Friday, October 21, 2016


Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock is on exhibition in London and there’s no sign of Giambattista Tiepolo at the Australian National Gallery, but Colin McCahon was there. Victory over death 2, controversially gifted to Australia in 1978, was in display accompanied by two Constantin Brancusi Bird in space sculptures, a black one and a white one. They are later versions of similar works made by Brancusi in 1923 and refused entry by US Customs in 1928 because they were not considered to be art and were therefore subject to duty. A court case sorted that out. As the ANG is more like a turbine hall than a regular museum, McCahon’s work (and everything else from three painting by Agnes Martin to a terrific Anselm Kiefer) is diminished when hung low on the immensely high walls. That aside, the Australians have never doubted its importance. The ANG’s first director James Molllison considered McCahon to be Australasia’s most important artist and the NGA’s current catalogue entry refers to Victory over death 2 as ‘one of the treasures of the collection’.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Parr: part 2

Mike Parr has described his art as a response to intense anxiety. Maybe it’s not so surprising then that the phrase ‘I must’ appears two or three times on nearly every displayed page of the 30 or so diaries on display in his survey show at the Australian National Gallery. Here’s a selection of Parr’s 'I-musts' that also double as an intriguing portrait of the Australian contemporary art scene between 1971 and 2014

I must:

• continue with the work on my essay
• pack Marina/Ulay negs and send them directly
• ring TAA
• write to Nanda Vigo
• work on preparing my slide lecture
• drop by Colour Pro
• write to Helen Kontrova today
• put in a solid afternoon working
• drop by Oxford Art Supply
• get to my studio first thing in the morning and get started on small drawings
• ring Newtown Post Office
• complete cutting metal tab out of ceiling
• give John N a ring
• get to complete work on my small back room
• again try to get Bernice or the MCA
• give Anna Schwartz a ring
• ring Ashley Crawford
• write to John McPhee and thank him for his kindness of late
• return Janet Lawrence’s call
• go to Dong-Ah Gallery
• return Tony Bond’s call
• Ring Debbie
• Give Bill a ring
• give Garry a ring to make sure we’re organized for Friday
• go to my bank and deposit a cheque for $4528
• email Pip
• get a solid day drawing
• write a text on “sleep with Butler”
• go to Bunnings
• put in a solid final day looking at the Museé d’ Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What becomes a legend

Mike Parr cuts a huge figure in contemporary Australian art and he’s also gone for a few outings in NZ. The most recent would have been Inhabiting Space this year at Victoria University’s Adam Art Gallery. Parr even made it over to talk at the City Gallery as part of that show. All this meant that when we heard we could get to see the one-armed legend we did the hour on a train thing to Campbelltown on the outskirts of Sydney to watch him perform On Manus Island

It started off well enough with about 30 of us sitting round the entry hall of the Campbelltown Arts Centre looking at a small table and chair. The table was covered with large syringes. Parr turned up the requisite 20 minutes late striding in from the back of the room. He was closely attended by a videographer and a photographer and it was then it became apparent that we as an audience were peripheral to the proceedings: this was about sourcing documentation. He sat at the table and a woman began methodically taking blood and squirting each syringe when it was full into a stainless steel pan on the floor. It was hard to look away if you were squeamish as the whole process was projected on a large screen. At first there seemed to be the possibility that Parr would take the full on endurance route (this is the guy who wound cordite mining fuse around his leg and touched a match to it) and lose enough blood to put him on the floor. Didn’t happen. Instead a moderate amount of blood was taken from a number of syringe lines. Parr then got up, dipped his hand in the blood and imprinted it high on the wall. And then he was off with his camera team making bloody handprints as he went. Still at least we got to see Mike Parr.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Clown torture

As everyone knows clowns are hilarious, until they’re not. The current ‘killer clown’ craze that has swept the United States has now reached the UK and Europe and there are even a few sightings of a try-hard clowns here in NZ. Thanks to Stephen King and a few horror movies, clowns have effortlessly eased out of kids’ parties and circuses into the scare trade. While King’s terrifying storm water drain roaming clown from his 1986 book It was probably the model for recent clown outings, if you want to get real insight into the genre you’ll have the chance when Cindy Sherman’s exhibition opens at Wellington’s City Gallery in November. Sherman started making clown portraits around 2002 as a response to 9/11. ‘The more research I did the more levels I saw. There are a lot of creepy, sad, different emotions that I really like.’ You can see Sherman talking more about the clown thing here.

Image: Cindy Sherman Untitled photographs

Monday, October 17, 2016

One swallow a Summer makes

Hey, that looked familiar. In the seemingly endless corridor that is the MCA in Sydney were three bronze barnacle covered balloons on the floor. The last time we’d seen them was on the floor in Ricky Swallow’s studio about seven years ago in LA.  Swallow has lived in the United States for a long time now and it’s hard to recall what a major impact he had in New Zealand. Hamish McKay was a big supporter and had regular exhibitions for years while Justin Paton wrote the first major monograph on Swallow in 2004. But it’s been a while since his work has been seen in New Zealand, so it’s good to see he still has a spot in the Australian art story. You can see pictures of his studio in 2009 when the balloon sculptures were being made here on OTNSTUDIO

Image: top, Ricky Swallow work on exhibition at the MCA in Sydney and bottom Swallow in his studio, 2009 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The man who bought the world

As we saw in microcosm in NZ with the Paris, Sang and Francis auctions, nothing attracts art collectors more than the flickering glow of a single collector sale. In part it’s the solid line of ownership and stamp of good taste, but it’s also very much the allure of an appealing story to go along with the work. The creation of those stories has now become a central part of the auction business. 

If you want to see the phenomenon at its peak, check out Sotheby’s gearing up to flog the David Bowie collection in early November. Bowie was no slouch in the art collecting game but you’d have to describe what he assembled as extremely personal. There are some big names and they’ll no doubt fetch the big prices but many of the works are moody and introspective which is not the usual look for auction stars. But Bowie as a personality trailing his fame and associations and emotion - what a gift! 

To promote Bowie the Collector Sotheby’s have gone overboard: moody trailers, evocative quotes from the man, slideshows of his art collector life, reminiscences from his personal art curator Beth Greenacre, lots of ‘icons’ and ‘revereds’ and ‘passions’ thrown around, and so on and so on. You can access the full catalogue here

Images: top left, curator Beth Greenacre and right, Marcel Duchamp’s A Bruit Secret estimate to sell for $311,000–432,000. Bottom, Bowie’s collection ready for sale.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Putting the fun back into funding

You may recall that back in April Creative NZ went into a spiral of despair. Lotto, one of its major funders, had announced that ‘due to the lower level of jackpots on offer it is estimated there will be $25 million less to dole out to community groups such as Sport New Zealand, Creative New Zealand and the Film Commission.’ Even worse, ‘Peter Dunne, who chairs the Lottery Grants Board, told CNZ he would not confirm exactly how much less there will be until July’. Creative NZ did some sums and figured this would mean it would ‘receive $11 million less this financial year than it did two years ago.’

After a bit of stick for being so dependent on gambling money, everyone went to ground until June. It was then that the Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage, Maggie Barry, somewhat embarrassed Creative NZ by stating that it ‘had "jumped the gun" by predicting a funding fall, and the Government expected a small rise in Creative NZ funds.’

Since then things have been kind of quiet in the media, so what happened funding-wise?

From CNZ's website it turns out that at the end July at one of its two monthly meetings, Creative NZ’s Arts Council updated its we-are-doomed budget to reflect ‘a significantly better funding forecast from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.’ This is the same Lottery Board that was predicting major cuts only three months previously so who knows what pressure was put on whom. This new generosity couldn’t have been caused by a huge upswing in NZers gambling, could it?

You might think that the volatility of Lotto and its dependence on hopeless dreams might still give Creative NZ pause (#oncebitten). But no, it has a secret weapon. Creative NZ’s Arts Council in its post meeting summary goes on to say that, ‘An important feature of the approved budget is the new “double buffer” approach that will allow reasonable shifts in NZLGB funding to be better managed.’ Double buffer eh. ‘Reasonable’ shifts. Yes, that should work.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Derek Cowie was lost and then he was found again and then he was lost and now he’s back in New Zealand. In the eighties Cowie was toWellington what the mountains were to The Sound of Music. Curator Robert Leonard loved his work and in 1989 famously placed it centrally in the Shed 11 exhibition Nobodies. A couple of months ago you could have picked up a three square meters plus painting from this time at the Tim and Sherrah Francis auction. They were fans too. And now a new wave of Cowie enthusiasm has been triggered by an exhibition that opened in Wellington last night. Yes, he's back showing in Wellington but not at Peter McLeavey this time round but at Page Blackie. It’s an eclectic mix of materials and styles with Cowie’s theatricality underpinning it all. With old school charm he was keen to assure everyone this was only a starter with the main show scheduled for May. This time it looks like Derek Cowie is not going away.

Image: Derek Cowie at his Page Blackie opening

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Getting the point

Drawing has always been a problem for artists. Some people have a natural ability, the rest have to work it out the hard way. Well no more, at least with the how-the-hell-do-you-do-that skill of perspective drawing. Thanks to Instagram’s architectdrw  and a piece of elasticised string, doing the perspective thing just became a possibility for everyone. You can watch it in action here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Len Lye down: when good sculpture turns bad

Nobody said owning a whole lot of sculptures powered by analogue motors, that bounce and bend and shake in ways that engineering probably doesn’t totally understand, would be easy. And guess what, it’s not. Trilogy - the dramatic Len Lye Centre headliner - was taken down just before the new building opened last year after it took a chunk out of the wall. Disappointing, but reasonably enough it was passed over as a blip.

But last week, when the three-part monster was put into place again in the new custom-made gallery for large Len Lye sculptures and revved up, there were more problems. Word is that it had to be stopped before it shook itself off the ceiling. Whoops (again). And wouldn’t you know it, this was in the first week of the school holidays (#kidslovenoisysculpture). So, no going up the ramp while the place is being re-strengthened enough for Trilogy to do its thing again after years in storage.

Still, there’s a moment for everyone who felt the Len Lye Centre had taken over the Govett-Brewster. Because of the mess-up all visitors now have to enter the new complex via the discreet Govett-Brewster Art Gallery entrance rather than the architect’s ramp. We could get used to that. And while your at it get rid of the new wall behind the reception desk. Then it's straight ahead to the G-B and LLC and, if you want to do the ramp thing, turn left. 

Later: Trilogy was reinstalled on 12 October and is now fully functional  

Image: Trilogy, back in the day

Friday, October 07, 2016

Fish on Friday

As it’s International Day of the Fish today (well, it could be) here are some giant public sculptures of fish from around the world. Brought to you by OTN: because it can.

Images: top to bottom, left to right. Speared fish Portland, Oregon, US; The Headington shark at 2 New High Street, Headington, Oxford, UK; Musée d'Histoire Naturelle de Lille, France; Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Malaysia; Giant Murray Cod in Swan Hill Victoria, Australia; National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, Wisconsin, US; Husky the Muskie in Kenora, Ontario, Canada; ice sculpture made by Austin, Connor and Trevor Bartz, three brothers living in New Brighton, Minnesota, US; and the Regional office for the National Fisheries Development Board located near Hyderabad, India

Thursday, October 06, 2016


0   the number of artists living in the South Island who have won the Walters Prize

1   the number of current advertisements by Te Papa for a Head of Audience Insights #anditsgoodnighttoyoucurators

1   the number of shout outs The Minister of Arts, Culture & Heritage Maggie Barry gave to Simon Rees and the Govett-Brewster/LLC in her speech at the Walters Prize

2   the number of sculptures by British artist Antony Gormley now on permanent public display in Christchurch

2   the number of dealer galleries that got funding to attend art fairs in the last Creative NZ funding round

7   the average number in cents that the Govett-Brewster/LLC received from each of its 151,000 visitors in its previous financial year

11  the number of comments made on the last 20 EyeContact reviews

13  the number of themed permanent collection hangs currently on show as ‘exhibitions’ at Te Papa

50  the amount in thousands of dollars that Shannon Te Ao received for winning the Walters Prize

66  the average number in cents that the Govett-Brewster/LLC needs to get from each of its visitors this year (assuming that there are again 151,000 of them)

75  the percentage of Wellington’s City Gallery’s core staff that are women

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

One day in Te Papa’s 5th floor ‘Art Studio’

Curator 1: OMG! Have you seen the AMAZING drawings that visitors are doing on the fifth floor?

Curator 2: Aren’t they incredible…like it’s WAY BEYOND DRAWING ... it’s…it’s… art drawing.

C1: Totally.  I mean there’s nothing wrong with our Goyas, like he can draw and all, but have you seen Robert of Tawa’s Self Portrait??

C3:  Humbling. Talk about mastery of the pencil.

C2: And how about Ruth of Island Bay’s awesome drawing of a hand. It was so lifelike a fly landed on it.

C1: Up yours Durer (they all laugh)

C2: Now we need to get them out there. The public are gagging for drawings they can get really excited about.

C1: And who’s the best to make that sort of magic happen? Curators. And what are we? 

C2 and C3: (as one voice) CURATORS!

C1: OK then, so let’s curate. Give the public a taste of some real creativity.

C3: We could theme them – I’ve always wanted to do that. Like, you know, portraits, landscapes, animals.... 

C2: That's inspired

C1: And let’s go all digital on it. Stick the best of the best at the top of the Te Papa Home page so everyone can see what great creative drawing is all about.

C2: Are we even allowed to do that?

They were. So that is what they did.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Stolen moments

In a couple of weeks the second art crime symposium kicks off at Wellington’s City Gallery. The art crimes under discussion don’t involve the production and presentation of bad art but rather the theft, forgery and trafficking of any art. No doubt there’ll also be room to talk over some of the serious (the armed theft of a Tissot painting from the Auckland Art Gallery), the opportunistic (the removal of a £1,000 painting in 1908 from the NZ Academy of Fine Arts and consequent payment to an ‘A G Ransom’ to get it back), the destructive (the slashing of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery’s painting Glasgerion by G Sheridan in 1944) and the ludicrous (Dr Jack Rucinski convincing Robert McDougall director John Coley that he had found Psyche, a painting that went missing in 1942 - when he certainly had not).

Hopefully there will also be time enough to explore the logistics of one of the most audacious art thefts in New Zealand’s history: the disappearing of a life-sized set of seven nativity figures nicked from a storage facility in Taihape.  Joseph, Mary and Jesus et al were the work of Martin Roestenburg, the sculptor who also made the too-big-to-be-stolen giant statue Our Mother of Lourdes in Paraparaumu.

The symposium starts on 15 October and you can book here.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Becoming Hans

‘I think this had to do with a game I loved to play with friends as a child where you would have these postcards and you’d cover them, and then, little by little, uncover a millimeter square, two millimeters square, then three millimeters, and your friend would have to guess the painting from what they could see'.

-Global curator Hans Ulrich Obrist