Friday, August 29, 2014

Good form

When art collectors pose on furniture looks back. This week Dr Barnes of Philadelphia benches a leg before Cezanne's Card players

Watching paint dry

Anyone who was at art school in the sixties will remember the miracle of acrylic paint. Rather than waiting hours or even weeks for the layers of your masterpiece in oil to dry, you could barge on and get the thing done in a day. There were a few ways of doing this - by mixing raw pigment with ‘medium’ (a sort of watered down PVA glue) or, if you had cash, by buying very pricey tubes of a paint (obviously named in a rush of sixties marketing genius) called Liquitex. You also had the option of the enamel based house paints like Solpah, which were cheap and still dried a lot faster than artist’s oil paint. House paint as an art material has a noble lineage. One such product known as Ripolin was used by Picasso back in 1931 for The red armchair and in the next decade Sidney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly series in this material.

OK, kinda specialist but if you want to follow up on how NZ painters came to these new materials you need to get to the Auckland Art Gallery. In another of the small focused exhibitions that seem to be becoming a specialty, Sarah Hillary presents a fascinating perspective on post war painting through a conservator’s eye. Included are great art production icons like Ralph Hotere’s spray gun as well as paint cans, tubes and charts, but also more personal artifacts including a small paint brush used by Don Peebles with an equally discreet cloth for wiping off mistakes or brush cleaning. There is also a pocket notebook of Colin McCahon with notes and diagrams to decipher. We love this sort of stuff although it's has been out of fashion in art museums for quite a while now. Nice to see you back on board, ephemera. Missed you.

Images: left, Don Peebles brush and a tin of Solpah paint. Right a 1949 Australian advert for one of McCahon's favourite house paints Solpah

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Don't mention the war

"He wasn't fired, he has made his own decisions. Yes, we did have a big problem, and we've completed the turnaround."
Te Papa chairman Evan Williams in the Dominion Post confirming that Te Papa chief executive Michael Houlihan has left New Zealand


Here's a rule of thumb for assessing a work of art. Does it appeal to cartoonists? Guy Body’s drawing published in the NZ Herald the other day picks out some of the layers of meaning in Michael Parekowhai's Lighthouse for the Auckland waterfront and pulls it right into political commentary. Works that have featured in cartoons make a line-up of populist stars that don't even need the artist's name - Mona Lisa, The scream, Nude descending a staircase, American gothic, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (ok that one probably needs the word 'shark' and Damien Hirst's name attached). Cartoonists are often the first to grab on to powerful images that they can connect with current ideas. 

So here's a prediction. For all the fuss about, Parekowhai’s lighthouse it will become the background of countless selfies, a feature on all Auckland city tourist material and (like Neil Dawson’s Ferns in Wellington) quickly assimilated into the city landscape as a much loved icon of Auckland.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world

Coat tailing

One of the most famous artist studios of the last century has got to be the cluttered room used by Francis Bacon. The artist told Melvyn Bragg that the chaos surrounding him helped in his process of painting. You can watch the terrific Bragg documentary on Bacon here and see the studio when Bragg and Bacon discussed the work around 12 or so minutes in.

As you might have guessed we only dropped this in as a lead so we can tell you that we've put up four new sets of artist studio images on OTNSTUDIO. The 1980 images of Michael Smither show him working on his harmonic chords, a series of works investigating the connections between music, colour and shape. In September 1985 we photographed Neil Dawson in the garage at the back of his home that he used as a studio before moving to the hall he's worked in for the last 20 or so years. Moving north to New Plymouth you can see that the 74-year old Don Driver was still producing his large banner works and rapidly filling the garage he had converted into a studio. And finally Peter Robinson. When we took these photographs in September 2004 he was working in the tiny front room of an apartment on the Great North Road in Auckland. If you look at this other set shot earlier in the year and already up on OTNSTUDIO you can see the same space as it was around six months earlier and get a sense of how quickly the inventive Robinson moves through ideas.

Image: Michael Smither working on his Harmonic chords in his New Plymouth studio in 1980

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


... Bill Hammond in Wellington

Simple as one, two, three, four

You may remember during the run-up to the last Walters Prize that an OTN reader claimed you could predict the judge’s choice by looking at what this selector had done and said over the past few months. With this year’s judge there's tons to choose from. Charles Esche is not your typical arts bureaucrat. He is a curator and museum leader with strong opinions and a highly developed sense of political injustice. To get a taste of Esche’s views you can:

Visit him on Facebook. Recently Esche named hard left wing British politician Tony Benn as a formative influence on him and reproduced on Facebook Benn’s famous five questions to ask the powerful (Q5: How can we get rid of you?). He's also a generous linker, always with an opinion like "good article here...there really is no 'Dutch consensus' between racism and anti-racism...either you want to continue celebrating white domination over other people, albeit unconsciously, or you don't. I vote for not doing it anymore.."

Follow him on Twitter:

Read his many interviews and discussions: Some are online with Esche constantly questioning his position on art and the role of the museum world. His view? “Art should be about doubts, relationships, questions - about opening up spaces, people and knowledge.”

So it’s kind of easy. Charles Esche will be looking for a work that is socially aware, takes a strong point of view and is posing important questions about contemporary life. Oh, oh…. That’s all four of them.

Image: word cloud constructed from a Charles Esche's interview on contemporary art

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday quizz

Our mystery object this week is from the art world. Prizes for the first two correct answers. NOTE: Members of the Dowse Art Museum staff who already know they are templates for hanging the Peter Peryer exhibition are not eligible.


The Act Party don't have a culture policy as such. Of the 19 policy areas outlined on their website none include culture or heritage. A search for the word ‘culture’ brings up zip unless you count the “nation’s commercial culture” or “business culture”. And ‘art’? Just a 2012 comment by Rodney Hide that he was pleased the new Wellington Mayor had a “special interest in Wellington's arts and culture scene.” Good to know but not much help. As for the Act budget, not a cent art-wise, unless you're in the film industry where you're promised just under $52 million as part of economic development.

On the other hand, when it comes to throwing a few metaphors around about the good life and Act’s ideal New Zealand, art is dragged on over and put to work. This is thanks to deep-pocketed Act supporter and super collector Alan Gibbs. Act leader Jamie Whyte kicks off the party’s advertising campaign with a brisk walk across the Gibbs' farm. The talk is all “This is a good country” but the walk is more about expensive art via Zhan Wang, Leon van den Eijkel, Bernar Vernet and Anish Kapoor with a couple of giraffes thrown in for emphasis. You can watch the complete ad here.

Image: Jamie Whyte and his wife promote art in Act's TV advert (Thanks S)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The horror

“It will likely include reproduction tanks, planes, famous battlegrounds and even a "smelly" trench, allowing people to experience the muddy and decaying stench soldiers were forced to endure on the frontline.”
Stuff’s Ben Heather reporting Peter Jackson proposed Government funded World War I museum in Wellington. (Thanks for the clip and diagram T…we think)

Friday, August 22, 2014

At a farm workers museum display.... Scotland, thinking about Ronnie van Hout. (Thanks D)

Better than collecting dust

News that the Christchurch Art Gallery has just raised ‘more than $80,000 toward a Bill Culbert sculpture installation' (if $80K is just ‘towards’ it’s surely a record price for the artist) is an indication of director Jenny Harper's unswerving belief in the importance of collections. This resolve is not as common as you might assume. Many of NZ's art museums have let acquisitions budgets shrink as staff numbers and marketing costs have soared. There was a time when the collection was at the very heart of public art museums but this heart has long been replaced with the temporary exhibition and its ability (or let’s face it failure) to haul in big crowds. The usual complaint that art-is-sooooo-expensive-these-days-we-can’t-afford-it’ is kind of blown out of the water when you hear that one of Michael Stevenson’s meticulous and mysterious drawings went for just $5,875.00 at Webb’s last auction or at Art + Object where you could pick up a sensational Don Driver for around $15,000 and work by l budd for considerably less. Christchurch Art Gallery has understood that waiting around for the City Council to provide more funds for purchases is a thing of the past. It's drawn on crowd sourcing channels like Pledgeme and Boosted and made smart use of gifted money to leverage even more works into its collection. The Christchurch Art Gallery also encourages gifts. You might ask 'who wouldn’t?' but many of our art museums are oddly reluctant to ask for gifts. To find out why they'll probably have to go deep into therapy.

Image: Christchurch Art Gallery's work Bebop by Bill Culbert as shown in Venice

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Art/life, life/art

Top  Christo and Jeanne-Claude Surrounded Islands, Miami and bottom Lake Hillier, Australia

Hammer heads

Since the appearance of Art +Object in 2007 the Auckland auction world has been nothing if not exciting. A+O shook Webb’s initially with a super-energetic jump out of the starting gate that included smart catalogues, a front foot approach to collectors and the shock of the new. It didn’t take Webb’s long to catch up and now both houses produce catalogues that can match anything in the world for panache. Then a couple of years ago A+O scored the Les and Milly Paris collection from under Webb’s noses. Lots of talk followed about how A+O managed such a coup, most of it around massive reductions in commissions when the two houses struggled to secure what turned out to be a $4.5 million dollar sale.

Now the word on the street is that yesterday Webb’s has made another mega move with the trimming of staff, reduction in its range of sale catagories and its intention to put art front and centre. At least part of this strategy probably lies at the door of 51 percent shareholder John Mowbray. His stamp business Mowbray Collectables has struggled on the stock market since listing and he’d be looking for a leg up from the art biz.

Another player behind this tighter focus on art (and lets face it we’re talking modern and contemporary art) would have to be investment guru and art collector Christopher Swasbrook who was made chairman of the Webb’s part of the Mowbray collectables empire last year. You can see what he thinks is the sort of art that has pull by visiting his collection web site here. A+O has never been backward in coming forward when a challenge is issued so watch out for some action over the next six months.