Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stills a bargain

Photography is still cheap. Well if the latest Webb’s auction catalogue is anything to go by it is. For some reason, even at the highest level, photography prices remain low in New Zealand. This means that it is still possible to create a major photographic collection without having to reach for the oligarch strategy. At Webb’s for the price of a small Bill Hammond painting, we're talking 40 x 60 cms, birds on canvas, you could buy (based on the mid figure between the low and high estimates) all the following photographs:

Lot 5. Peter Peryer, Self portrait 1978 $4,000
Lot 7. Yvonne Todd, January $12,500
Lot 8. Theo Schoon, Unititled (mud pool) $750
Lot 10. Anne Noble, Swan $3,500
Lot 13. Laurence Aberhart, Taranaki (after glow into the night) 2002 $5,000
Lot 20. Glen Busch, Portfolio of five photographs $2,000
Lot 30. John S Daley, Untitled $500
Lot 31. Gillian Chaplin, Angela Maynard 1975 $400
Lot 34. Ben Cauchi, Flames (from a smoke filled room) 2005 $3,200
Lot 40. Ronnie van Hout, Untitled for Mephitis $2,000
Lot 43. Ans Westra, Untitled from Washday at the Pa $5,000
Lot 40. John B Turner, Kemp House Keri Keri 1975 $600
Lot 44. Murray Cammick, Untitled 1975 $300
Lot 49 John J Fields, Traffic officers and couple 1969 $750
Lot 58. George Leslie Adkin, Christmas picnic group Waitarere Beach, Horowhenua with wreck of Hydrabad c.1926 $500
Lot 60. James McDonald, Portrait of Rua Kenana Hepetipa, the Maori prophet 1969 reprint $250
Lot 62. Anne Noble, Water IV 1975 $1500
Lot 65. Peter Peryer, My parents $2,500
Lot 78. Bill Culbert, Bucket, Croagnes 2012 $4,000

And with this scheme you still have $18,500 to gather up more when you want them. Go.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Inside out

When New Zealand dealer galleries raised their commission from thirty-three and a third percent to forty percent there was a lot of grumbling. In most cases the change was made without discussion and the discussions that did take place were mostly announcements in disguise. The more recent increase from 40 percent to 50 percent barely caused a ripple. The unregulated New Zealand dealer system pretty much follows how it’s done in the rest of the world. The risk of this laissez-faire approach is being demonstrated right now by the ongoing case in Auckland between Stephen Bambury and Andrew Jensen. Jensen was reported as admitting, “The records were complicated by the sometimes casual nature of their financial relationship.” This “included oral agreements, payments being used to offset other expenses, and trade-ins.” Not an arrangement that would come as a big surprise to most New Zealand artists. The problem is that as prices rise and projects require more financing, these casual relationships come under far greater pressure. An interesting analysis of similar problems internationally is offered by the collector (and financier) Alain Servais. He complains that the dealer system has “no rules, no respect, no ethos, no nothing.”

You can access these three pieces here:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Pippin Barr’s latest look at the art world via games is in 3D. It takes off from the FBI National stolen art file (worth a look in its own right) and where stolen art might not be found even if you found it. You can move around The stolen art gallery by going here and read some background on the game here. Maybe, while you're inside you could even try to nick one of the labels when no-one’s looking.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The space race

How big is big? Colin McCahon’s Gate III painting in Victoria Univeristy's collection is big at 3.5 x 10.7 meters. But in New Zealand terms so is Steele and Goldie’s The arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand at 1.8 x 2.8 meters. Of course McCahon's work was made for an exhibition titled Ten big paintings (there were also monsters by Hotere, Driver, Hanly and Ellis) and the Steele and Goldie effort is tiny compared to the Géricault painting it is based on, The raft of the Medusa that comes in at 4.91 x 7.16 meters. 

So to walk into Katharina Grosse's latest exhibition in Berlin and find six paintings in the 4 x 8 meter range, you can understand it was a very large space. Like many of the large exhibition spaces opening now it was part of a commercial enterprise, not a public one. This time Galerie Johann Koenig is responsible with a major redevelopment of St Agnes Church. 

As if that weren't enough scaling up for one weekend, we'd just come from the recently opened KINDL - Centre for Contemporary Art. In what had been the 20 meter high distillery room of a huge brewery, the Swiss artist Roman Signer had suspended a full sized airplane and made it lazily rotate with the help of two large industrial fans. Little wonder all this largess made a big impression.
Images: left Katharina Grosse at Koenig and right Roman Signer at KINDL

Friday, May 22, 2015


The most recent Art + Object catalogue features the Judith Binney and Sebastian Black collection and it gives you great insight into the idiosyncrasies of long-time private collectors. This is a collection with its heart in the seventies (about 40 percent of the works are from that decade) but it also tells the familiar story of long friendships between collectors and artists. Works by the same artists appear again and again, often personally inscribed: there are 14 works by Ralph Hotere, 12 by Greer Twiss, five by Pat Hanly and seven by Robert Ellis. And for all of you who, like us, enjoy peeking into other people’s houses to see how they have their art displayed, there are lots of in situ pics too.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, more departures from Webb’s including Charles Ninow. As the Senior Specialist he seemed to be single-handedly holding the fine art department together from what we could see. It’s anybody’s guess how his departure so soon after that of Webb’s other specialist contemporary art auctioneer Sophie Copland fits in with their recently-stated objective of focusing on the visual arts. You can download the Binney/Black catalogue here

Image: Hanly, McCahon, Hooper and Albrecht

Thursday, May 21, 2015


When the Govett-Brewster turned 40 there was a party on the street and while we all drank the health of the little theatre that could, images from its art collection were projected onto the façade in a multi-media display by Tim Gruchy. It was spectacular. Now that particular effect has been taken to its absurd extreme in an 'art' event currently on offer in Berlin via an Australian outfit called Grande Exhibitions. Much technology has been hooked up to bring van Gogh alive in a dark room. For all the fuss it’s basically IMAX for art aka "transforming every surface – walls, columns, ceilings, and even floors". If you're still with us you can see a video of the construction and end result here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shape shifting

So what do you get if you put the new Govett-Brewster | Len Lye Centre logo into Google and search for similar shapes? This, that's what, so in good company there with Nike and QANTAS. The closest to the G-B brand turns out to be Bare Valley Bikes. Make of that what you will.
Image: Govett-Brewster logo left hand side, second from the top

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Big, bigger, biggest | small, smaller, smallest

Art has always needed copies, bigger copies and smaller ones. The recent exhibition Portable classic at the Prada Foundation in Venice demonstrates the making-small approach. It lined up an original (well, a Roman copy of a Greek original) giant sculpture of Hercules with a series of ten or so ‘copies’ of it from different periods, each one of diminishing size. To create each of them someone had to scale the original down. 

It’s a skill that has been essential since sculpture was invented although now it’s being replaced by digital tools. But not everywhere. Today we met someone who spends his time scaling objects up and he does it the old way. By measuring, looking, transferring and making subtle changes, Michael Kaul builds large sculptures from small maquettes. He told us that he can scale up a three-dimensional object for about half the cost of doing it digitally. The devil certainly is in the detail. It’s not enough to enlarge something two or three or four times. Minor imperfections that might well go unnoticed in a small-scale version can emerge as disturbing errors when they are writ large. And there’s the problem of point of view. People see large objects differently so the final enlarged  ‘copy’ cannot simply be a copy but has to be an interpretation of what the object ‘should’ look like when it is big. And that is not always the same as how it would look. It’s complicated.

Images: Left, versions of the giant Farnese Hercules at the Prada Foundation exhibition Portable classic. Left top, the traditional tool for scaling-up, the ruler. Bottom, Michael Kaul sizing up a maquette for enlargement.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dot matrix

Sometimes ideas can careen off in very different ways depending on the artist. Campbell Patterson’s painting was made the hard way. He decided to paint the hundreds of white painted circles by hand as accurately as possible. The job took months and the painting was appropriately tiled Punishment.  At Gavin Brown’s booth at Frieze NY last week the American artist Jonathan Horowitz took another direction. He enlisted anyone willing to paint his circles and what’s more he paid them $20 each to do so. In Horowitz's case we know exactly how many circles he set out to achieve: 700. Patterson got to 990 (not that anyone is counting). The scale and impact were as different as the intention. Public performance or private penance – take your pick.
Images: top, Jonathan Horowitz 700 dots and bottom Campbell Patterson Punishment

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Walters effect

Some of the many appearances of the Gordon Walters ‘koru’ in submissions to design a new New Zealand flag.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A gift economy

The Government (from the Minister for Culture and Heritage down) has been strangely silent on one big issue: Auckland’s bizarre late-in-the-day public consultation process on the Michael Parekowhai's Queens wharf sculpture. Strangely silent because if there's one thing this Government (which seems to import all its cultural policy ideas direct from the UK) has been pushing over the last few years, it's shifting arts funding from the public sector over to private patronage. And yes it's exactly the kind of patronage demonstrated by the real estate company Barfoot and Thompson with the Parekowhai project. By now they must be wondering why they even bothered to make their million-dollar offer to the city. 

A million is a fair whack in the visual arts world. It’s about a quarter of what Creative NZ distributes to the visual arts sector every year and over three times what the Auckland Art Gallery gets annually for ‘collection development’ from the Auckland Council ($292,000 last year). 

We’ve mentioned before the lack of support for the Parekowhai project by the Auckland Art Gallery and art professionals in general, but why nothing from the Government? Even given the usual easy out for Ministers ‘we can’t be seen to interfere in local affairs' (until they do that is), the Parekowhai gift is surely something of a test case or, at the very least, an indicator of how their philanthropy thing is going to work out. Potential philanthropists can hardly fail to notice that Barfoot and Thompson have been hung out to dry. So will the rich quietly line up to twist-in-the-wind while the public takes pot-shots at their pet projects? Yeah, that sounds like fun.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When less is more

For an exhibition in the late 1970s at the then-Dowse Art Gallery, we hung a large Milan Mrkusich corner painting about half a meter in front of the wall suspended by two nylon threads. It floated there (who knows what Mrkusich thought of it) in an attempt to separate the painting from the walls that were made of unpainted concrete blocks. The first time Billy Apple visited the Dowse he said it was like being embedded in graph paper. We now see this effort was an unintended appropriation of some exhibition ideas devised by the Italian architect and designer Carlo Scarpa in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Scarpa was a pioneer in presenting historic art works separated out from their surroundings and highlighting their intrinsic qualities as aesthetic objects. He stripped away the usual elaborate gold frames replacing them with narrow fillets of wood or brass. This proved highly controversial even though, as he argued, most of the frames were not original and simply reflected the style of the period during which the works were reframed.

In Verona we visited an outstanding example of Scarpa’s exhibition design in the Castelvecchio Museum. Here the advantages of having an exhibition designer who was also an architect were clear. Many of the objects in the Museum's collection had arrived as the result of destruction by floods, fires and fighting. Scarpa's approach accepted that they had been cut adrift and he set out to present each object with its own authenticity. Each was given generous space and the presentation of each was given intense attention. The plinths for each sculpture were customised in both form and materials, and armatures and easels were designed so that the works related in intriguing ways with each other and in the space. 

The emphasis on artist installations has crowded Scarpa's careful and subtle approach out of many contemporary art museums, but his marriage of design and architecture has much to teach. It certainly showed in the exhibition Slip of the tongue curated by the artist Danh Vo (in association with Caroline Bourgeois) at the Punta Della Dogana in Venice. In this installation many of Scarpa’s techniques are evident and the curators even directly reference him by using some of his strange and elegant exhibition furniture.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Big Ears: at the Venice Biennale

OK it’s only the English speakers, but you get the idea.

“Is there WiFi? Is there WiFi? I need WiFi.”

“He could fall off a cliff and the art world would save him.”

“I definitely think the Caribbean is going to be the next big thing.”

“Are we nearly at the end?”
“No it’s another 22 minutes or so away”

“Look at the size of it! That’s embarrassing.”

“Have you been invited?”

“Man oh man, painted chainsaws....Cred.”

Woman (looking at the moving tree): “Did that tree just move?”
Man: “No.”
Woman: “Are you sure?”
Man: “Absolutely.”

“He’s a curator. French. Lives in Belgium but retains a home in France. In Belgium he has a wife and kids, in France he’s gay.”

“They wouldn't let you in without an invitation. Completely free of the riff-raff. "

Monday, May 11, 2015

On the other hand...

In contrast to the mega pavilion and exhibitions bankrolled by countries, collectors (and other sources of financing you probably don’t want to know about), the Venice Biennale is also a magnet for the art equivalent of small business people. Entrepreneurial art performers take advantage of the Biennale crowds to get naked, sleep in yurts, knit spaghetti (seriously), wear outrageous costumes or perform intense rituals on the pavements. All these artists are immune to photographers, irritated shopkeepers, scandalized locals (the nudity thing) and kids on scooters. One guy lay on his stomach for the best part of a day balancing sticks of chalk on the pavement thus separating the art crowd (we assume) who didn’t walk on his work from the locals who didn’t notice it and did. In the meantime, up and down the Grand Canal other art show-offs filled boats with random stuff including a giant egg with a giant cactus in one and a full sized stuffed winged-horse on another. And then inside the Biennale gardens there was a full-sized pine tree in slow motion, a large room filled with perfumed water, dozens of painted chainsaws, a building covered with car tires, guys reading from Das Kapital and multiple naked people. You choose.