Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Counter proposal

While we're on the subject of art museum attendance numbers maybe all our institutions should just purchase Roman Ondák’s installation Clockwork. This could replace surveys done at conveniently busy times or automatic door counters that can't discriminate among people who come in for the café/toilet/convention/dinner and the ones who actually have a museum experience or the itchy-fingered manual counters. In the very efficient Ondák work an attendant stands in an empty room and asks everyone who comes in two questions. “What time is it?” and “What’s your name?” The answers are recorded on the walls. Simple, huh? By that count the Gwangju Biennale can confidently say it had at the very least 23,450 active real-time visitors in its first 46 days or an average of 510 a day.

Image: top, a gallery assistant ready with her pen to add visitor number 23,451. Bottom part of the tally so far.

Be nice

It’s open season on art museums in Wellington at present. The Dominion Post having headlined “Te Papa losing its gloss” in early September announced last week that “The gloss is coming off Lower Hutt's Dowse Art Museum.” So a bad gloss day for those two. The problem in both cases was falling attendance numbers although, in fairness, the Dowse’s weren’t falling, just staying put and you'd have to say that with a local population of 103,000 and an annual attendance of 198,000 it must be getting close to saturation even accounting for out-of-towners. The cost per visitor is also not too bad at $10.10 compared to the City Gallery at $13.32 and Te Papa’s $16.79. 

After a whack or two from the media you might have thought there'd be some collegial support from other local institutions but, not so much. Director of Porirua’s Pataka Helen Kedgley was tight-lipped and “reluctant to speculate on other galleries’ shortcomings.” She then explained that in Pataka's case high attendances were due to “quality exhibitions, its community hub design and engagement with residents.” There was a similar lack of support when Douglas Lloyd Jenkins resigned from the Hawke's Bay Museum not long after a public beat-up from his Council. No one from the profession bothered to publicly support him on Facebook or as far as we can see support him in public in any way. And when Chris Saines was fighting for his life with the big Auckland changes the professional silence was awe inspiring. 

To be competitors rather than collaborators is a risky strategy for most art galleries and museums. As their buildings have increased in size along with budgets, salaries and staff numbers they've become bigger targets for local politicians and Council admin. So you'd think it would make sense for them to be nice to each other. Someone should get them all in a room and tell them the ‘together we stand divided we fall’ thing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Having a beer in Seoul...

...and thinking about Rita Angus


How interesting is it to get a look inside the homes of art collectors? #rhetoricalquestion For a start it's a chance to see art, possibly for the first time, outside the context of the good old neutral white space that's still endorsed almost unanimously by both art dealers and art museums. We're talking Space Odyssey rather than home-sweet-home. Occasionally public art museums have a swing at re-creating the domestic art experience but it's always awkward. The Auckland Art Gallery made an effort once with a patrons' exhibition (Present Company: Works Presented by the Patrons) but the result was an uneasy hybrid.

At this year’s Frieze art fair in London one gallerist (the HellyNahmad Gallery) has jumped the shark and created a set of rooms (living room and study) supposedly owned by a fictitious collector of the pack-rat archivist variety and set in Paris, 1968. According to Art Market Monitor it's “a statement against art as an asset” so who knows which planet they're living on. Still, it's a nice idea and one that has been done before by at least one artist (Elmgreen & Dragset, Death of a Collector, 2009). So now that we have dealers who clearly feel they can also make art. Oh well, there's another old and respected division of labour all shot to hell.

Images: the  HellyNahmad Gallery's installation at Freize

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Animal rights

OTN is delighted to have so many good readers out there, fine people who totally get the painting animal thing, people who have read the fine print and understand that it is the animals who paint or take photographs. But then there are the fringe dwellers out there on the edge of OTN’s readership (in this case a staggering 15) who each independently sent in these images of animals that have been painted on. The good readers (see above) will be relieved to know that despite OTN's wide ranging interest in animals that paint, this blog will not be diverted into promoting animals that have been painted on. Enough.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Speaking volumes

Not long after the Second World War somewhere in Japan there was a discussion about where to build a new art school. The site, it was agreed, needed to stimulate creativity and relax the fevered mind and so they chose a beautiful wooded hill about an hour out of Tokyo. In the seventies they started to build a small city’s worth of serious concrete buildings and that killed the stimulation-slash-calm mind dream dead in the water. Then in the new millennium, perhaps as some sort of apology or maybe even in error, at the very edge of the campus the university authorities asked Toyo Ito to build them a library and what they got is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

On the outside the large arched windows reflect the calm of a sloping garden of trees, grass, a gravel path and solid wooden benches. Inside is a generous unencumbered space that feels like a luxury in Japan. The arches continue rhythmically but not symmetrically throughout the building in a complex system that feels like an underground cavern that is at the same time full of light. The books of this library are protected in a wonderfully simple way through sweeping white curtains that add a sense of mystery on a bright day. In one large sun-drenched corner a series of large bed-like lounging platforms were dotted with students who were doing what any self-respecting art student would do when caught by the warm sun in a library - sleeping.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

From the stream

Hamish Keith doesn't quite get it

Knock knock... who's there?

Who knows what you’re going to find when you visit an artist’s studio, especially an artist like Rohan Wealleans. A life-size figure of Marilyn Monroe upside down in the kitchen? Why the hell not. Today on OTNSTUDIO we’ve put up some recent pics taken at Rohan’s home studio in Auckland, and some recent shots we made when we visited Campbell Patterson last month. There are also images of Wellington artist Gordon Crook, these ones taken in his Aro Street studio in 2009, a couple of years before he died, and photos of Michael Smither at work in his New Plymouth studio in 1983. All these photographs (36 artists, 77 visits) are free for use without permissions being required under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When art collectors pose on furniture

We reluctantly add this photograph of one of OTN’s editorial staff to our series When art collectors pose on furniture. As serious readers (not you M) will know, this series was started to throw light on the ridiculous poses photographers can get collectors to adopt preying on their love of individuality, furniture and a chance to get their pic in the paper. Why any OTN reader (you again M) would think the subtle reference to English photographer Lewis Morley's iconic picture of model Christine Keeler (and based on the eighth frame of Morley’s 1963 contact sheet rather than the more famous published version) is suitable for this series is anyone’s guess. Still at OTN the readers are always right until they are wrong (looking hard at you M).

Image: collector Jim Barr with Gordon Walters painting Waiata 1977

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taking liberties

Having featured her links with advertising last month we were pretty surprised to find Liberty alive and well on billboards in Japan.

The cat’s meow

Of all the strange things we saw at the Yokohama Triennale Marcel Broodthaers' interview with a cat was the winner on the day. A table and a couple of chairs to set the scene and a recording of the artist interviewing some sort of cat. They work through issues around art, its meaning and future. “Is this one a good painting?” That sort of question followed by meows in answer. It’s on YouTube of course (you can listen to it here, spoiler alert it’s in French) which given that it’s cat-related isn’t so surprising but it does in turn give us the opportunity for a quick run down on the importance of cats as a cultural phenomenon. Although everyone in the art world owns a dog, cats rule the internet. Their rise and rise really began with mainstream blogging in the early 2000s which offered visuals and then YouTube in 2005.  “So what are some of the important internet cat moments?" you ask. One moment please:
2000: Bonzai kitten. Growing small cats in glassware. Essential. 

2004: Catbread. Just that. A loaf of bread that looks like a cat, oh it talks too. Edible. 
2006: Cats that look like Hitler. Don't blame the cat.
2006: Long cat. Stretch a cat. Surprisingly long.
2008: Simon’s cat. Cat cuteness gone mad. Cute (seriously) and a personal favourite
2009: Boozecats. What if your cat were a glass of spirits, or your glass of spirits was a cat? Both work
2010: Nyan. Annoying music, cute cat.

2012: The internet cat film festival. 5-4-3-2-1 cats.
2014: Skateboarding cat. Cat on a skateboard what's not to like?

Image: Marcel Broodthaers' interview with a cat originally performed in 1970 at the Museé d' Arte Modern in Dusseldorf at the Yokohama Triennale

Monday, October 13, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki 1943-2014

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki started out in the arts as a painter studying at Ilam art school in Christchurch with Rudi Gopas. While Gopas wasn’t one to lavish compliments he did consider Jonathan to be one of his top two or three students along with Jenny Anderson and Warren Clode. As far as we know all three gave up painting (maybe not) but Jonathan never left the side of the visual arts for an instant. After training as an art historian he put his name to thoughtful texts that are essential to anyone who wants to work their way through the complex story of contemporary Maori art. 

As for Jonathan the man, he could hardly have been more affable. This turned out to be a serious advantage to him when you disagreed with his approach to collections and exhibitions at Te Papa as we did from time to time. Jonathan was a born storyteller and, as we discovered as we stood side by side at Julian Dashper’s funeral, a man with a powerful and rich singing voice. We cannot be there when Jonathan Mane-Wheoki is given his proper due at the memorial service as his colleagues and family say goodbye to him and offer their support and condolences to his partner Paul, so we do it now.

Image: Jonathan Mane-Wheoki in full flight before McCahon's 1972 painting Parihaka triptych

Saturday, October 11, 2014

After the fall

If you’ve followed OTN over the years you’ve also followed many stories about when good art turns bad. In Ukraine at the moment there is a spectacular example of this as statues of Lenin are toppled one after the other. Last week it was the turn for the largest of them all at a massive eight meters on top of a tall plinth. It took the tumble after protesters gass axed through one of its legs and the crowd pulled hard on a rope tied round Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s neck. So far this year around 160 have been toppled and between Feburary 20 and 24 alone over 90 statues of Lenin came down. You can read a full account here at the Washington Post and watch the giant Lenin fall here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wall paper

The immersive photo mural has been a popular exhibition effect for a while now. The King of this kind of installation is the Swiss artist Urs Fischer whose murals dress gallery spaces with an unsettling mixture of 2D and 3D imagery. Yesterday in Tokyo we saw life follow art in the way that it does. A large plaza outside a major department store in Shinjuku combines a photographic wall mural of leaves and bricks with a line of real trees. The effect is an almost imperceptible melding of nature and culture. That is until you notice the repetitious patterning and a slight disturbance between the edges of two of the photographic sheets. What can you say? Nature abhors a straight line.