Saturday, February 06, 2016

Chewing the Turner

Two British comedians in drag taking the piss out of art, what more could you ask for on a Saturday morning?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Fall guy

Big has always been…um…big on OTN. When we saw that this jumbo-sized (36 meters high) statue of Mao was being built in China last year with a price tag of just under $700,000, of course we tagged it for a post. How quickly things change. No sooner was the major Mao finished than it was internationally mocked so that just weeks later, mumbling about ‘lack of registration and approval’, local officials had the golden giant taken down.

The giant-statue-of-me business is a tough one. As a rule of thumb, the more tyrannical you are as a leader, the better your chances of ending up nose down in the mud. And usually with the added indignity of a mocking crowd to celebrate your fall. The International Business Times did a useful round-up of the fallen recently, you can see it here.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The space age

Has the venue for NZ's next Venice outing in 2017 has been nailed? A couple of OTN readers have suggested so. We do know Commissioner Carruthers (hereon ComCar) was always keen to get a venue that could give some certainty to NZ going to Venice on the long term, given the possibility that Creative NZ could bail on major funding in the future. Now it sounds as though his desire for a permanent space within the Arsenale has been fulfilled. But, we're not talking King Hit venue like Simon Denny at the Marciana Library or tourist trap like Bill Culbert's Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà and it would be behind the Biennale's paywall. If it's sharing the building that the Vatican and Turkey were in last year, it’s somewhat off the beaten track but given ComCar 's focus on continuity for the future it’s probably the safe bet. Ideal of course for 2017 as Lisa Reihana's projection with its complex technical backup will suit a more conventional space. The other possibility CNZ and ComCar might have had eyes on is one of the spaces right down the end of the Arsenale exhibition hall, but let’s not go there (no-one else does). The downside of the Arsenale overall is that most of the recently made available spaces are around the back of the huge exhibition hall and most people get there via the long trek through the acres of art that go to make a Venice curator’s exhibition. We’ve been tinkering with the venue thing since we first went to Venice in 2001 with mixed results, not all of them the fault of the venue. Will moving into the Arsenale be the best way to go? It depends on how you weight the logic of pragmatism against the serendipity of opportunity.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Let one thousand garden gnomes bloom

In the eighties there was a game played by art gallery people called ‘One thousand gnomes’. A popular theory at the time (and this probably still holds good) was that one gnome was unexhibitable, one hundred gnomes was impressive but no more, one thousand gnomes on the other hand…. From that starting point the game was to devise the title of an exhibition of 1000 Gnomes that captured the styles of the various institutions around the country. This set (via a dot-matrix printer!) turned up the other day. It says a lot about the times. Some of the art institutions have since changed their names, but you get the idea.

Auckland Art Gallery

Manawatu Art Gallery
Gnomes: methods and materials

Sarjeant Gallery
Gnomes - a survey exhibition

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery
The Gnome Project

National Art Gallery
Gnome / Gnomic

Dowse Art Gallery
Gnomes: a celebration

Bishop Suter Art Gallery
1000 Nelson Gnomes

Robert McDougall Art Gallery
The Gnome in Canterbury
Dunedin Art Gallery
Buick Randall: a gnome maker and his circle

Tuesday, February 02, 2016


At OTN we’ve always been great fans of reading the entrails. Back a ways a haruspex used to interpret the divine will by inspecting the entrails of a sacrificial animal. So here for you all to interpret are some Te Papa's entrails as revealed in the media recently. 

•   Te Papa will take no international touring art exhibitions in 2016. This will be the first year without such an exhibition since the museum opened.

•   There will be no temporary exhibitions for the next five years unless they are from the permanent collection.

•   Te Papa is to collaborate with Weta Workshop to create experience based touring exhibitions to hire out to the global ‘museum’ market. Chief executive Rick Ellis has said that these touring plans will ‘help shape the museum for another stellar year in 2016’.

•   Rick Ellis also believes that the 1.56 million visitors this year were ‘driven to the museum by the "destination exhibitions" Tyrannosaurs, Air New Zealand and Gallipoli’

•   Te Papa has made it clear that it recognises ‘the importance of the Chinese market.’

•   To build links with Australia, Ellis had assigned ‘senior leaders to each state’ (‘Art, I’m giving you Western Australia…the bottom bit’).

What can it all mean for art at Te Papa? Prize for the best answer.

LATER: Meanwhile back in the rest of the world. 'Whatever the motivation, modern and, especially, contemporary art has become so big a draw that few museums can afford to do without it.' – Calvin Tomkins in the New Yorker

Image: bronze instructional liver from Etruria (You can find instructions on how to interpret your own entrails (sic) here)

Monday, February 01, 2016

Winners and losers

Auckland is closed today (Anniversary Day) and of course Artspace is too but behind those closed doors there's a major reno going on. The sign on the door says Artspace will be open again tomorrow and it is certainly going to be a case of more-open-than-usual. The old Nga Taonga Sound & Vision space facing East Street has now become part of Artspace itself as an expansive open area for reading / resources / offices. No more wondering if you dare go through the glass door at the back of the gallery and venture past the toilets and into that office where everyone spins around as you come through the door. OK, some fashion stores do the intimidation thing better, but not many. We're told that Adnan Yildis, Artspace's newish director, figured out how to rejig Artspace a couple of hours after he first saw it. Now, thanks to Sue Gardiner acting as über fundraiser, his idea has been realised just a year after he took up the job. The only loser in the revamp was Oscar Enberg. Having taken on the Christmas Holidays slot, he might have expected his show to be on view for longer than usual, but when we got there it had been ‘Christoed’ to protect it while the builders and painters were doing their thing. Unfortunately it is squeezed at the other end by the opening of Fiona Clarke’s THE BILL to mark the 30th anniversary of Homosexual Law Reform in NZ. No one would suggest mucking around with that important anniversary but maybe the same energies that are galvanising Artspace will find a temporary venue so Enberg’s exhibition can get its full run.

Images: Looks like art, Oscar Enberg’s installation under wraps during the Artspace re-fit.

Friday, January 29, 2016


At the Gluten Free Museum the mixture of proteins found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye, is removed from works of art. More here.

Images: top to bottom, Vincent Van Gogh La méridienne dit aussi La sieste (d'après Millet), Wayne Thiebaud Cake slice and Colin McCahon A grain of wheat (thanks L, very droll)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Blame Canada

The Canadian artist Lawren Harris was being given some serious attention in LA when we passed through recently. He was a member of the Group of Seven who in the 1920s set the tone for modern Canadian painting in the same way that Colin McCahon and Rita Angus did here later. Looking at Harris’s paintings McCahon certainly came to mind and there may well be a direct connection too because in 1938 The Exhibition of Contemporary Canadian Paintings toured New Zealand proving very influential. We know, for instance, that the 30-year old Rita Angus was very taken with the painter Emily Carr. And you have to wonder whether the 19-year old McCahon saw the works by Lawren Harris in the exhibition. Leo Bensemann certainly became a fan boy, but perhaps McCahon found Lawren's striking landscapes an inspiration. In 1939, a year after the Canadian exhibition toured, McCahon turned up with his stripped down painting Harbour Cone from Peggy's Hill. Surely the spirit of Harris is walking on those Dunedin beaches. Onto the research agenda with it.

Images: Top, left Lawren Harris Lake Superior 1928 and right detail. Bottom Colin McCahon Harbour Cone from Peggy's Hill

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Art in the movies: The art of more

Change out the raucous music business  for art and white folk and dah dah - the TV series Empire becomes The art of more. Centered on the battles between two auction houses not a million miles away from Sotheby’s (Parke-Mason) and Christie’s (DeGraaf's), The art of more presents an eclectic range of collectables (cars, space junk and sports memorabilia). Fortunately for OTN art is certainly the lead husky when it comes to cash accumulation. The series producers Chuck Rose and Gardner Stern didn't see the need for an art consultant on the team as they knew themselves what was going on and good for them as it certainly makes the series more fun. A (spoiler alert) faked van Gogh (an odd mix of The starry night, an olive tree painting and some general landscape stuff) easily fools the experts at both Parke-Mason and DeGraaf's as well along with all the other ‘experts’ who inspect it before auction. Well-known paintings from the Met go under that hammer and there's also a contemporary art auction where it gets a little wild. Jeff Koons’s Rabbit is recast as a painting and a stuffed deer in a bath (death-of-Marat-style) takes centre stage. The deer inspires the best art insight of the show when a core cast member explains, 'The artist is saying that it’s a privilege for the deer to die on its own terms and not on the terms of the humans that turned its habitat into concrete and acid rain. That it’s suicide is power.' Dead on.

Images: top to bottom, the fake van Gogh, the Met helps out with auction fodder and conversation with a dead deer

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What a concept

In April the next big show at Tate Britain focuses on conceptual art of the sixties and seventies. It should be the highlight of Billy Apple’s career as he was making conceptual art at the Royal Collage as early as 1960 (Body cleaning : extraction/subtraction) and changed his name to Billy Apple as an artwork in 1962. Although we don't yet have a complete list of the artists to be included in Conceptual art in Britain: 1964-1979, from the promotional material released so far, Apple is unlikely to be even included far less showcased. What does an artist have to do? Tate owns two conceptual pieces by Apple from the earliest days of conceptual art in Britain, both dated 1962. It might not happen often but maybe this is an artist who picked up on an idea too early! A frequent writer on Apple’s work once talked about, 'a general forgetfulness that dogs Apple’s career' but this time it feels like fate itself is against him. There is a small ray of hope, the exhibition’s research brief asked for, ‘analysis of the course of conceptual art in Britain from its genesis in the early and mid-1960s until the late 1970s’ so maybe the 'early' word will allow Apple to slip in. The possibility that Apple heading for New York (the center of contemporary art) in August 1964 might mean he forfeits his chance for the recognition he deserves as a pioneer conceptualist would be well beyond ironic. We’ll keep you posted

Images: conceptual art by Billy Apple in the Tate collection. Left Relation of Aesthetic Choice to Life Activity (Function) 1961–2  and right Self Portraits (Apple Sees Red on Green) 1962

Monday, January 25, 2016

J & J

It's Wellington Anniversary Day today so OTN is taking a quick break. But because the rest of you aren't here's a couple of works by two artists that look like they might have things in common. Not copycats, not even total lookalikes, but definitely on the same page. Back tomorrow.
Images: left Jeffrey Harris's 1990 painting 3 children and right Justin Craun’s Psycho Private 2004

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Barry Brickell 1935-2016

The great potter and sculptor Barry Brickell has died.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pattern language

The Gordon-Walters-koru-is-fair-game industry probably started in earnest around 2010 (about 15 years after his death) and it's still going strong. The bizarre NZ flag competition we've just endured demonstrates that to perfection but there's still more. Last week a reader sent us an image of a painting by well-known American urban art guy Aaron Rose that incorporates the ‘Walters’ koru in the background. Rose did make a brief appearance in New Zealand back in 2012 when he curated a one-day exhibition of prints in Auckland. Maybe that’s when he spied the opportunity. And in another recent sighting, Wayne Youle’s design for a special kiwi collection for the Nespresso’s Grands Crus range. Nespresso explains, ‘ The image makes reference to an early Youle work, Simple Mathematics (2005), where the koru is in its most simple incarnation has the colour palette of Cuisenaire rods…” Gordon Walters was not available for comment.

Images: left,
Nespresso Kiwi Collection and right, Aaron Rose Totem II (whisperer)
(Thanks R and thanks to you too S)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The road goes ever on

If the Walters Prize has done one thing over the years it has been great at upsetting expectations. No one picked Yvonne Todd for the first win and Dan Arps (2010) and Luke Willis Thompson (2014) were both surprises, albeit excellent ones. So what are the chances of Lisa Reihana landing the quinella? If she does that would make her the second artist after et al. to achieve the Venice/ Walters combo. Then there is the opportunity (from our reading of the rules) for someone to be the first to win it twice. As always the selection of the judge will be critical. For instance Simon Denny never had a chance at the last Walters with Charles Esche. One OTN reader reckons that a quick look at the judge's previous two exhibitions predict of who will get the Prize for the year. Maybe.

Some possibilities:
Fiona Connor did a knock out show at Monash that should be a contender again, and definitely Seung Yul Oh’s chance for a nomination on the back of his exhibition at Te Uru.

Hard to go past Michael Parekowhai’s survey exhibition The Promised Land at the Queensland Art Gallery but let's not forget Mike Stevenson’s survey at the MCA in Sydney in 2011 didn’t even manage a nomination, so don't hold your breath.

Fiona Pardington's A beautiful hesitation at the City Gallery has to be up there.

Simon Denny for Dotcom at the Adam, his survey at PS1, Venice and the recent Serpentine show although who would be surprised if he said ‘No thanks’.

There's probably enough recent work by Len Lye to at least put him in the frame.
Ruth Buchanan for her exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.

And what would Billy Apple have to do …..

Image: an OTN artist impression (based on information supplied by readers) of the Walters secret-shopper selection panel. You can find a copy of the Walters Prize rules here on OTNSTUFF. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Melvin (Pat) Day 1923-2016

This weekend Melvin Day died at the age of 92. Pat (as he was known to everyone) was a well-known artist and art historian, of course, but we remember him best as the director of the National Art Gallery (now Te Papa) from 1968 to 1978. It was over this decade that he helped drag the institution into the twentieth century. Although most of us quite rightly see Luit Bieringa as the true hero of contemporary art and the National collection, it was Pat who made the initial and perhaps the most difficult break with the past by committing the institutions to purchases of work made by his contemporaries - Rita Angus, Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere, Gordon Walters, Pat Hanly.  Day also brought a younger generations of aritsts into the collection including Gretchen Albrecht, Chris Booth, Tony Fomison, Vivian Lynn, Ian Scott and Philip Trusttum. It's hard to remember how conservative the National Art Gallery was at that time. The NZ Academy of Fine Arts still held sway well into the 1970s. As a result Day rarely got the credit he deserved, caught between an impatient new art world that never felt he was doing enough, and the holders of the status quo that were convinced he was doing entirely too much. Looking through the acquisitions of Pat's decade it's revealing to see how a flurry of purchases would be followed by a quiet year or two as the forces of reaction pushed back until he regained momentum and got back into it again.

On a more personal note, Pat was a staunch and valued support for a very young and woefully unprepared new director of the Dowse Art Gallery in 1976. For Jim at that time he was the very best company and a generous mentor who knew that the politicking around art institutions could be intense and surprisingly personal. There was nothing quite like getting a call from Pat on a Friday afternoon suggesting a drink to wash away that week's bruising from rogue city councillors and antagonistic visitors. And an invitation to Seatoun to share a meal with Pat and his wife Oroya was always treat. They were both smart, very funny, opinionated and full of not always repeatable stories about who was doing what, but always grounded in a passion for art and history.

Image: a 1948 Self portrait by Melvin Day