Friday, November 27, 2015

Showing off

How often do you hear art museums explaining (or, on odd occasions, complaining) that they can only show a tiny proportion of their collections? Almost as often as they promise to make the works in store accessible to the public by turning some galleries into what they call ‘open-store’. But yes, occasionally it happens. In the eighties you couldn’t go into a public art museum without seeing hundreds of paintings double, triple and even quadruple hung, but the fever has passed. The Dowse pulled out a few cabinets last year and rather than displaying objects in them left them just as they were in storage. People liked it. OK you couldn’t see the objects 360 degrees but you got the idea and it was 100 percent better than not seeing them at all. Te Papa has opened its physical storerooms for a few tours but their promised permanent open store has never eventuated.

Today we saw the most cynical version of open storage at the new Broad Museum in LA. After the promise of the architects' over-heated metaphor for the Broad of 'the veil and the vault', we were expecting something special in the way of access to the collections. What we got were a couple of windows opening onto the art store. 'Look,' they seemed to be saying, 'here's all the stuff we have that you can't see.' Tiers of racks, a couple of paintings on view and tantalising glimpses of the staff going about their business. Open storage, so near and yet so far away.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cast of one

The decision-making process of the selection panel for the Venice Biennale is not open to the public. We've never heard a convincing reason as to why this should be necessary, but this year, with 10 members, it started opening up anyway. By piecing together bits of information a picture of what went on can be suggested.

It was always going to be tough to get a decision out of such a large and diverse group of panelists. The mix was four curatorial, one artist, two fund-raisers, three arts council members, and a commissioner (a former chair of Creative NZ) who had the casting vote. In past years the curatorial voice was more dominant and in some memorable instances the commissioner just cut to the chase and made the call.

Our understanding is that this time there was a fifty-fifty split among the panelists and that a long and stressful debate ensued. There was always going to be mixed opinions about how a work so focused on eighteenth century colonisation was going to play in a Europe nearly two more years into coping with ongoing waves of refugees, leaking borders and terrorist assault. One version of events has at least one panel member so upset by the process they left the room.

Given the weighting of Creative NZ representatives and doing some arithmetic, we suspect that the fund-raisers probably voted for a different project. Getting money in is a huge and growing challenge for NZ at Venice. It was why there were two fundraisers/ patrons on the panel after all. The government contribution via Creative NZ is only part of the story. For instance, for the Denny outing it was the dealers who coughed up for the crucial networking party, the lavish catalogue as well as other costs along the way. In past years the ever-generous Jenny Gibbs has offered strong financial support so all eyes will be on Alastair Carruthers who apparently secured Reihana’s place with his casting vote.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bang on

We are going to be in the US and Canada for a few weeks so posting may be intermittent. In the meantime here is a link to digital game artist Pippin Barr’s latest work A series of gunshots. It’s not hard to play but has a real punch to it. You can read a rave review here on Boingboing. #parents

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Song of praise

For the November auction season three houses offer thee,

11 Ralph Hoteres
9 Bill Hammonds
7 Stephen Bamburys
4 Allen Maddoxs
4 Michael Parekowhais
3 Shane Cottons
3 Peter Peryers
3 Peter Robinsons
2 Gordon Walterss
2 Pat Hanlys
1 Donald Binney

and at A + O a pic from Jae Hoon Lee

Catalogues: A+O, Webb's, Bowerbank Ninow

Monday, November 23, 2015

Slim pickings

The recent wrangling over money and who-did-what-to-whom by Stephen Bambury and his ex dealer Andrew Jensen was revealing about how the artist dealer relationship works. (You can now read the full transcript of the judge’s findings here.) Word is that Jensen will appeal so more to come.

In the meantime, the case reminded us of a document sent to us over 40 years ago by Philip Clairmont. It sets out the financial details of an exhibition Phil had in 1974 and demonstrates how complicated the art business can be and why artists often feel aggrieved by their share of sales. Bear in mind that the commission taken by dealers in the 1970s was 33/3 percent and not the 50 percent most ask for today.

In this case two of Clairmont’s paintings were sold from an exhibition for $290.00. As usual the dealer deducted a commission of $96.67. To complicate the situation though, a month or so before the show opened, Clairmont had sold a painting to a public art gallery for $370.00. It had been promised for the gallery's exhibition so feeling that it had missed out of the sale and the commission, the gallery deducted $61.66 from its payment to Clairmont for the exhibition sales. This amount was half of its standard commission if it had been given the work to sell. Some gallery costs were also deducted including mailing, printing invitations, catalogues and wine (at $2.50 probably not so great) adding up to a total of $42.60. And then there was a loan for some materials deducted (hessian at $5.00, hardboard and cardboard at  $17.89) plus the cost of returning a painting at $7.50. Another loan of $5.00 for fares so Clairmont could attend the exhibition opening was put aside.

So after the wash-up, Phil's cheque from the gallery was for $58.67. In 1974 that was the equivalent of 13 hours work at the average hourly rate.

Friday, November 20, 2015

King for a day

First, the fulsome praise bit. Potton and Burton has just published another of their high quality art books. This time round Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney have dealt to the Wellington commercial artist and painter Marcus King who was hard at work from the 1930s to the 1970s. As with the other books from P&B, it's a stylish presentation of the artist's work, the context in which it was produced and an extensive selection of photographs and well researched information. If you want to get a sense of how NZ's tourist industry was shaped or how the idea of New Zealandness was forwarded, this is the book for you. 

Moving on.

What's going on with Colin McCahon? It is an embarrassment to anyone seriously interested in New Zealand contemporary art that a formidable volume on Marcus King is available and the equivalent on Colin McCahon is…um…not. The McCahon record is dispersed over exhibition catalogues, Gordon Brown’s book Colin McCahon Artist (published 31 years ago with primitive reproductions), a scattering of slimmer volumes following individual interests, and an online catalogue database with deficiencies that we've written about before. The most substantial recent effort was Marja Bloem and Martin Browne's A question of faith produced over a decade ago and published by none other than Craig Potton (now Potton Burton) with the Stedelijk Museum. Producing the fundamental tool of a catalogue raisonné still seems to be beyond the ability or interests of NZ art institutions or academics, but even so, how about a serious publication delivering Colin McCahon on the same footing as Marcus King? Come on.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Post Len Lye

One of the great New Zealand fashion/artist combos for our money (Amour wind breaker) was when Workshop worked with John Reynolds. This time the reach is right into the grave with Lim Bowden’s Deadly Ponies taking on Len Lye. DP have looked at Lye’s Trade Tattoo from 1937 and Rainbow dance made a year earlier, ironically made for the Post Office Savings Bank - a little off brand for Deadly Ponies.  The new line of wallets, bags and scarf were produced to coincide with the opening of the Len Lye Centre. The fashion company says it has, “re-created the energy from Lye’s work” sadly something that didn’t happen with the latest iteration of Fountain. Bowden told Urbis magazine that one of his own favourite artist fashion designer combos is “Valentino’s recent collaboration with Canadian artist, Christi Belcourt. It is inspiring because neither of the participant’s work was diluted; only made more beautiful through working together”.

Images: left Len Lye and right Deadly Ponies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peter’s place

Today we have loaded up some photos from 147 Cuba Street onto OTN STUDIO

A Requiem Mass will be held for Peter McLeavey in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill Street, Wellington today at 2.00pm. It will be followed by a private interment at Taita Cemetery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


If you were in Sydney early in 1992, you're in for a bit of déjà vu all over again at Te Papa. As part of their new re-hang of the national collection, the curators have made an elegant homage to an earlier exhibition. This exhibition was part of their own history back when they were known as the National Art Gallery. The last time Julian Dashper’s Mural for a contemporary house and Lillian Budd’s Modern world were coupled was in Headlands

It was the opening exhibition for the MCA in Sydney (kinda amazing for an Australian institution to launch with NZ art, and hasn't been done again) and curated by the National Art Gallery's Robert Leonard. Ok, there was a curatorium (why don’t they use cool names like that any more? … oh, that’s right, we remember), but it was Leonard’s exhibition, and the Dashper Budd combo is about as pure Leonard as you can get. There are other more subtle echoes of Headlands in the Te Papa hang in the selection of artists (Dawson, Derek Cherrie) as well as the title of this section (Mod Cons in Headlands, Open Homes at Te Papa). So if you want to experience something with more than a bit of the flavour of Headlands, head to Te Papa, but don't expect to see that history acknowledged. Nowhere on the signage or labels is there any link back to the MCA, Leonard or Te Papa's own connections with these objects. Seems a weird way to participate in art history. Or maybe the similarity in the selections is just a coincidence and George Santayana was right, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Images: top Headlands 1992 and bottom Te Papa 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Peter McLeavey 147 Cuba Street

It was never hard to find Peter McLeavey, he'd be sitting at his desk at 147 Cuba Street. If you stayed for a few minutes in the first larger room looking at the exhibition, he'd get up from his desk and come in to talk to you, whoever you were. Everyone has their own Peter McLeavey story but they usually start with one of these conversations because Peter was, before anything else, the great salesman of New Zealand art. And Peter wasn’t just selling the art works he might have in the Gallery at the time, but the whole enterprise. It included the artists he didn't represent, as well as the ones he did, the exhibitions at public institutions, the other dealers, the writers, and the wildly different audiences art attracted. When he did sell work from his own stock or exhibitions it was always with great finesse, quietly revealing to collectors (prospective and actual) the potential of their own choices. And what choices we all had from the exhibitions we saw over the decades: Colin McCahon's Walk with me, the large Woollaston landscapes painted on a full sheet of hardboard, Peter Peryer’s portraits of his wife Erika, Michael Smither’s cross-shaped homages to Rita Angus, Robin White's incisive portraits of Sam Hunt, Jacqueline Fraser's remarkable string maze, Peter Robinson’s percentage works, Julian Dashper’s deconstructed frames, Gordon Walters' Korus,  Billy Apple’s interventions .... the list is long, it is extraordinary, and it is Peter's legacy.

Openings at 147 Cuba Street were a magnet to anyone keen on contemporary art. Peter would pour famously astringent wine and on occasion step up onto a small chair to deliver a brief speech usually concluding with his familiar self-deprecating grin. But we're not talking about a man lacking in self-confidence here. For all his much-admired eccentricities, Peter ran a very tight ship indeed. When you were buying a work on time payment, monthly invoices arrived exactly on time. The envelopes were most often addressed in green ink in the well-known McLeavey hand and the accounting, even when tracing the most complex arrangements, was always 100 percent accurate. As he might have said himself, that was the McLeavey Way.

The McLeavey Way was also about creating a sense of excitement and mystery around the work in the Gallery. A painting might be tucked away in the store room, but with the door left open just enough to give a tantalising glimpse. How often were paintings left leaning face against the wall taunting you to have a look after noticing Peter was conveniently in the next room. Countless collections reflect Peter's ability to coax great works out of the studio. 'I must do more for my artists,' he'd often tell Gallery visitors and the artists, knowing they had a champion, sent great works to Wellington.

Peter has been unwell for some time and we've witnessed him slowly withdraw from the world he so dominated for nearly 50 years. That his daughter Olivia has taken over the Gallery must have been a great delight to him for it was also a family affair. Anyone who visited the Peter McLeavey Gallery regularly would have come to meet his wife Hillary and his other two children Catherine and Dominic. We are thinking of them now and what never again seeing Peter at his desk at 147 Cuba Street means to us all.

1974. Peter McLeavey puts down the hammer, steps back and gives Colin McCahon's The Song of the Shining Cuckoo a long appraising look. Turning to a regular visitor watching him he says, 'Terrific isn’t it?' It was. And so was he.

Image: Peter McLeavey, September 1989. The painting is by Julian Dashper

Friday, November 13, 2015

Peter McLeavey 1936-2015

Peter McLeavey, Wellington's great art dealer has died.

Takes two to tango

It’s not too often that you walk into a public art museum and experience a bout of hyperkulturemia #stendhalsyndrome. Yet in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery last week we saw two very familiar paintings in an unexpected juxtaposition of great personal meaning. One was Julian Dashper’s large painting Rural Sheraton. As we'd lent this painting to the Gallery ourselves there were no surprises there (although we were pleased to see it hanging again) but it was the company it was keeping that caused the reaction. The last time we saw Colin McCahon’s Series D (Ahipara) it was hanging on the far wall of the smaller room at Peter McLeavey’s Gallery in Wellington. That was over 40 years ago. Back then we had placed a hopeful second option on it, but it was never going to happen. As far as we know it went overseas with its new owner who many years later put it on loan to Dunedin. 

To see these two works together showed just what public art museums can do that is so particular to them: putting great things together to create new ways of seeing and thinking. The chances that Julian’s painting would ever sit next to this great McCahon were never high and if it were to happen it could only ever be via a public collection. In a couple of weeks at Wellington's City Gallery there's going to be another pairing of McCahon and Dashper in another public institution, Wellington's City Gallery. This one will be something that Julian always hoped would happen: his Here I was given alongside Colin McCahon’s Here I give thanks to Mondrian. Now that is going to be something to see.

Images: Left  Colin McCahon’s Series D (Ahipara) and right Julian Dashper's Rural Sheraton at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Having a ball

Has any New Zealand sculpture become as iconic as Neil Dawson’s Ferns? Over the years we have posted a number of examples of how the work has come to symbolise Wellington. It was a bit of a shock then when it came down and it was reported that a replacement would be required rather than a fix-up. So good news when visiting Neil Dawson’s studio last week to see a small model of Ferns on his desk and Neil working on how to produce a more robust version of the sculpture. That's not going to be as easy as you might think as there's a lot of pressure to have the replacement look as much like the original as possible and Neil is determined to retain Ferns' lightness and ethereal grace. There are certainly some complicated design problems to sort out. Coincidentally, driving up the Island yesterday, we saw the original Ferns where it has been stored.  When you see it on the ground, the size and the weight are pretty dominant and the memory of it serenely hanging in space above Civic Square even more impressive.

Images: top, Neil Dawson’s studio with the original model for Ferns at the back and an experimental design model resting on the table. Bottom, the original Ferns in store in Wellington

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Drawing lots

The first catalogue of the Auckland-based auction house Bowerbank Ninow is now online. It’s a small selection with some interesting finds among the 44 works as well reasonable sounding estimates. The et al. installation Mule Table (On the difficult problem in the phenomenal world) would be something of a bargain even at its top estimate of $12,000. They've winkled out some auction favourites too with three works by Shane Cotton, four by W D Hammonds and a couple by Colin McCahons. Photography has been mixed in with Peter Peryer, Yvonne Todd and Michael Parekowhai all represented. Of special interest are three photographs by Mark Adams of Tony Fomison getting his pe'a from Samoan master tattooists. Tony could only endure so much of this demanding process at a time so the full tattoo was created over many venues and many months. We were present at one of the ‘sessions’ that took place in painter Tony Lane’s Island Bay living room with Sese Lemamea in charge of the tapper and chisel. The last two lots are intriguing drawings made by Edward Bullmore for some of his Astro form paintings. This is the series that appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s film Clockwork Orange so some fascinating associations there. As we've posted before, Bowerbank Ninow intend to return a small percentage of the hammer price to the artists.

Images: left, Edward Bullmore sculpture as seen in A Clockwork Orange and right, Edward Bullmore drawing up for sale at Bowerbank Ninow’s auction.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Your tax dollar at work

Anyone looking at the latest round of general Creative NZ grants was in for a pleasant surprise. The majority of the funding for the 15 visual arts grants has been gone to women, 68.5 percent of it in fact.  And most of those grants (seven of nine) went direct to the artists concerned. That meant they received $271,965 all up plus another $25,000 to galleries for two publications. The guys got $95,680 (24 percent) although it was kind of supplemented by a separate $50,000 to the Serpentine Galleries for Simon Denny’s exhibition via Creative NZ’s International Presentation category. For some reason a similar grant of $26,160 to the IMA in Brisbane for a Luke Willis Thompson exhibition was included in the general grants.

There also seems to have been a significant rule change around the funding of university staff. Since the university art schools decided making art was ‘research’, the funding of their staff through Creative NZ was covered by a double–dipping rule (i.e. the same activity being funded by the state through both the tertiary sector and through Creative NZ) and they were specifically excluded in many circumstances by the following clause:

“employees of tertiary or other educational institutions, if the arts activity for which they are seeking funding is part of their job to include a written statement from your Head of Department, or the equivalent position, confirming that the activity is not part of your job”.

It was always hard to understand when their art making was not part of their research and hence their job so it will be interesting to see whether this change is bureaucratic (simplifying processes) or strategic (accepting the dominance of the tertiary sector over the contemporary art scene in NZ). While there is a case for staff at smaller educational institutions without much in the way of research resources to be funded, it's hard to understand in some other cases. In this round, for example, why couldn't a university the size of Massey stump up with $49,000 for one of its well-paid Associate Professors to prepare for a PBRF-rich public art museum exhibition?

You can see the former Creative NZ rules in full here on the Wayback machine (Let's hear it for the internet).