someone like me”."

Article of the week: Philip Kennicott on the best gallery bench placements in Washington.

'Wim Wenders on his Polaroids – and why photography is now over'

A great article about outreach at the world's first museum of Somali culture, in Minnesota

Beatrix Ruf resigns from the Stedelijk Museum after media stories about her conflicts of interest around deals with collectors and her art advisory business: New York Times and artnet news.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Reading list, 14 October 2017

Wesley Morris for the New York Times, on three months spent listening only to albums by women, inspired by NPR's 'Turning the Tables' list.

Former Canadian art curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario Andrew Hunter explains why he quit his job. (Sort of. I mean, it's never really stated in terms of "I quit so that X would hopefully happen." It's more "I couldn't effect any more change so I left". I think.)

The Julian Schnabel comeback machine.

Kickstarter has started facilitating commissioning alongside crowdfundraising.

On sleeper hunters (curators, dealers and connoisseurs who haunt auction websites looking for mis-attributed works).

A brutal (and somewhat relieving) take on Instagram influencers.

"My problem is what it represents as a first corporate commissioned artwork of sorts that is designed to open the way for a market invasion of 3D geo-tagged branding entertainment and advertising." Artist Sebastian Errazuriz finds a way to digitally vandalise Jeff Koon's Snapchat sculptures.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Reading list, 7 October 2017

On architecture

Rowan Moore looks at the Bilbao effect and its original context, 20 years on.

Oliver Wainwright with a somewhat unsympathetic take on the extension to Tate St Ives. (Wainwright is unimpressed with the decision to preserve housing at the cost of adding more presence to the building: based on recent conversations with people about museums in towns and cities with low numbers of permanent residents but high holiday-home owners and tourism numbers, I can see where the local council was coming from. A letter from a local makes this point.)

David Chipperfield on restoring and adjusting (as invisibly as possible) Mies van der Rohe's New National Gallery in Berlin. Right down to the carpeted galleries.

On branding and promotion

Echoing a bunch of pieces I've linked to previously, on a topic I've written about quite frequently: Brands and the Museumification of Everything.

An extract on Artsy from a new book by three economists (Robert Ekelund, Jr., John Jackson, and the late Robert Tollison) on the political and market conditions that led to American painting taking pole position in post-WWII Western art.

The strategic reasoning underlying the greasy photos Domino's posts on social media.

Condé Nast is launching a new "mission-driven, multi-platform" LGBTQ-focused publication.

More than you ever possibly needed to know about tote bags.

On collecting and deaccessioning

As Baltimore Museum curators prepare a touring exhibition based largely on her collection, Pamela Joyner is profiled by Vogue on her decision to build a collection focused on black abstract artists.

Felix Salmon covers the Berkshire Museum deaccessioning plans (to raise $40 million for capital projects and their endowment by selling artworks at auction) for The New Yorker.

On MOMA's new fashion show (the first in 70 years)

Paola Antonelli and Michelle Millar Fisher assemble 111 items for what they tell us about fashion and clothing.

Roberta Smith for the New York Times

Alexandra Lange for The New Yorker

In Jeff Koons news

Snapchat has launched an augmented reality art platform, pinned on Jeff Koons' shiny balloon dogs and other baubles.

Just good writing

K. Emma Ng's 'Hey, You There! Tactics of Refusal in the Work of Luke Willis Thompson', for The Pantograph Punch.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Reading list,

I'm very pleased to see Rowan Simpson release his remastered blog posts on important observations and lessons from working in New Zealand's most successful tech start-up and working with a bunch of other NZ companies. Applicable way beyond the tech world.

Oliver Wainwright writes up the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Mocaa) by Heatherwick Studios.

Rotterdam's Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art is changing its name (which comes from the Dutch naval officer Witte Corneliszoon de With, an agent of both the Dutch West India and the Dutch East India companies in the 17th century) due to its colonial history.

Walker Art Center’s Reckoning With ‘Scaffold’ Isn’t Over Yet - NYT

Saturday 16 September 2017

Reading list, 16 September 2017

I am actually quite surprised there is this much appetite for articles on the Met's management decisions: Town & Country feature an exclusive interview with President (and boss of the to-be-appointed director) Daniel Weiss. Good to compare to the interview with Tom Campbell from last week's reading list.

I can't figure out how to link directly to embedded video in a tweet, but you should watch this video, on lighting black and brown skin for television.

I am rather taken with this tiny UK town, with is starting a museum of miners art. A fascinating history of 20th century working class art.

Speaking of art and class: this article about the academicisation of poetry in 20th century (don't yawn) in the wake of declining patronage from a class that saw its wealth decimated by the First World War and the Depression, is interesting if you want to think about why so many leading NZ artists are tertiary teachers.

This new funding announcement for Indigenous and First Nation artists and curators in Australia should be a model for Aotearoa (as long as the project funding turns into permanent positions / presence / changed ways of working).

A beautiful NYT story about a cultural camp run by David Severns, a Yurok tribal member, where he teaches traditional ways to make ceremonial regalia.

Belated reading on a love/hate topic: Can Real Life Compete With an Instagram Playground?

Saturday 9 September 2017

Reading list, 9 September 2017

From the journalistic world: I loved NYT White House reporter Maggie Haberman's Longform Podcast interview: here she is on The Cut's series 'How I Get It Done'.  And Charlotte Graham's impressive piece for The Spinoff on New Zealand women journalists' experiences of and attitudes towards online abuse (which is less traumatising and more instructive than the headline suggests).

British and American museums are to meet in 2018 to discuss returning looted art from Benin to west Africa in a rotating long-term exhibition (not full repatriation).

Andrew Goldstein's two-part interview with previous Met director Thomas Campbell: Thomas Campbell on Why He Became the Met’s Surprise Champion of New Art and Thomas Campbell on the Price of Modernization at America’s Greatest Museum.

The wonderful writer Jenny Uglow on Grayson Perry.

Another update from MIA on their changing approach to managing their membership programme.

Sunday 3 September 2017

Reading list, 3 September 2017

After the backlash to her essay on Katherine Middleton on her marriage to Prince William, now Hilary Mantel wonderfully takes on the Diana myth.

I'm interested at the moment in the stereotypes that museum reverse-promote about themselves, like this one from the director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, which has just re-opened after an upgrade:
Some museum purists may disapprove of the more accessible labels. “The art historians here on campus, they would prefer everything was just a tombstone, because the students come in here and just copy [the] labels down,” Dietrich said. “You can never make everybody happy.”
Grutas Park, a sculpture garden in south-west Lithuania, shows one way of dealing with statues and monuments that have been rejected from public places:
The figures are grouped according to their role in Soviet activity: the Totalitarian Sphere depicts key thinkers and prominent leaders; the Red Sphere features members of the resistance; the Death sphere shows the bloody means by which the regimes were kept in place. Indeed, the park allows the spectre of suffering to loom in the background by recreating gulag blocks, guard towers and barbed-wire fences.
Honestly, just batshit: Famed architect Frank Gehry to design Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum.

The NYT profiles Elaine Welteroth, editor of Teen Vogue and tasked with "reinventing the glossy magazine for a hyperempathetic generation".

Saturday 26 August 2017

Reading list, 26 August 2017

Last weekend I pulled together a range of articles focused on questions of protest and removal of Confederate monuments in one of my occasional TinyLetter newsletters. Sign up here if you'd like to receive the occasional letter like that.

Robin Pobegrin on NYC's museums:It’s a Diverse City, but Most Big Museum Boards Are Strikingly White.

It doesn't sound like a particularly good show, but it's a surprisingly straightforward acceptance of bias: Asian Museum works to overcome neglect of Filipino art, a review of a San Francisco exhibition by Charles Desmarais.

Chloe Geoghegan reviews The Tomorrow People at the Adam Art Gallery. 

Oh god.

Saturday 29 July 2017

Reading list, 29 July 2017

The Washington Post breaks down the Smithsonian's Kickstarter campaigns for conservation projects (given the costs involved it's probably important to see them as marketing projects as well as fundraising).

Artsy interviews Tom Campbell for their podcast in the week he leaves the Met.

Protests follow Dana Schutz from the Whitney Biennial to a solo show at the ICA Boston - via the New York Times and Hyperallergic.

Objectspace opened on Thursday, in a new space with a newly expanded mission: director Kim Paton was interviewed by the NZ Herald and Paperboy. (I so badly want a Paperboy for Wellington.)

A Canadian government panel debates whether a gift of 2000+ Annie Leibowitz photos warrants the requested $20m valuation for tax credit purposes.

So many interesting philosophical & museumy questions in this venture: Auschwitz Artifacts to Go on Tour, Very Carefully.

Saturday 22 July 2017

Reading list, 22 July 2017

As part of my support for our showing of Fiona Clark's photographic series Te Iwi o Te Wāhi Kore at The Dowse, I have been reading the Waitangi Tribunal Motonui-Waitara report (1983). It still ashames me how unaware I have been of the history of the area I was raised in.

Marsha Lederman writes for the Canadian Mail and Globe about the return of Haida taonga from museums to communities. Read it and weep, Tiffany Jenkins.

An extract from K. Emma Ng's new book Old Asian, New Asian, from BWB Texts, on The Spin-Off. The book has developed from an essay Emma wrote for the Pantograph Punch in 2015.

More from the Barnes Foundation's collection online project - this time, curator Martha Lucy speculating on what new thinking may be derived from computer (mis)analysis of paintings.

I've only started to grok this myself: 'Not Just Money' from the Helicon Collaborative breaks down where philanthropic dollars are committed in support to cultural organisations.

An idea that's brilliant in its simplicity and catchiness - the Seed Vault releases a collection visualisation in the form of a colouring book.

I'm delighted Lana Lopesi is the new editor-in-chief of the Pantograph Punch.

Nobody wants you damn museum app.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Art News New Zealand column, Winter 2017

Public funding

As I write, one of the main art stories coming out of the United States is that the Trump administration's first federal budget plan, which indicates eliminating several federal cultural agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The NEA and NEH were signed into existence in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act states:

(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.

(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.

This is not the first time a Republican government has threatened cuts to, or elimination of, the endowments. It is the first time a Republican government has been in such a strong position to enact these threats. While the administration's budget plan is a signal of presidential priorities and not a draft of the actual budget (which is written by Congress), arts advocates in the U.S. had already prepared their arguments in defence of the NEA, NEH and other agencies such as the Public Broadcasting Service, noting that much of the funding supports communities outside the main artistic centres; that programmes range from art therapy for military veterans to the cataloguing of George Washington's papers; that the average NEA grant is $26,000 and requires matched funding to be secured by the applicant.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in March, one of the programmes threatened by the Trump budget plan is the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program, created by President Gerald Ford in 1975 with bipartisan support. The programme enables federal indemnification of insurance on artworks brought into the US for public exhibitions. No money changes hands, but the government pledges to cover any losses. This allows museums to save money on insurance premiums; money that can then be used elsewhere. Outgoing director of The Met Thomas P. Campbell wrote in The New York Times that their upcoming Michelangelo show has an insurance value of $2.4 billion; an amount not even they, one of the richest museums in the world, could afford. The programme underwrites billions of dollars in indemnifications annually, and in 41 years of operation has paid out a single claim of $4,700.

The proportion of the federal budget allocated to the NEA and NEH is approximately 0.01%. As Neil deGrasse Tyson observed in a series of tweets, this equates to Americans' annual expenditure on lipbalm, or 4 hours and 23 minutes of defence spending. As he noted: "Cutting the NEA & NEH to save money on a $3-trillion budget is like thinking 3 days is long relative to an 85-year lifespan."

The cuts then are symbolic, not functional. In turn, museums are staging their own symbolic retorts. They have responded in many ways to the new administration, particularly its January 27 executive order banning entry to the US from seven majority-Muslim nations. In perhaps the most publicised riposte, MoMA rehung its collection galleries overnight, replacing works by Matisse and Picasso with works by artists including Sudanese painter Ibrahim el-Salahi and Los Angeles-based Iranian video artist Tala Madani. Each has a new wall label:

“This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on Jan. 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed ... to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum as they are to the United States.”

I follow a US analyst, Colleen Dilenschneider, who works for market research firm specialising in cultural organisations. In March Dilenschneider reported a notable reputational boost for MoMA since the start of 2017, based on an increase in positive responses to statements like 'I admire the Museum of Modern Art'. As Dilenschneider observed, this is correlation, not causation, and yet 'What else could have taken place in the same duration to cause the greatest increase in reputational equities in the last three years for MoMA?'.

So, symbols speak strongly. That the Trump administration can advocate slashing cultural funding agencies suggests a deep disdain for the place of art, artists and art institutions in society. We can only hope that this message too can be turned upon itself, and used to argue for art's utmost relevance.

Saturday 1 July 2017

Reading list, 1 July 2017

Ben Eltham looks at the results of the Australia Council’s national arts participation survey for the Guardian, and it suggests a troubling fall in belief in the importance - even validity - of the arts.

Kyle Chayka's latest, on the international blandness of Tyler Brûlé and Monocle.

Alexandra Lange's latest, on Georgia O'Keeffe, Jane Jacobs, and the Marimekko dress.

Anthony Byrt's latest (it's really good) on Luke Willis Thompson's latest work, at Chisenhale Gallery

A few pieces from the architecture files: Will the renovation of Ottawa's Brutalist national art complex undermine its essential nature? Former Paris stock exchange to be reborn as François Pinault's new art museum. When one architecture firm undoes another architect's work: the Albright-Knox editionMumbai has the world’s second-largest collection of Art Deco buildings but no one notices them.

Your deep-inside-the-sector read: Chris Michaels, Museum business models in the digital economy (the accidental evolution' of museum business models; surge-pricing for exhibition tickets; Netflix for memberships; more pro-active asking for donations).

Your long read: Charlotte Higgins, How Nicholas Serota’s Tate changed Britain.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Reading list, 24 June 2017

Sing it, sister: Diane Ragsdale, On “looky-loos” and the institutions who are desperate for them and desperate for them to behave.

A few weekends ago I traced the story of Sam Durant's work Scaffold, which was erected in the Walker Art Center's expanded sculpture gardens and then removed before the expansion was opened after protests by local Dakota people. This week in the Los Angeles Times Durant reflected on this, and dealt with questions around censorship.

There are a bunch of quotes in this Artsy editorial by Anna Louie Sussman that get my back up, but it's wide-ranging coverage of a strong trend: Why Old Women Have Replaced Young Men as the Art World’s Darlings

MIA (the Minneapolis Institute of Art) is blogging about its new audience data and loyalty programmes.

Hilary Milnes for Glossy: The anatomy of a pop-up launch. Interesting when thinking about museum expansions / engagement.

I love the polite ambivalence expressed by the people in this NYT article: Jeff Koons Sent Paris Flowers. Can It Find the Right Vase?

Shelley Bernstein explains why when computers tried to describe the Barnes Foundation's collection, they kept seeing stuffed animals.

Saturday 17 June 2017

Reading list, 17 June 2017

There will never be a definitive list, but this one is worth browsing if only for the photo of Linda Nochlin teaching at Vassar in 1965: The 10 Essays That Changed Art Criticism Forever.

I found this creepy as all get out: MAGA [Make America Great Again] Hats Are the Newest Form of Pre-Teen Rebellion

Colleen Dilenschneider's latest: Do [Museum] Expansions Increase Long-Term Visitation?

Teju Cole's latest: Getting Others Right

Robert Leonard's latest: Michael Parekowhai: The Empire of Light

One of the most influential books in my life: A brief history of feminist literature in New Zealand: Tessa Duder on her classic novel Alex

The always interesting Maciej Cegłowski: The founder of Pinboard on why fandom is good for business

Saturday 10 June 2017

Reading list, 10 June 2017

Nina Tonga, curator of Pacific Art at Te Papa, writes about 'Pikipiki hama kae vaevae manava: joining our vaka to share our breath or life stories', the museum's co-collecting initiative with Tongan communities in Auckland.

Read Tom Armitage's introduction (bringing together Sontag and screensavers) before you read Zack Hatfield on the forgotten joys of the screensaver.

Jia Tolentino on the end of the (internet) personal essay boom.

Thought-provoking: Chika Okeke-Agulu, 'Modern African Art Is Being Gentrified'.

I love Roberta Smith's language in this review, plus it introduced me to a plethora of new artists: ‘Midtown’: That Chair’s Charming, but Can I Sit in It?

Seb Chan writes about a project with RMIT students to produce visualisations giving insights into ACMI's collections.

Shelley Bernstein writes about the Barnes Foundation's new partnership with a bike-share initiative to reach new audiences.

And in new sites: Auckland curator Ioana Gordon-Smith has started collecting her writing online; veteran American exhibition-maker Dan Spock has started a 'museum tradecraft journal'.

Saturday 27 May 2017

Reading list, 27 May 2017

It's been a while since I focused on museums & digital, so here's a gathering of links:

ACMI's Lucie Paterson writes up the recent US Museums and the Web conference, and also her visit to trial all the flash things at SFMOMA.

Lucie's post introduced me to an aspect of the new SFMOMA that I hadn't heard of, the interactive gallery exploring the photography collection, poised next to a cafe. Check out the video here.

The Knight Foundation announces $1.87 *million* in funding for digital projects at 12 US museums.

This whole thing squiks me out but it's probably the (near) future: Giving art a voice with Watson: Art comes to life with AI for Brazilian museum goers.

Saturday 20 May 2017

Reading list, 20 May 2017

I've held off posting a reading list for a few weeks because my reading - or at least, the bits that have stuck - seems to have been so dominated by the New York Times. But maybe it's better just to clear that all out and start again.

One of the contrasts I regularly draw between New Zealand and American art museums is that ours lean very heavily towards the contemporary (bar touring blockbustery shows). Robin Pobegrin looks at how the balance between the now and the thousands of years of culture collected in American museums plays out in ‘Encyclopedic’ Brooklyn Museum Vies for Contemporary Attention.

Seeing the Habitat complex at twilight on a freezing Montreal day, as thin ice plates nudged up against the walls of the harbour, remains one of my most special visual memories. Blake Gopnik reminiscences about Growing Up in a Concrete Masterpiece.

I'm thinking a lot about the Pictures generation right now. Roberta Smith profiles Louise Lawler and her new survey at MOMA in Louise Lawler’s Stealth Aesthetic (and Muted Aura).

Louise Movius's Fake Rain Room gets permanent home in Shanghai looks at unauthorised versions  of the Rain Room design experience being produced in China.

The World Cities Culture finance report (link to a PDF) is way more interesting than it sounds, assessing how major 'world cities' support and fund culture.

In The Art of Complaint, Peter Ireland looks at Grahame Sydney's latest interview crying neglect upon his work by the art establishment.

Adrian Luis on Dismantling Diversity in Museums - for another take, Paula Morris's Making noise for more Māori writers, in which she quotes Marlon James's complaint that diversity is ‘an outcome treated as a goal’.

Sitting in the Fashion section for some reason, but Jennifer Miller's Suffering for Your Art? Maybe You Need a Patron gives a good overview of new models of artist & writer patronage.

Keir Winesmith assembles a list of links to Recent readings on diversity, equity and inclusion in museums

Not art or art world, but terrific writing and/or interesting reporting:

Willa Paskin's The Other Side of Anne of Green Gables, on the new tv adaptation of the classic book series.

Susan Dominus's moving, thoughtful and clear-eyed Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage? (Also - check out those uncanny-valley portraits)

Lucia Moses on How Jessica Lessin used her reporting chops to build The Information (aka to build a subscription-based news site that's financially successful).

A fascinating long read on fast fashion and why Britain dominates here by Chavie Lieber for Racked.

Monday 8 May 2017


Last year I wrote a column for Art News New Zealand about the co-option (possibly flattering, possibly not) of the concepts of 'museum' and 'archive' to brand experiences (such as Glade's 'Museum of Emotions', part of their campaign to promote new room sprays).

Recently two examples of this floated across my feeds. On the one hand, the Museum of Icecream (lying at "the sensory intersection of sweet tooth and Instagram") has migrated from New York to LA, and now includes exhibits tailored to sponsors, including Soylent.

On the other hand, the Adirondack Museum has rebranded as 'The Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Lake Mountain' in a move "designed to lure more visitors to its sprawling 121-acre indoor-outdoor campus". Locally, the Wellington Museums Trust has rebranded as Experience Wellington.

Now I'm just waiting for the Museum of Experiences.

Saturday 22 April 2017

Reading list, 22 April 2017

Anne Helen Petersen on The Radical Feminist Aesthetic Of "The Handmaid’s Tale" (the tv series); follow it up with the New Yorker's profile of Margaret Atwood by Rebecca Mead.

This show sounds amazing: Adrian Searle reviews Queer British Art 1861-1967 for the Guardian.

A real long read: Helen Rosner argues The Real Legacy of ‘Lucky Peach’ Is How It Looked on Eater.

Holland Cotter on MOMA's Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction for the New York Times:

These shows are invariably moving, surprising and adventurous. The present one certainly is. But they have too easily become a new normal, an acceptable way to show women but keep them segregated from the permanent-collection galleries. In other words, they are a way to keep MoMA’s old and false, but coherent and therefore salable, story of Modernism intact.

Yet another dissection of Thomas Campbell's ejection from The Met - scroll down, it turns out the failing gift store was at the bottom of it.

A truly terrific interview with Kara Walker, by Doreen St. Félix for Vulture.

Philip Kennicott's review of visiting the Kusama exhibition at the Hirschhorn like a normal pleb is less whiny and more thought-provoking than the headline would suggest: I went to Kusama and all I got was this lousy selfie.

The Los Angeles Times is running a series on what L.A. would look like without government arts funding.

Saturday 15 April 2017

Reading list, 15 April 2017

Emma Ng has been commissioned by Design Assembly to write four essays over the time between the American and New Zealand elections - she kicks off with 'What does a fact look like?'.

Calvin Tompkins was clearly writing this New Yorker profile on painter Dana Schutz well before the controversy erupted over her work Open Casket (an interpretation of the famous photo of murdered African American teenager Emmett Till in his coffin) at the Whitney Biennial. His piece helpfully provides more context on the artist and her career up to this point - as well as some insight into her own feelings on the outcry.

New(isH) Auckland free magazine Paperboy is commissioning some great arts writing. Here's Anthony Byrt's piece from their recent issue focused on homelessness, 'How artist Kalisolaite ‘Uhila made a statement by vanishing into the streets'.

Queueing this up for the weekend - Artsy's latest podcast, on the history of the white cube gallery.

This would be comedic, if it weren't so demoralising: 'Jeff Koons’s New Line'.

A fascinating read from Rachel Cooke for the Guardian: 'Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser?'

Tim Murphy interviews e-Tangata co-founders and editors Tapu Misa and Gary Wilson as BWB Texts publishes a best-of selection of essays from the site.

Saturday 8 April 2017

Reading list, 8 April 2017

The British Museums Association annual survey reveals deep cuts to public funding, accompanied both by closures and increased revenue and philanthropy generation.

Auckland Council will commission an independent review of major cultural institutions and facilities, to address a set of concerns about influence over how Council-provided funding is invested and strategic alignment of the region's cultural asset. The link includes Tim Walker's 2015 report on 'Investing in Auckland cultural infrastructure'.

Gina Fairley outlines the debate over moving the Powerhouse Museum (MAAS) to Parramatta.

Busted by data: Colleen Dilenschneider asks whether mobile apps are worthwhile for cultural institutions (hint: she says no).

Tonya Nelson writes a short but incisive piece on succession planning in museums, based on the current Met melt-down.

I'm fascinated by Damien Hirst's comeback narrative & project.

The University of South Australia plans to open a 'museum of ideas'.

One of my favourite current writers, Kyle Chayka, contributes to The Paris Review's series on artworks that influenced people by talking about invigilating an Anselm Kiefer.

Kris Sowersby of Klim Type Foundry on the new typeface he has designed for Trade Me.

Saturday 1 April 2017

Reading List, 1 April 2017

Hugo Robinson interviews Lana Lopesi on writing art criticism.

Zita Joyce writes on 'The Brooding Elitist Relationship-Wrecker: Tropes of Art and Artists on Narrative Television' for Pantograph Punch.

Hilarie M. Sheets for the NYT - 'Gender Gap Persists at Largest Museums' and the full report from the Association of Art Museum Directors.

ArtNews pulls together a variety of opinion pieces on the controversial inclusion of Dana Schutz's Open Casket, a painting based on photographs of murdered African-American teenager  Emmett Till. Many of the pieces reference Hannah Black's open letter, which has become the wellspring of many published responses. Roberta Smith's article for the NYT references similar criticisms of Kara Walker's early work in the 1990s, a moment I wasn't aware of. Missing from the round up is Antwaun Sargent's editorial for Artsy, Unpacking the Firestorm around the Whitney Biennial’s “Black Death Spectacle”.

Saturday 25 March 2017

Reading list, 25 March 2017

The NYT design pages are often preposterous, but in such a soothing way. If you need a warm-bath article this week, try 'What Happened to Traditional Floral Bouquets?'.

Large amounts of the blame being apportioned around Thomas Campbell's resignation from the Met are tagged to his digital efforts - which were seen by those inside the digital world of museums are important and instructive. Here's William D. Cohan for Vanity Fair on 'how a former wunderkind—and his mission to modernize—became a toxic mix for one of the world’s most powerful cultural institutions'.

As we move further away from shared experience of the Second World War, the director of the Anne Frank House explains that 'our visitors don’t always have sufficient prior knowledge of the Second World War to really grasp the meaning of Anne Frank and the people in hiding here ... We want to make sure that Anne Frank isn’t just an icon, but a portal into history.'

Saturday 18 March 2017

Reading list, 18 March 2017

Indian author and MP Shashi Tharoor on the need for a museum communicating British colonisation of India.

US technology writer Farhad Manjoo on the cultural supremacy of the camera (and Snapchat).

Margaret Atwood's introduction for a new edition of The Handmaid's Tale.

Teju Cole's latest essay 'A Photograph Never Stands Alone'. Also, he's coming to Auckland Writers Festival.

Kyle Chayka for Racked on why gray clothes feel appropriate now.

The full New York Times special museums section.

Ugh. There's loads in Daniel Grant's Observer piece 'The Admission Fees Are Too Damn High' that I disagree with (like the tone of "art museums around the country are struggling mightily to make themselves appealing to millennials and to what we now call “diverse” audiences by creating their own apps, as well as by acquiring and exhibiting contemporary art, as well as art by women, latinos, Africans, Asians and whomever else", let alone "Pleasure and prestige for museum curators and directors is acquiring more works for their permanent collections, not in seeing more and different people come through the doors.") But the central thesis - that American museums could divert some of their major acquisition funds into defraying admission charges - is interesting. His argument that America's entrance charges are the only thing keeping wider audiences away however is disputed by the data.

Saturday 11 March 2017

Reading list, 11 March 2017

Showing how Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse will become an icon of Auckland: Simon Wilson's first column for the new Auckland focus of The Spinoff uses the public art work to outline its kaupapa.

Science historian and writer Rebecca Priestley shares a reading list for her MA in creative non-fiction.

In the States, 'downsizing boomers' start donating their artworks (no mention of the tax incentives).

There is a mild irony to this article about "the greatest single loss of cultural artefacts from Britain", given the general British museum stance on repatriation.

'Can I have some more?' - Shelley Bernstein on the Barnes Foundation's latest lessons from visitor-testing their new interpretation for their galleries via smart watches.

Colleen Dilenschneider on the reputational boost to MOMA since they rehung their galleries to focus on artists from the Trump administration's travel ban countries.

Josh Niland for Hyperallergic on the Max Beckmann painting that changed American art museum collection policies in the 1970s (and still affects today's collection management).

Saturday 4 March 2017

Reading list, 4 March 2017

File under here-we-go-again: Dorothy Howard's 'The Social-Mediafication of Museums' for Canadian Art.

Sheila Regan, 'In Mainstream Museums, Confronting Colonialism While Curating Native American Art', for Hyperallergic.

Looking outside my own sector - Ballet Austin conducts research & audience experiments into understanding how people might move from being attendees at 'traditional' performances to 'contemporary' performances. It's all about removing the gulf of the unknown.

Gearing up: Thomas P. Campbell's 'The Folly of Abolishing the N.E.A.' for the New York Times. Campbell has of course since announced his resignation as director of the Met.

Ross King for Aeon on how Monet & the Impressionists were introduced first to American collectors, and via collectors to the museums: 'How wealthy Americans grew to appreciate the French Impressionist painter – as an artist but also as a financial asset'.

'Losing Streak' by Kathryn Schulz  for the New Yorker - an essay that goes from humour to heartache in one elegant spiral.

Why do a blockbuster for free? Mark Garrison's 'Yayoi Kusama exhibit is an economic puzzle for museum' for Market Place.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

On widowhood

After the baby is born, you use days to tell other people your baby’s age, then you say the weeks, then the months, and then your baby has accumulated a whole year, and this becomes the most useful unit for measuring a human’s existence.

As a childless person, I don't go in much for the genre of parental writing. But a few weeks ago I was deeply affected by a piece Thomasin Sleigh wrote for The Spinoff, about how the experience of becoming a parent alters your relationship to time.

At the same time that many of my peers were becoming mothers, I became a widow. My husband killed himself. It wasn't a surprise, but it was a shock: perhaps childbirth, and then motherhood, is like that? A nearly indescribable event, and then a permanently altered state.

After reading Thomasin's essay several times, I wrote to her:

I've often thought that death is my closest connection to motherhood. Like giving birth, being a widow is a new category of being that descends you between one moment and the next. You count the passage of time in days, then weeks, then months, then years and parts thereof. All other dates take their position in the calendar from that date. Plus, you're sleep deprived, to the point where the walls start to shimmer, but that's all part of your elevation out of normal day life. 
It's a transcendent experience that is both utterly unique and also shared by almost everyone.

The word didn't come to me straight away. It wasn't until the following day that I understood I was a widow. The realisation was a door swinging shut on me: it came to me mid-step, mid-conversation, and it arrested me. I had no say in it, yet there I was: trapped, branded, cloaked by a social construction that couldn't possibly apply to me, but irrevocably did.

I tried to joke, of course, and the title Widow Johnston did have a certain ring to it, especially at my age. I turned 33 the day after my husband's funeral: my age made the state incongruous. Widows didn't look like me - particularly me in the weeks and months after the funeral, suddenly slimmed down by the adrenaline and sleeplessness, charged with energy. 'Widow Johnston' was a joke, an effort to normalise my new life, to have a code word that let us say 'This situation is ridiculous'. It hurt though. That's the point of black humour. It lets you let the pain in.

I embarked on a new role. One part of it was what I called 'grief administration': on top of closing bank accounts and phone accounts and updating insurance details and electricity bills and collecting his things from his workplace, my husband died intestate, without a will. I do not recommend this; it's a world of forms and lawyer's bills, of walking around with a death certificate in your handbag.

The other part was accepting other people's emotion. To begin with, this was a privilege: in the end it was exhausting. Sometimes people's interest was truly caring, and sometimes it was gossip-grubbing: sometimes it was just surreal. I had an inner circle whose sympathy and love I will be forever grateful for: I also have a little clutch of stories about the outrageous things people said to me, things that still make make me shake my head in wonder.

The same year that my husband died, Rebecca Lindenberg published her first book, Love, an Index, a collection of poems about the death of her own partner. In 'Losing Language: A Phrasebook' she articulates beautifully what I was groping towards:

He'll always be with you You don't have to try so hard

You're so brave I wonder what it's like when you're alone

You're so strong I can see you've showered

You've handled it with such grace You've done nothing that can't be repaired

Let me know if you need anything I won't come round again

It was hard not to get caught up in it. Within the arts community my husband was well known, and his sudden death attracted attention: attracted attention to me. I received so much praise for being young, for being strong, for coping so well. Lindenberg knew this too: both she and her partner were writers, and he died in a mysterious manner. "knows she's famous / in a tiny, tragic way. / She's not / daft, / after all" she writes in 'The Girl With The Ink-Stained Teeth'. There's a glamour to early widowhood: I can't deny it.

At times, high on emotion and attention and the supercharged nature of that first year, I thought about writing a book, or a set of essays, or even (you can see how swept up I was) giving a TED talk. To find an outlet for all the urgency, the words, the experiences, all the insights I'd been having and having shared with me.

And then I got past it. With time, widow stopped defining me. I met new people, people who knew nothing about my past, who took me at face value. And other people moved on - faster than you'd think they would. The first era of my widowhood ended one evening at a gallery opening. An artist - a woman with a very beautiful, very sad face - came towards me looking mournful. Before she spoke, I said to her "Don't. Please don't. I can't talk about it any more." And she looked at me, puzzled - talk about what? I had read her beautiful, sorrowful face as sadness for me: it was salutary to realise that actually, she just has resting sad face. It was time to stop thinking that people were thinking about me more than they were. Inflated by circumstance, I had to come back to normal size.

Still, I often wonder if I ever get to stop being a widow. Does it wear off? With each year of a new relationship do I chip away at my widowness, until eventually it is erased? Is there a statute of limitations: will I get a letter one day from Births, Deaths and Marriages, returning me to my pre-wedded state? Or is the only way to stop being a widow to start being a wife again?

There are so many differences between motherhood and widowhood; the two should probably not ever be conflated. Perhaps the clearest difference (putting aside that one starts with the beginning of a life, and the other with the ending) is that widowhood, or at least my experience of it, does recede. This Easter I will mark my fifth anniversary of becoming a widow. Where once widowhood felt like a carapace that encased me - as obvious as those steel structures that shore up earthquake-prone buildings - today the exoskeleton has sunk inside me, sits somewhere alongside my ribs and hipbones, invisible but defining my shape in the world.

On the outside, you can't tell a widow from any other woman. But last year, when I was asked to describe the most important influence on my character, it was this that I picked. Not my husband's death, so much, but the way I had to rebuild my identity after it, to take myself back. The widow is invisible from the outside, but she's still there inside me.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Saturday 11 February 2017

Reading list, 11 February 2017

MOMA protests Trump's immigration executive order by replacing works throughout its 5th floor collection galleries with works by artists from the seven banned countries. A pointed, powerful and on-mission gesture.

Pippin Barr on the difficulty of displaying water in the (video game) gallery.

Mary Pelletier for Hyperallergic on the gypsum-window workshop at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque.

Alexandra Lange for Curbed: "The forgotten history of Japanese-American designers’ World War II internment".

Robin Pobegrin for the NYT: "Is the Met Museum ‘a Great Institution in Decline’?"

Anthony Byrt for Paperboy on Michael Parekowhai's new Auckland public sculpture, The Lighthouse.

Colleen Dilenschneider on a drop in the US "High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index" (the expressed interest from current non-visitors to visit a cultural institution) since the US election. This sounds dry, but it's actually quite fascinating.

Saturday 4 February 2017

Reading list, 4 Feb 2017

Seb Chan's annual end of year wrap

An in-depth article on free museum admission in the Atlanta context

With rumoured cuts to the NEA and America, Art News goes into its archives to find examples of tension between political decision-makers and the arts funding organisation.

Fascinating longer read: Patrick Sisson's 'How Your Mall Sausage Gets Made in Columbus, Ohio'.

Devin Leonard in Bloomberg Business Week: 'George Lucas Can’t Give His $1.5 Billion Museum Away'.

The latest from Good, Form & Spectacle - a new tool to explore MOMA's exhibitions data.

By Graham Bowley, for the New York Times: What if Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts?

Saturday 28 January 2017

Reading list, 28 January 2017

Very NYT biased - must still be slow news season.

Adam Nagourney profiles LACMA director Michael Govan and his mission to reshape the museum's campus; Govan commissions photographer Vera Lutter to document the buildings that will be demolished using a camera obscura.

Roberta Hughes recaps the 25-year history of New York's Outsider Art Fair and positions "outsider art" as an alternative narrative to Conceptual Art in an interesting way.

Joshua Barone profiles designer Irma Boom and her development of a library of radical book design.

The NYT magazine produces 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going, noted especially for the design of this interactive feature.

Yale produces principles on renaming - canvassing the vexed issue of monuments and buildings named for people whose beliefs and actions no longer fit with social mores. (Download the PDF here)

Incoming Tate director Maria Belshaw on the art that stood out for her in 2016.

Friday 20 January 2017

Art News New Zealand column, Summer 2017

Museums and data collection

Browsing around online this week, I saw a picture – a heatmap visualisation – that showed the paths visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago take as they move through the museum's million square feet of display space.

Once, this information would have to be collected by hand, through visitor surveys or physically tracking people. Today, the information is easily and cheaply collected by tracking visitors' smartphone connections to the museum's wifi network.

We live in a time where we constantly exchange personal information for convenience or access. We hand over contact details, and dates of birth for loyalty cards at stores in exchange for discounts and marketing. We buy from sites like Amazon, which store our browsing and shopping behaviour and use this to tailor the information they present to us, and others. We organise and communicate our lives through social networks, which sell our attention on to advertisers. Our behaviour is commoditised, predicted, and traded in an opaque, yet increasingly valuable, market.

Collecting information about visitors has been an imprecise business for museums and galleries. Hand counting, automated door counters and visitor surveying didn’t enable visitor surveillance. But, as a paper called 'Mobiles Phones and Visitor Tracking' presented at the 2011 American Museums and the Web conference observed of this new use of smartphone tracking:

"the opportunity not only to track the paths of visitors unobserved, but also to record anything from their overall dwell time in the museum to dwell times in front of specific exhibits, their previous visits to the museum and the time between visits, and even the country where their phone is registered, has the potential to dramatically assist museums in areas from exhibit design to marketing."

Methods aside from involuntary tracking are in widespread use. MONA's O device replaces wall panels with interpretation delivered via an iPod - and collects information about where visitors went and how long they spent in front of each work. The Pen at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, the Ask App at the Brooklyn Museum and the text message-based rewards programme at the Dallas Museum of Art all collect information about visitor movements.  Each tracks the galleries and objects that do and don't attract visitors' time and attention.

None of this is inherently evil, of course. And having data to back up observations and anecdotal feedback on what visitors are doing and enjoying (or not doing and not enjoying) is invaluable.

At the same time, the imbalance of knowledge between what institutions are doing and what visitors are aware of makes me uneasy. As does the way our ability to easily collect and store data about our visitors vastly outstrips the resource we can apply to managing that data now and into the future.

Concerns about the collection, security and use of data – from shaming philanders on dating sites to influencing national elections – are hardly new.

A theme in this discourse that I find fascinating is the comparison of the data age with the nuclear age. Internet thinkers Cory Doctorow and Maciej Ceglowski have compared the responsibility of managing nuclear power to that of data power: as far back as 2008 Doctorow wrote that "We should treat personal electronic data with the same care and respect as weapons-grade plutonium – it is dangerous, long-lasting and once it has leaked there's no getting it back." Ceglowski echoed this thought at the 2015 O'Reilly Big Data conference, saying we should think of reservoirs of stored data as "not as a pristine resource, but as a waste product, a bunch of radioactive, toxic sludge that we don’t know how to handle", and going on to say "information about people retains its power as long as those people are alive, and sometimes as long as their children are alive. No one knows what will become of sites like Twitter in five years or ten. But the data those sites own will retain the power to hurt for decades."

It is easy, in a time of falling public funding and increased competition for the philanthropic dollar, to imagine a scenario where selling visitor data to third parties becomes an appealing (or necessary) scenario. We in cultural organisations think of ourselves as the white hats and the good guys. Libraries in particular have a strong ethos of free and protected access to information. As institutions trusted to collect, preserve and manage society's material culture and expressions of creativity and knowledge, we need to apply the same forethought and ethics to the data we collect from and use on behalf of the public, always asking - who benefits from our data collections, and how do we keep our people and institutions safe?

Saturday 14 January 2017

Reading list, 14 January 2016

I'm really enjoying the writing on Racked right now. Here's Cory Baldwin interviewing designer Liz Pape on her decision to publish in detail the costs of producing her garments.

When is a sad burger excusable, and when is it not? NYT food critic Pete Wells, profiled in the New Yorker last year, gave a zero stars review to a chain of LA restaurants trying to improve food options in different neighbourhoods. Eater explores Wells' reasoning and tracks the backlash.

danah boyd's 'Hacking the Attention Economy' looks at how hacking of mainstream media has transitioned from lulz to serious political impact.

On my last trip to the US, the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis stole my heart - largely because of the coherence of its identity, which spread all the way from language classes to exhibitions to the cafe. So I was fascinated to read about Sweet Home Cafe, the restaurant inside the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

Thomasin Sleigh's 'Babies and time: The stolen and beloved minutes, weeks, days, nights and years' is a wonderful read, regardless of whether you are a parent or not.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Tiny Letter newsletter update

I've been writing a weekly newsletter using Tiny Letter since April last year. As part of my new year mental clear out, I'm changing my approach to this newsletter.

Previously, I've largely focused on a longer and more elaborate version of the Reading Lists I publish here every weekend. However, the most positive feedback I've received on the newsletter has been occasioned by more personal essays, like this one about watching pro wrestling, or this one about getting my purple belt.

So, to reduce the number of deadlines in my life, and to push my writing a bit, I'll be using the newsletter from now on to explore the personal essay format. If you'd like to subscribe here's the link.

This blog will keep being a repository for interesting things I've read, presentation and talk notes, and publishing pieces of writing I've produced elsewhere.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Reading list, 7 January 2017

Bloomberg Business Week's round up of the best articles (published elsewhere) in 2016 is full of gems - I particularly like how it ranges out to food journalism, a topic I read very little about but always enjoy when I do.

Glenn Fleishman for The Atlantic on the history and internet-enabled decline of the curly quote.

Wesley Morris for the NYTVisiting the African-American Museum: Waiting, Reading, Thinking, Connecting, Feeling.

A virtuoso breakdown of the influence of one of my most favourite ever songs: Kit Lovelace's 'All Mapped Out' for Popbitch.

Rob Walker's 'The Year in Nine Objects' for The New Yorker. More end of year lists like this, please.

Another instance of the evolution away from advertising-funded arts coverage: a Buffalo radio station will add an arts and culture desk this year, producing around 50 segments on local culture, supported by two philanthropic groups.