Wednesday, December 02, 2015

A is for Apple

The Walker Museum based in Minneapolis recently mounted the exhibition International Pop. It's showing in Dallas at the moment and Apple is a member of the cast. OK, maybe not core cast but, given his significant place in Pop’s coming of age, it’s great to see him get some credit where credit has been kind of overdue.

It’s taken a long time for Billy Apple to get written into the Pop Art story. There's been some recognition, of course, but maybe because Apple was so focused on the conceptual, work that could be fitted into the history of Pop was somewhat obscured. For instance in the catalogue for International Pop Apple’s 1962 canvas, a reproduction of the 1962 Young Contemporaries exhibition label, is featured as an early example of Pop Art. But, given its date it could also be put forward as an even more impressive example of conceptual art. In art history, dates matter. 

And how about Apple’s neon work A for Apple being considered in the same breath as Joseph Kosuth’s iconic One and three Chairs (a chair, a photograph of the chair and enlarged pic of the dictionary definition of chair)? What a concept.

Images: Top Billy Apple with David Hockney in New York and bottom left, Billy Apple's A is for Apple

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Room to move

Where do you go to see some contemporary NZ art? Los Angeles is one place thanks to a project being run by artist and cultural entrepreneur Fiona Connor. In her space Laurel Doody (ok front room) in midtown LA, she has presented some outstanding projects and developed an intimate style of conversations around art that is all her own. Laurel Doody has attracted a surprising amount of attention and commentary in LA with its casual seriousness. The mode tends to installation but graphic designers, film makers and writers are in the mix and the windows are determinedly kept wide open to the street in case something interesting blows by. 

Kate Newby certainly made the most of this inside-outside (and very LA) flow. When we were there a few days ago a wind chime was suspended between the tree outside and the kitchen window, the front of the main room was partly covered in a couple of hundred ‘Newbyed’ bricks, and honey-coloured wax stained with pollen from stamens puddled on the floor. Connecting other artists to facilities, materials and conversations is what Connor prides herself on. She and Newby worked at the last remaining brickworks just outside LA making custom bricks for the Laurel Doody work. Bricks were taken off the production line to be drilled, scraped, inset with glass and metal, chipped, abraded and then returned to the line for firing. The results are fluid as the various materials react to each other and leaves and bugs from outside find new places to settle. Next month Nick Austin has the space. 'So where do the 200 bricks go?’ we asked Fiona. 'Nick’s show will be rad', was the answer.

Images: Kate Newby installation at Laurel Doody

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pay and display

If you're looking for some indications of where Te Papa is going in the future, don’t expect answers in the Chief Executive’s message in the latest Annual Report. He’s looking to the past, to about 100 years ago to be exact. That is when his Granddad went to war. The only concession to now and the future is a call out to the Te Papa's audiences: 'We also run a line out to the future. What will New Zealand look like a hundred years from now? What are the stories we will capture and create for the future?' Not the greatest conversation starter for Te Papa's most important debate.

On to the numbers. Annual attendances are significantly up thanks to two exhibitions: that war again and Air NZ's PR version of its history. Watch out for more of these soft sell corporate initiatives. One result of the war and flying guy thing was an increase of over 10 percent in the proportion of male visitors over last year. 

Rather uncharitably there is no mention in the CE’s introduction of his predecessor who pushed the year’s figures up by a massive 21 percent over the previous year. His ghost will haunt the current year's figures too.

The ethnic mix of Te Papa’s visitors remains much the same with Europeans creeping up a percentage point to 79 percent (they are only around 63 percent of the NZ population). One big shift was a drop of 50 percent in Pacific peoples attending Te Papa over the last year. As with Maori attendances, these audiences are highly responsive to specific exhibitions and events of interest to them.

Some good news on attracting younger audiences, on the other hand, with visitors between the ages of 16 to 34 up 13 percent.

And what have the art people been up to? Not that much. Work from the collection has been rehung a couple of times but there have been no catalogued exhibitions.

Contemporary art is mentioned once in the Annual Report and the word ‘art’ 21 times (the same number as the word 'Gallipoli').  Oddly, Te Papa’s new buzz-word ‘digital’ only appears nine times.

Purchases of contemporary and modern art: don’t hold your breath (full list here)
Historical NZ Art: a Fred Taylor, a D K Richmond and the two million dollar William Strutt.
NZ contemporary photography: the usual suspects (full list here)
International art: a couple of prints and a painting by John Quincy Adams

As for the research undertaken by the art curators: nine peer group research articles, eight of them on art pre 1950 and coins

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The best art is business art

Another in our continuing series of CEOs sitting in front of art. This time it's Goldman Sach's NZ CEO Andrew Barclay and a painting by Karl Maughan in the NZH

(Thanks Y, keep 'em coming)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Showing off

How often do you hear art museums explaining (or, on odd occasions, complaining) that they can only show a tiny proportion of their collections? Almost as often as they promise to make the works in store accessible to the public by turning some galleries into what they call ‘open-store’. But yes, occasionally it happens. In the eighties you couldn’t go into a public art museum without seeing hundreds of paintings double, triple and even quadruple hung, but the fever has passed. The Dowse pulled out a few cabinets last year and rather than displaying objects in them left them just as they were in storage. People liked it. OK you couldn’t see the objects 360 degrees but you got the idea and it was 100 percent better than not seeing them at all. Te Papa has opened its physical storerooms for a few tours but their promised permanent open store has never eventuated.

Today we saw the most cynical version of open storage at the new Broad Museum in LA. After the promise of the architects' over-heated metaphor for the Broad of 'the veil and the vault', we were expecting something special in the way of access to the collections. What we got were a couple of windows opening onto the art store. 'Look,' they seemed to be saying, 'here's all the stuff we have that you can't see.' Tiers of racks, a couple of paintings on view and tantalising glimpses of the staff going about their business. Open storage, so near and yet so far away.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cast of one

The decision-making process of the selection panel for the Venice Biennale is not open to the public. We've never heard a convincing reason as to why this should be necessary, but this year, with 10 members, it started opening up anyway. By piecing together bits of information a picture of what went on can be suggested.

It was always going to be tough to get a decision out of such a large and diverse group of panelists. The mix was four curatorial, one artist, two fund-raisers, three arts council members, and a commissioner (a former chair of Creative NZ) who had the casting vote. In past years the curatorial voice was more dominant and in some memorable instances the commissioner just cut to the chase and made the call.

Our understanding is that this time there was a fifty-fifty split among the panelists and that a long and stressful debate ensued. There was always going to be mixed opinions about how a work so focused on eighteenth century colonisation was going to play in a Europe nearly two more years into coping with ongoing waves of refugees, leaking borders and terrorist assault. One version of events has at least one panel member so upset by the process they left the room.

Given the weighting of Creative NZ representatives and doing some arithmetic, we suspect that the fund-raisers probably voted for a different project. Getting money in is a huge and growing challenge for NZ at Venice. It was why there were two fundraisers/ patrons on the panel after all. The government contribution via Creative NZ is only part of the story. For instance, for the Denny outing it was the dealers who coughed up for the crucial networking party, the lavish catalogue as well as other costs along the way. In past years the ever-generous Jenny Gibbs has offered strong financial support so all eyes will be on Alastair Carruthers who apparently secured Reihana’s place with his casting vote.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bang on

We are going to be in the US and Canada for a few weeks so posting may be intermittent. In the meantime here is a link to digital game artist Pippin Barr’s latest work A series of gunshots. It’s not hard to play but has a real punch to it. You can read a rave review here on Boingboing. #parents

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Song of praise

For the November auction season three houses offer thee,

11 Ralph Hoteres
9 Bill Hammonds
7 Stephen Bamburys
4 Allen Maddoxs
4 Michael Parekowhais
3 Shane Cottons
3 Peter Peryers
3 Peter Robinsons
2 Gordon Walterss
2 Pat Hanlys
1 Donald Binney

and at A + O a pic from Jae Hoon Lee

Catalogues: A+O, Webb's, Bowerbank Ninow

Monday, November 23, 2015

Slim pickings

The recent wrangling over money and who-did-what-to-whom by Stephen Bambury and his ex dealer Andrew Jensen was revealing about how the artist dealer relationship works. (You can now read the full transcript of the judge’s findings here.) Word is that Jensen will appeal so more to come.

In the meantime, the case reminded us of a document sent to us over 40 years ago by Philip Clairmont. It sets out the financial details of an exhibition Phil had in 1974 and demonstrates how complicated the art business can be and why artists often feel aggrieved by their share of sales. Bear in mind that the commission taken by dealers in the 1970s was 33/3 percent and not the 50 percent most ask for today.

In this case two of Clairmont’s paintings were sold from an exhibition for $290.00. As usual the dealer deducted a commission of $96.67. To complicate the situation though, a month or so before the show opened, Clairmont had sold a painting to a public art gallery for $370.00. It had been promised for the gallery's exhibition so feeling that it had missed out of the sale and the commission, the gallery deducted $61.66 from its payment to Clairmont for the exhibition sales. This amount was half of its standard commission if it had been given the work to sell. Some gallery costs were also deducted including mailing, printing invitations, catalogues and wine (at $2.50 probably not so great) adding up to a total of $42.60. And then there was a loan for some materials deducted (hessian at $5.00, hardboard and cardboard at  $17.89) plus the cost of returning a painting at $7.50. Another loan of $5.00 for fares so Clairmont could attend the exhibition opening was put aside.

So after the wash-up, Phil's cheque from the gallery was for $58.67. In 1974 that was the equivalent of 13 hours work at the average hourly rate.

Friday, November 20, 2015

King for a day

First, the fulsome praise bit. Potton and Burton has just published another of their high quality art books. This time round Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney have dealt to the Wellington commercial artist and painter Marcus King who was hard at work from the 1930s to the 1970s. As with the other books from P&B, it's a stylish presentation of the artist's work, the context in which it was produced and an extensive selection of photographs and well researched information. If you want to get a sense of how NZ's tourist industry was shaped or how the idea of New Zealandness was forwarded, this is the book for you. 

Moving on.

What's going on with Colin McCahon? It is an embarrassment to anyone seriously interested in New Zealand contemporary art that a formidable volume on Marcus King is available and the equivalent on Colin McCahon is…um…not. The McCahon record is dispersed over exhibition catalogues, Gordon Brown’s book Colin McCahon Artist (published 31 years ago with primitive reproductions), a scattering of slimmer volumes following individual interests, and an online catalogue database with deficiencies that we've written about before. The most substantial recent effort was Marja Bloem and Martin Browne's A question of faith produced over a decade ago and published by none other than Craig Potton (now Potton Burton) with the Stedelijk Museum. Producing the fundamental tool of a catalogue raisonné still seems to be beyond the ability or interests of NZ art institutions or academics, but even so, how about a serious publication delivering Colin McCahon on the same footing as Marcus King? Come on.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Post Len Lye

One of the great New Zealand fashion/artist combos for our money (Amour wind breaker) was when Workshop worked with John Reynolds. This time the reach is right into the grave with Lim Bowden’s Deadly Ponies taking on Len Lye. DP have looked at Lye’s Trade Tattoo from 1937 and Rainbow dance made a year earlier, ironically made for the Post Office Savings Bank - a little off brand for Deadly Ponies.  The new line of wallets, bags and scarf were produced to coincide with the opening of the Len Lye Centre. The fashion company says it has, “re-created the energy from Lye’s work” sadly something that didn’t happen with the latest iteration of Fountain. Bowden told Urbis magazine that one of his own favourite artist fashion designer combos is “Valentino’s recent collaboration with Canadian artist, Christi Belcourt. It is inspiring because neither of the participant’s work was diluted; only made more beautiful through working together”.

Images: left Len Lye and right Deadly Ponies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peter’s place

Today we have loaded up some photos from 147 Cuba Street onto OTN STUDIO

A Requiem Mass will be held for Peter McLeavey in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill Street, Wellington today at 2.00pm. It will be followed by a private interment at Taita Cemetery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


If you were in Sydney early in 1992, you're in for a bit of déjà vu all over again at Te Papa. As part of their new re-hang of the national collection, the curators have made an elegant homage to an earlier exhibition. This exhibition was part of their own history back when they were known as the National Art Gallery. The last time Julian Dashper’s Mural for a contemporary house and Lillian Budd’s Modern world were coupled was in Headlands

It was the opening exhibition for the MCA in Sydney (kinda amazing for an Australian institution to launch with NZ art, and hasn't been done again) and curated by the National Art Gallery's Robert Leonard. Ok, there was a curatorium (why don’t they use cool names like that any more? … oh, that’s right, we remember), but it was Leonard’s exhibition, and the Dashper Budd combo is about as pure Leonard as you can get. There are other more subtle echoes of Headlands in the Te Papa hang in the selection of artists (Dawson, Derek Cherrie) as well as the title of this section (Mod Cons in Headlands, Open Homes at Te Papa). So if you want to experience something with more than a bit of the flavour of Headlands, head to Te Papa, but don't expect to see that history acknowledged. Nowhere on the signage or labels is there any link back to the MCA, Leonard or Te Papa's own connections with these objects. Seems a weird way to participate in art history. Or maybe the similarity in the selections is just a coincidence and George Santayana was right, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Images: top Headlands 1992 and bottom Te Papa 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Peter McLeavey 147 Cuba Street

It was never hard to find Peter McLeavey, he'd be sitting at his desk at 147 Cuba Street. If you stayed for a few minutes in the first larger room looking at the exhibition, he'd get up from his desk and come in to talk to you, whoever you were. Everyone has their own Peter McLeavey story but they usually start with one of these conversations because Peter was, before anything else, the great salesman of New Zealand art. And Peter wasn’t just selling the art works he might have in the Gallery at the time, but the whole enterprise. It included the artists he didn't represent, as well as the ones he did, the exhibitions at public institutions, the other dealers, the writers, and the wildly different audiences art attracted. When he did sell work from his own stock or exhibitions it was always with great finesse, quietly revealing to collectors (prospective and actual) the potential of their own choices. And what choices we all had from the exhibitions we saw over the decades: Colin McCahon's Walk with me, the large Woollaston landscapes painted on a full sheet of hardboard, Peter Peryer’s portraits of his wife Erika, Michael Smither’s cross-shaped homages to Rita Angus, Robin White's incisive portraits of Sam Hunt, Jacqueline Fraser's remarkable string maze, Peter Robinson’s percentage works, Julian Dashper’s deconstructed frames, Gordon Walters' Korus,  Billy Apple’s interventions .... the list is long, it is extraordinary, and it is Peter's legacy.

Openings at 147 Cuba Street were a magnet to anyone keen on contemporary art. Peter would pour famously astringent wine and on occasion step up onto a small chair to deliver a brief speech usually concluding with his familiar self-deprecating grin. But we're not talking about a man lacking in self-confidence here. For all his much-admired eccentricities, Peter ran a very tight ship indeed. When you were buying a work on time payment, monthly invoices arrived exactly on time. The envelopes were most often addressed in green ink in the well-known McLeavey hand and the accounting, even when tracing the most complex arrangements, was always 100 percent accurate. As he might have said himself, that was the McLeavey Way.

The McLeavey Way was also about creating a sense of excitement and mystery around the work in the Gallery. A painting might be tucked away in the store room, but with the door left open just enough to give a tantalising glimpse. How often were paintings left leaning face against the wall taunting you to have a look after noticing Peter was conveniently in the next room. Countless collections reflect Peter's ability to coax great works out of the studio. 'I must do more for my artists,' he'd often tell Gallery visitors and the artists, knowing they had a champion, sent great works to Wellington.

Peter has been unwell for some time and we've witnessed him slowly withdraw from the world he so dominated for nearly 50 years. That his daughter Olivia has taken over the Gallery must have been a great delight to him for it was also a family affair. Anyone who visited the Peter McLeavey Gallery regularly would have come to meet his wife Hillary and his other two children Catherine and Dominic. We are thinking of them now and what never again seeing Peter at his desk at 147 Cuba Street means to us all.

1974. Peter McLeavey puts down the hammer, steps back and gives Colin McCahon's The Song of the Shining Cuckoo a long appraising look. Turning to a regular visitor watching him he says, 'Terrific isn’t it?' It was. And so was he.

Image: Peter McLeavey, September 1989. The painting is by Julian Dashper

Friday, November 13, 2015

Peter McLeavey 1936-2015

Peter McLeavey, Wellington's great art dealer has died.