Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Power play

The selection of Dieneke Jansen, Maddie Leach and Peter Robinson for the Jakarta Biennale in November is further proof of how well NZ does from inviting international curators to check the place out. For instance, Peter Weiermair (Germany), Charles Eldredge (United States) and Nicolaus Schafhausen (Germany) among many others were all invited to NZ as official visitors and each in turn delivered selection in international exhibitions and other projects for some NZ artists. It's a great medium term investment.

This time it’s English curator Charles Esche who's doing the business. He was the judge of the 2014 Walters Prize who controversially took his curatorial stick to finalist Simon Denny at the dinner before awarding the prize to Luke Willis Thompson. While in NZ Esche also got the chance to visit studios and meet with artists including Robinson (one of the Walters Prize jurors) and finalist Maddie Leach. We can tell you (thanks to Twitter) that Leach has already shipped what looks like two 40-gallon drums of water from the Blue Spring in Putaruru to Jakarta. Putaruru is where most of NZ’s bottled water comes from and the use and abuse of water is a Biennale theme.

The selection of Leach, Jansen and Robinson fits with Esche’s belief in art’s role in political activism. He wants to show “how people in different cities and environments live with and take responsibility for the present through their actions.” It's a position that will be tested to the limit in Indonesia. This is a country with a very grim recent history as anyone will know who saw Joshua Oppenheimer’s gruelling documentary The act of killing last year or its follow-up The Look of Silence this year.  If you can't make it to Jakarta, check out the movies.

Image: Maddie Leach H2O to go

Monday, August 31, 2015

Some grist for the rumour mill

After the selection of Simon Denny for the last Venice Biennale we tried to get a list of the curator/artist teams that had put in proposals to be considered. Two years later the Ombudsman finally told us that as Creative NZ had confidentiality agreements with all concerned, this information could not be released. So there you go. If you want to keep your selection processes secret all you need to do is put a gag on the participants. For now, it’s back to rumours, guesses and stabs in the dark. We’ll come up with a list of who we think has applied (you’re welcome to put in your 10 cents worth) shortly after 16 September when proposals have to be with Creative NZ. By that time Creative NZ will have announced who's on the selection panel. In the meantime, after scanning the proposal form, what will they be looking for?

A new work made specifically for Venice. As in the past, the work shown at Venice will have been made for Venice. “The artist(s) will be responsible for the preparation of new work within the nominated timeframe.” That is “suitable for the Venice Biennale context.” Nothing new there, apart from the work.

Agreement to the et al. clause. Creative NZ never recovered from et al’s refusal to talk to the media in 2005 and since then specifically requires the artist to “participate in publicity and promotion activities, which includes media interviews, media launches”.

Funding opportunities. The last Biennale made it clear that Creative NZ expects significant funding via the artist’s dealers. The last Venice outing saw Denny’s dealers make significant contributions to the production of the work, the publication, administrative support and entertainment in Venice. It's also hard to imagine a successful proposal that did not bring with it (probably via the curator) major institutional backing. The usual suspects include Auckland Art Gallery, City Gallery Wellington, Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Te Papa. Untapped so far but definitely a possibility is the tertiary sector via one the art school universities

Looking at the pool of likely contestants it's interesting to ponder on how these requirements will impact on the panel’s final decision when they are applied to specific artists.

Image: Rumour mill, operating model

Friday, August 28, 2015

A toss up

This is going out on a limb somewhat, but you have to admit this vomiting machine looks a hell of a lot like art. That is all. Thank you for your time and attention.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Getting the hang of things

We’ve put up a lot of studio shots on OTNSTUDIO but we also have many more of artists installing exhibitions. It’s always interesting to look at the dynamics of placing work into a gallery space. As Richard Serra once put it, “different people have different problems and different relations to the exhibition of their work.” So here to kick off an occasional series are some shots taken over the last few days of Campbell Patterson setting up his exhibition at Michael Lett from the new 'outside the studio' section of OTNSTUDIO.
Images: a taste. Campbell Paterson and Andrew Thomas installing Patterson's exhibition at Michael Letts

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The year that was

CE Rick Ellis has been in the Te Papa job for 200 working days now and he’s had a bit of luck. Maybe. Te Papa, possibly as part of its agreement with the Wellington City Council, its biggest cash sponsor, has released the latest annual attendance figures that would normally wait for the Te Papa Annual Report. And they look good. Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family,  Air New Zealand – 75 Years and the early months of Gallipoli – Scale of Our War have contributed nearly half (47 percent) of the last financial year’s total visitation. At 1,556,164 that’s a 17 percent increase on the 2013-14 year. Things haven’t been this good attendance-wise for over five years. The problem for Ellis, of course, is that this surge in numbers is based on programming designed by the previous director. His own accounting comes at the end of June 2016 and even then the numbers will be boosted by the Gallipoli display that has been designed to run until the next world war is declared. If you listen carefully you can almost hear them at the programming meeting calling out for exhibition ideas, "we need cartoons, monsters and don't forget to sort out another corporation willing to stump up for a vanity history project." 

ROY CLARE COMMENTS: Roy Clare Long past time to look beyond 'attendance', as typified by counting feet through a door. Where is proper recognition of the merits of 'participation', which hints at something richer than simply folk rocking up at the door? Ensuring access to collections is a 3D issue - physical, virtual, intellectual. And there ought to be a sense of the generic social outcomes. Presumably, something happens to folk who 'participate' - what? And why don't we care more about those kinds of questions? Anyone can drive feet through a door - try creating a shopping mall for example - a deeper delve is how museums founded on a 19th model can today still make a difference to lives; put simply, for the cost, what's the public value? And what price the collections? Or is it sufficient to be a stage for the collections and creativity of others? There's a whole conference in this. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

After some initial discomfort

Museums are going through another round of the name game. The latest player is the Whitney Museum of American Art now known as plain old Whitney. Along with ‘American’ and ‘Art’ and ‘Museum’ it also dropped that annoying definite article like Tate in London. Trends sweep across art museum naming like everything else. Remember those MoMA-like acronyms beloved in the 1990s: DAG, MAG, SAG and G-BAG (Dowse, Manawatu, Sarjeant and Govett-Brewster)? Driving all this is marketing of course chasing up the laws of differentiation. 

Some museums have it easy, and have something useful to work with, donor's names for instance. The Dowse Art Museum, named after a Mayor’s wife, has been called The Dowse by most of its visitors since it opened in the 1970s. It’s probably now time to take the hint. Te Papa got the message that a single powerful idea would serve them far better than MONZ (the ponderous Museum of New Zealand) in the branding game. Maori names have proved hugely successful for museums in the past 20 years (Pataka, Te Manawa, Te Tuhi, Te Uru). Many smaller institutions must be ripe for one word brands. Sarjeant, Suter, Forrester (it's in Oamaru), Aigantighe. (ok, maybe not that one). Could be time for the location-based stragglers (Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery) to give their names a rethink.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Not fair

As many of you'll know, the Auckland Art Fair has been taken over by the event management company North Port Events. The person who up to now has been the face of the Fair, Jennifer Buckley, is no longer involved which is obviously a loss. 

But strangely Buckley has made a very odd appearance in the publicity material for next year's Fair. At the top of promotional material including a email newsletter is a photo of Buckley in one of the last fair’s less primo moments. A visitor has broken a porcelain sculpture by Australian artist Penny Byrne and you can see Buckley holding the broken work moments after the accident occurred. An unusual way to front a publicity drive and demonstrates a problem with taking over such specialist events, that is, the lack of intimate knowledge needed to…well…not make this sort of mistake. You can guarantee this is not the photo Jennifer Buckley would have selected from the bunch. 

The new owners have also announced the five-member panel to select dealer galleries for inclusion. They are all well known. Hamish Keith (Auckland commentator), Michael Lett (gallerist), Dayle Mace (patron), Justin Paton (Head of International Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales) and Simon Rees (director of the Govett-Brewster). You can see here what you get for your money if you're thinking about a stand (they cost between $8,000 and $12,000).

Image: left, the image heading the Art Fair newsletter and prospectus and right, Jennifer Buckley with the Penny Byrne sculpture. (Thanks A and thanks to you too G)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Branded: Peter Robinson

The moment when artists become brands

Friday, August 21, 2015

By the numbers: links edition

0   the amount of significant change (pdf.) in attendance by 10-14 year olds at visual arts events or locations since 2011

0  the number of flag designs presented in the flag panels current top 40 that are worth pursuing

3   the number of comments generated by John Hurrell’s review of the new Len Lye Centre on eyecontact that included his opinion that “there is a strong sense that the Lye Centre has hijacked the Govett-Brewster, that the Govett is only a mere annex to the Lye project.”

4  the number of lectures on Len Lye you can find on Circuit

5  the number of people (ok men) on the 185 strong 2015 NBR Rich List who chose to be photographed with art in the background

5   the number of prints of the 21 published for Artspace’s twenty-first birthday that have sold out

11    the number of visual art works Te Papa currently has integrated into its non-art exhibitions.

27    the number of artist talks available as Auckland Art Gallery podcasts

704  the number of days that have passed since the Government announced Te Papa North

799  the number of art works registered as ‘by New Zealander’ in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Thursday, August 20, 2015

When public sculpture fights back

The State has always known how to use bronze sculpture to forward its case and build the brands of its leaders so it's little wonder that's it's bronze that's pulled down to street level when the music stops. Using bronze public sculptures to critique the State, now that’s a little different and is what’s happened recently in both New York and Berlin. The US version involved a series of sculpture raids as a fibre based rendition of Edward Snowden was raised on various public sites before being whisked away at the sound of sirens. More recently a bronze bust of Snowden was glued to a spare plinth in Brooklyn Park. The local authorities were soon onto it and by midday it was in a police van. Meanwhile in Berlin's Alexanderplatz, statues of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden standing on chairs were installed. Anything to Say? by Davide Dormino left a fourth chair empty for anyone who wants to get up and speak their mind.
Images: left to right, top to bottom, temporary Snowden in New York, Snowden bust in Brooklyn, Snowden leaving Brooklyn, commentary and Berlin's threesome

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sweet 16

How much would it cost to have the Christchurch Art Gallery move half a meter to the left or to the right and back again without damaging itself or the art inside? The answer is about $20 million and involves something that sounds like Foucault on speed: the installation of 138 pendulums under the ground to counteract the movement and hopefully muffle it. All that has taken time but the Gallery announced it would finally open before Christmas with work already being put into the galleries. A few days ago (in what must feel like the tenth or so re-run of a bad joke for Director Jenny Harper and her staff) the opening looks like it has been delayed again. Everything is on track for the main project apparently but tasks that have been left over from normal maintenance are still to be completed. So now it looks as though the opening will happen sometime within ‘the first three months of next year.’ 

In the meantime Harper has been dropping hints. ‘We’re looking to present an important Martin Creed at our Foundation dinner in September!’ You’ll remember Auckland Art Gallery had a brief flutter with Creed trying for one of his large revolving MOTHER works in the foyer. Based on its experience over the past few years ChCh might find SONOFABITCH more appropriate. Although there's no news on the specific ChCh work yet maybe CAG will go with the idea of their previous curator Justin Paton who suggested a couple of years ago on the gallery blog ‘Everything is going to be alright’.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The curator’s egg

Laurie Anderson famously sang, 'it’s not the bullet that kills you, it’s the hole'. The panel which will soon select the artist to represent NZ at the Venice Biennale in 2017 faces a similar problem in the form of a shortage of experienced curators. To front up as a Biennale curator Creative NZ requires you to have 'significant exhibition experience in New Zealand and some experience internationally'. That cuts out quite a few contenders for a start. On top of that it’s reported that Robert Leonard, who has done two Biennales (Stevenson and Denny) is not available and neither is Justin Paton (Culbert). In an odd way this shortage of eligible curators could do as much to decide the eventual choice of artist as the composition of the selection panel. Oh, and here’s the NZ at Venice Biennale curators so far by the numbers.

78  percent male
67  percent NZ citizens
56  percent employed at the time by an NZ art museum

Monday, August 17, 2015

The way things Lye in New Plymouth

First, the good stuff. The entrance hall and sweeping lead-up to the galleries in the new Len Lye Centre are impressive. The sloping floor was a surprise but the height, the modulated walls reflecting the exterior forms and the tall narrow windows that reveal themselves as you ascend give the sense that you have entered a large and important building. But you quickly realise this splendid entrance over-promises given the limited additional spaces and how much of the building's space is taken up with transiting from one area to another. An ongoing problem with the Govett-Brewster was always the way every space made you feel you were always on the way to somewhere else. Strange then to find the Len Lye addition repeating this pattern. You also have to wonder how the long sloped ramp will impact on installation practices. It's like the Guggenheim on speed, and the complexity of that famous ramp as a working environment is very well known.

Then, for all the millions that have been spent, there is really only one classic four-walled gallery in the new building, and while it's somewhat larger, it's a similar square box to the one that used to adjoin the G-B. The other new gallery space used for the suite of Lye's Fountain works merges with the ramp and is only three sided. And while on the Fountain works you do have to wonder why the new large Fountain was even allowed to go on display. It clearly does not work. The rods do move, thanks to an electric motor but, unlike the smaller Fountains on display for comparison, there is no quivering response through the rods the feature that makes the original so lively and iconic. The over-sized scale is also a problem ironically making the new Fountain look rather stunted. It’s a major issue for the long-term members of the Len Lye Foundation as clearly no one associated with these projects feels they are in a position to stand up and make the call for art and aesthetics over engineering and pragmatism. 

And then there is the entrance to the old Govett-Brewster. Given the repeated assurances by the previous director and architect during the planning and build that the G-B would share its entrance with the LLC - 'Left to the Len Lye Centre, right to the Govett-Brewster' - the virtually hidden entrance to the G-B is inexcusable.  There's no reason it couldn't have been bigger apart from it taking attention away from the 'Temple' like entrance to the Lye sector. The G-B has also lost space in its ground floor galleries and functional requirements have further fragmented its overall flow. The staircase to the first level may have been amended into an art work by Billy Apple but it now looks comically truncated and painting the old spaces black has only served to make the old G-B spaces feel pinched and gloomy. 

Then, given the architectural effort put into building the Len Lye Centre, it makes no sense at all that the massive Trilogy can still only be shown in the G-B. Indeed Trilogy was slated to be in place for the opening but OTN understands Len Lye’s ghost, embarrassed by the thought of also dominating the G-B at the opening, made Trilogy go haywire so it had to be replaced with three very impressive works by et al. (Thanks Len). 

OK, it's early days, of course; the G-B will no doubt revert to white again, director Simon Rees will have more realistic installation schedules and the current Lye exhibits will be refreshed, but at the moment in New Plymouth’s visual arts culture, the Govett-Brewster is definitely no longer at the centre.
Image: standing in for Len Lye. et al. on borrowed time at the Govett-Brewster

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Images; top, Dick Frizzell and bottom, Rohan Wealleans

Friday, August 14, 2015

Art of darkness

Walking along the New Plymouth foreshore it’s impossible not to think of Michael Smither and his well-known series of rock paintings. Michael once told us that the paintings started with an appalling toothache that wouldn’t go away. Concentrating on painting the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of rocks helped him cope with the pain. The rock pools also stepped in for his ongoing struggle with the iconography and metaphors of the Roman Catholic church. The blue of the water was Mary’s blue and the invading waves Smither’s own way of representing the doubt that assailed him in those years. Those rock paintings would have found a good home in the Govett-Brewster’s current exhibition Heart of darkness as would, of course, Smither’s merciless paintings of his children.