Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ground zero

“I don’t want to take credit for bringing him into the art world, but before me he didn’t really have any art.”
Art consultant Maria Brito about her client American rapper Diddy

Just the fax

Who'd have ever thought you could sit down to watch a 72-minute documentary at the Film Festival on the artist Sol LeWitt without him making a single personal appearance. LeWitt was not interested in talking about his work publicly or attending his own openings. “I don’t even want my picture to be used because it has nothing to do with my art” was the LeWitt line. Back in the sixties and seventies this was an accepted position for an artist to take and because he was a terrific artist everyone played ball. In NZ this was also the approach taken by Ralph Hotere and more recently and more controversially by et al. But in 2005 et al's resistance to talking the talk led Creative New Zealand to insert a you-will-talk-to-the-media clause into the Venice Biennale artist contract.

The LeWitt film demonstrated that for all his taciturn approach in public, he was an exceptionally generous man. One of his assistants John Hogan said, “if you had a fax machine and a wall you could have a work by Sol LeWitt”. As we’ve posted before, Sue Crockford had a fax machine and a wall and she also had a Sol LeWitt exhibition. LeWitt showed his famed generosity and sent all the assistants who installed the work a small drawing for their trouble. Remarkably, given the ease with which LeWitt's wall works could be presented internationally and its impact, no NZ public art museum ever took advantage of the Sol LeWitt’s fax and install process. As a footnote, one of Lewitt’s more sculptural works Pyramid is part of the Gibbs collection and is installed on The Farm

Image: Assistants installing a Sol LeWitt work in the eponymous film

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ce n'est pas un crapaud

More on the continuing problems with giant inflatable sculpture in China. Now there's a mega-toad inflatable floating in a Beijing park. The trouble is it looks a bit too much like Jiang Zemin past President of the People's Republic so posting pics of it to the internet in China has been banned. (Thanks again N it's important we all keep ahead on this stuff)

Why is the Fletcher Trust Collection off-loading?

The Fletcher Trust is about to put 77 works from its corporate collection up on the block. It's ironic that, although the collection was started in 1962 via some pressure by Peter Webb of the eponymous auction house, it will be sold through the International Art Centre. With around 600 items this is the largest corporate collection of New Zealand paintings. While only 12 percent is being dumped in this first tranche it's still a surprise and is sure to disappoint a number of artists when it happens on 10 September.

And there's something else. Given that Fletchers aren’t exactly broke and that they're citizens of Auckland it’s hard to understand why these works haven’t simply been gifted to the Auckland Art Gallery. After all, the framing of the collection has always been in terms of its value to New Zealanders and the public interest. “The Fletcher Trust’s intention is that these paintings that constitute a unique record of the whole history of New Zealand art should be seen by as many New Zealanders as possible.”

So who's being culled? It’s hard to say at the level of specific paintings but a few names have been mentioned. Gretchen Albrecht is one. She has eight works in the FT collection including a classic 1985 Hemisphere and the beautiful Snake Charmer from 1976 but there's also a work on paper in the same territory as a large painting so selling it might be understandable in a tough curatorial purge. Ralph Hotere is also mentioned but deciding what to bump is not so easy. He has just six works in the collection and each has been carefully selected from an important period including a very interesting early Sangro painting. Then there's Michael Smither. OK one of the five paintings included (Red Chair from 1979) might get the nod if selling were critical but the other four are outstanding. As for Milan Mrkusich, picking even one of the nine in the collection as not worth keeping would be very hard to justify. The challenge with sales of course is that usually it's the best works that get the best prices.  It would be counter-intuitive to venture into the sales arena with works that that won't get great prices unless you are simply housekeeping. And that would be insulting for the artists.

Finally there's the Alfred Sharpe question. With only four in the FT collection it’s hard to see why any of them would have to go and the idea of gifting back to the nation comes up again. For instance, the national collection held by Te Papa has just four examples of Alfred Sharpe’s work in its entire collection. That's a huge historical gap that could be brilliantly filled by Fletchers.

And so it goes. You can name search the Fletcher collection here and have a go at picking the limping impalas in the herd.

Image: Billy Apple’s painting From the Fletcher Challenge Art Collection in the Fletcher Trust Collection the Fletcher

Monday, July 28, 2014

From the stream

The Internet Party forgot the power of the internet for a critical moment and naively put up this pic of Picasso’s Guernica as a visual of how they partied in Christchurch. No big surprise they got savaged for their troubles. Still, good to know art can still still pull a political punch 77 years after its making. Dotcom and Co have since taken the pic and their tweet off their Twitter stream (why bother?) and replaced it with a clip from Michael Schama’s tv show The Power of Art. You can see the responses to Guernica as a party piece here.

Hire pool

One thing that always works well is getting someone who knows nothing about your business to be Chief Executive. Look how well it turned out for Apple back in the 1980s when the Board turfed out computer nerd Steve Jobs and moved in soft drinks guy John Scully. Why the hell should the CE know about computers? It's a management job? Yes, that was a big success for everyone involved – well it was once Apple got back Steve Jobs. All this leads to the question why Te Papa's Board had decided that Michael Houlihan's replacement as CE “ be drawn from the museum world or other sources (i.e. universities, corporates, and government)”. That word ‘could’ doesn’t sound too encouraging.

So you’ve done your 10,000 hours as a senior manager in finance or run a department in the public sector or headed up one of the polytech-universities, and it's time to step up. Fortunately applying for the Te Papa CE job is very straight forward. Go to the Te Papa site and you are told to contact John Peebles Associates, head hunters based in Remuera. Now that would be fine but the Peebles website isn’t working. In fact it expired a week ago and you've got to assume that either no one has even noticed or the cheque got lost in the mail. What’s an ambitious management guy to do? Give up while you’re ahead might be a good idea.

Experience shows that Te Papa has never been much good at the job thing. Three and a half years after Heather Galbraith left the building Te Papa still hasn't managed to hire a senior art curator. Who knows whether this is because of a lack of priority, an attempt to save money or no one wants the job. Probably it's a mix of the three. So the news that the CE ‘could be drawn from the museum world or other sources’  will just further demoralise staff (the ones who haven’t already run out the door) and depress serious supporters.

Still thanks to its glacial speed and the help it's getting from John Peebles Associates, we're not going to have to worry about the new CE of Te Papa any time soon.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Big blow

So what’s happened to that giant inflatable duck sculpture? you all ask, well a few of you did … ok it was N (thanks N). Since our last report of it puddling out in Hong Kong Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s much loved sculpture has been all over the place and was last sighted floating on a river in China's Guizhou province. But last week an intense storm with heavy rain ripped the yellow one from its moorings and swept it away. To date no one knows where it has gone beyond 'somewhere down river'. A duck double is on the way.
Images: top, the rubber duck is welcomed in China and bottom deflation in Hong Kong

Friday, July 25, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world

Post studio post

For a New Zealander to make a big impression on the global art scene is not easy. So far it’s required an artist to leave the country and live in one of the major art center. And so Frances Hodgkins went to England as did Boyd Webbb in the late 1960s. Webb went on to become probably our most successful global artist so far. More recently Michael Stevenson and Simon Denny have both based themselves in Berlin and the work of both has attracted attention in the global art discussion. 

Stevenson has just been exhibiting in the Berlin Biennale and the Liverpool Biennial and Denny currently has a show at Portikus in Frankfurt. This is one of Europe’s key contemporary art spaces and indeed Michael Stevenson has also shown there recently. Both artists are loosely described as post studio but as a visit to OTNSTUDIO to check out Stevenson, June 2014 and Denny, June 2014 will demonstrate, studios are still alive and well.
Images: left, Michael Stevenson and right Simon Denny in their Berlin studios, June 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014


The ghost of the Wellington art space On the table will be raised again this Saturday. OK, On the table may have had only five or six exhibitions but one of them was The estate of l budd and featured a table tennis tournament with l budd prizes. In the current spirit of re-presenting important exhibitions the tournament will be restaged at Michael Lett’s new gallery in Auckland. For the record the trophy winners of the first event were overall winner Chris Bleakley and runner ups Michael Baker and Karl Fritsch.
Images: Clockwise from the left Chris, Michael and Karl
with their trophies

Court out

Can’t get enough of this series on art collectors posing on furniture. This time it’s Australian collector Louise McBride who is currently involved in a case against the auction house Christie’s. The trouble started when McBride purchased the Albert Tucker painting Faun and parrot on the advice of her friend (maybe ex friend now) art consultant Vivienne Sharpe and then goes to re-sell it. Oh, oh, not so easy. It now looks as though the painting might be a fake. Usually this situation plays out with oh-how-embarrasing-let’s-settle-out-of-court but McBride happens to be a barrister and she’s not backing off. This of course means the rest of us get to hear of all the machinations that go on backstage when the rich and art meet. Brilliant.

Top in the embarrassment stakes is the revelation that Christie’s catalogued the Tucker painting's provenance as having been purchased by a Mr Ivan O'Sullivan from the Tolarno Gallery in Melbourne in 1969. Whoops! Tolarno wasn’t even up and running until 1978. Next is the appearance of one Peter Grant. He owned the Irascible Gallery and it turns out that the Tucker passed through his hands at some stage. Unfortunately this is the same Peter Grant who we posted on some years ago in a story about Brett Whiteley, Charles Blackman and Robert Dickerson fakes. None of this did a lot for the integrity of the provenance of Faun and parrot

But Christie’s defence team has also had the opportunity to put the boot in. Now we’re hearing all about how McBride transferred works from her private collection into her pension fund which you are really not supposed to do. We’ll keep you posted but in the meantime you can read the most entertaining version of the story here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Good to know

"New Zealand has been blazing a trail with Creative New Zealand’s Optimise online marketing capability building programme and the Optimiser online benchmarking project, led by The Audience Connection."

Presentation at the CNZ conference The Big Conversation (download report here)

Starkwhite comes to Wellington

The relationship between dealer galleries and public art museums has changed a lot. There was a time when the museums stood on their ethics and kept the dealers at arm's length in case their curatorial independence was compromised. That stand feels rather quaint now with big international dealers like Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth having a huge impact on what goes into (or possibly more importantly what’s not made available for) public museum shows, biennales and commissions. These galleries fund exhibitions and publications on a lavish scale and of course present substantial exhibitions of their own. The boundaries are well and truly blurred and the results not always to the benefit of museum independence. When visiting public museums shows today studying the labels to see who claims who and who's credited for what and who gets thanked is simply another part of the filtering process.

If you visited the current suite of exhibitions at the City Gallery in Wellington you'd think you'd hit the nexus of the public museum/dealer relationship. The City Gallery's spaces are all but filled on both floors with three solo exhibitions by artists (and yes in the City Gallery tradition they're all male) who show at a single Auckland dealer gallery - Starkwhite. Then stir in some personal history. The City Gallery’s Senior curator Robert Leonard was Starkwhite director John McCormack's curator at the Govett-Brewster and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. And what about the transparency issue? The Starkwhite connection is credited on two of the exhibitions (Martin Basher and Grant Stevens) at the City Gallery but is nowhere to be seen in the biggest exhibition where the three ground floor galleries are filled with Seung Yul Oh’s work. And this in an institution that raised eyebrows in the past over the multiple appearances and support of artists from the Sydney-based dealer Roslyn Oxley.

But as it happens it turns out the Starkwhiteathon is actually a mixture of loose programming and poor timing: the Seung Yul Oh show was developed in conjunction with the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and had no association with Starkwhite, Leonard has been a long-term supporter of Grant Stevens (he introduced the artist to Starkwhite way back) and the Martin Basher exhibition was already on the books.

So not exhibition programming's finest hour but a King-hit for Starkwhite

Image: Seung Yul Oh (detail)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Big bird

Like the animal artist line up there seems to be no end to the out pouring of giant sculptures in general of animals specifically or in this case bird life. This 15 meter long parrot (a Norwegian blue) was made by Dave Crosswell, Iain Prendergast and Toby Crowther as a commission work to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Dead parrot sketch by Monty Python.
Images: The Norwegian blue being installed

Big eyes

After a scan of some dealer galleries, a best-of show in LA and too much time on Google, here’s some of what to expect from art in the next 12 months.
  • Plants in pots, in arrangements and in fragments
  • Large mirrors and reflective surfaces
  • Installations in stand-alone rooms
  • Tiles and more tiles, on the floor, on the wall and on the ceiling
  • Performances (many of them based on work by Yvonne Rainer)
  • Collectives and groups
  • Ceramics, ceramics and more ceramics
  • Rumbling bass sound tracks
  • Small abstract paintings that remind you of other paintings you've seen
  • Artist statements printed onto the gallery wall
  • Things made of bronze that look like they are made of something else
  • Artists writing printed in handouts
  • Artists curating other artists as their own work of art