Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It'll all come out in the white wash

“Sponsors want exhibits that are popular. I am not saying that popular artists are bad artists but the choice is not as independent as it is when the money is there already. Most sponsors think very carefully about what they want to connect their names and logos to.”
Julia Friedrich, a curator at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne

Bit of a flutter

The PM has promised a new flag by the end of next year .... at least he's promised us a process to get there anyway. Front runner looks to be the silver fern but a range of Gordon Walters' rip-offs have also been thrown in the ring. The chief Walters-like product has been served up by Michael Smythe who promotes what he calls my "Walters’ Koru flag". This is probably not the approach you'd take if Gordon Walters were still alive but you can check out Smythe's ‘Walters’ flag in various colour palettes here. The Taucetione blog is rather more restrained with its Walters’ kinship claims suggesting that its koru flag is “inspired” by the paintings. Pattern Recognition on the other hand goes head-on design-wise by reducing the famous Walters koru to “highlights”. Still, the Walters Prize goes to S Grundwell who has converted the Walters koru design into something that looks like a bunch of glove puppets shaking hands. Maybe the fern is not so bad after all.

Images: top to bottom, Smythe, Taucetione, Pattern Recognition and S Grundwell. More than you need to know about the New Zealand flag and possible changes to it here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Art in the workplace

Art hard at work in the foyers of the world

Enough already

Tate Modern has just hosted its best-attended exhibition ever. The break-out winner is Henri Matisse's The cut-outs. The final numbers are in and this exhibition attracted an audience of 562,600. In gross terms based on the population of London, around 1 in 14 Londoners attended. Everyone is ecstatic.

So how would that level of success translate into audience numbers based on NZ urban populations? One in 14 people attending in Auckland would get you an audience of 98,350. In Wellington you're looking at 14,357. In reality though, if the City Gallery got an audience of around 14,000 for a major show the director would throw herself off the roof. A big City Gallery success would have to look something more like the Yayoi Kusama exhibition of 2009 with 175,000 people coming in the door. Now that's not far short of the entire population of the city. Of course how the exhibition numbers are in fact made up includes tourists and out-of-towners as well as the locals but it's useful to take a step back and think about expectations. The population comparison between London and Wellington at the very least shows we have unrealistic expectations of the size of the audience most special temporary art exhibitions can attract.

We've now got an arms race as our art museums search for increasingly popular shows to up the numbers beyond even patently unrealistic levels (and sometimes crash and burn - we're looking at you Te Papa). Then as soon as one attendance record is broken it becomes the benchmark to be beaten in turn.  Clearly we need more useful ways of deciding the success of exhibitions. On the ‘Tate/Matisse scale’ if more than 10,000 people see the Ralph Hotere mural at the City Gallery you'd have to say it was a sensational result and on the same T/M scale, if Auckland Art Gallery gets anywhere near 98,000 for its upcoming Light show (around half of what Wellington did on Kusama) it could fairly claim to be up there with the famous London institution.

The comparative number of people needed to match the Tate's super audience for Matisse:
Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui 3,107
Govett-Brewster, New Plymouth 5,299
Dunedin Public Art Gallery 9,000
Christchurch Art Gallery 26,264

Monday, September 22, 2014

Outside the Wellington Film School...

...thinking about William Kentridge at the City Gallery

Four on the floor

It was full on Walters Prize at the Auckland Art Gallery in the weekend. If you want to talk strange demographics, most of the 60 strong audience for Simon Denny were male and under 40 while upstairs at Maddie Leach’s talk it was almost wall to wall women over 50. Go figure.

Denny made a nice point that we’d previously missed: it was his fascination with the timeline format that drew him to the controlled maze-like walk in his installation at the AAG. When you get to the end and look back, all you see is the blank back of the canvases.  “That’s timelines for you,” said Denny. “They only see into the future. Turn around and look back and time is erased.” There were also some pretty interesting questions, one from fellow Walters Prize nominee Luke Willis Thompson and another from a tech industry guy about the uncertain impact of robots on the future. Reminded us of that great joke from organizational guru Warren Bennis: “the factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”


Then it was upstairs to where Maddie Leach was in conversation with Jonathan Bywater. Looking out onto Albert Park we could see Kalisolaite ‘Uhila hunched over a pile of clothing out on the terrace as Leach detailed the development of her project. This included how she discovered that the whale oil (as someone remarked, a phrase with added resonance today) she had secured wasn’t. As she said, a lot of her work was about determination and “not being deterred by what seems to be a full stop.” For those of us there we got to see a film clip of the whale oil infused concrete block being tipped into the ocean, and all four Walters Prize finalists in one day.

Images: Top Denny and Leonard. Bottom Leach and Bywater

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Art and the movies

Here’s a site after our own hearts. Film and Fine Art 101 has saved us a heap of Google time putting together art images adapted for film posters. You can see more here. (Thanks L)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Collectors on furniture

Art Collector Indoo Di Monteluce at home, London

Drawing the line

Who was it said that drawing is dead? Not the people of Bristol who are busy this month creating the biggest drawing in the world in a meaningful mash up of art and politics. OK the drawing is basically a long line but a line that has great moment for Bristol: it is the predicted high water mark in the expected flooding of the city in the future. The line is being drawn by volunteers pushing sports field markers over what will eventually be a super long drawing wending its way through the city. Latest news has a drone hired to fly over High Water line and capture the full 52 kilometers. You can see other High Water Line drawings from around the world here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

All fired up

Continuing today's animal theme bad news for lovers of giant animal sculpture installations in the public domain as Florentijn Hofman's over-sized rabbit on show in Taiwan catches on fire. The rabbit was being shifted from its site to be recycled when a truck set fire to the grass nearby.
Image: the Hofman rabbit ablaze (OTN reconstruction)

The a in art is for animal

“From a philosophical perspective, the general issue is whether a non-human animal has moral ownership rights over its artistic works.” So says philosopher Mike LaBossiere on the Philosophers magazine blog. That got OTN’s animal art antennae twitching. According to LaBossiere, “Higher animals like dogs and primates seem to grasp the basics of ownership: they distinguish between what is their property and what is not.” LaBossiere went on to be more specific about the monkey who made a selfie and then was legally denied copyright. “In the case of the monkey the key question is whether or not the monkey understood what it was doing and acted with intent.”

Stay with us animal artist lovers.

He concluded that even if the monkey was in control of the art tools it may not know it was in the process of making art (tell that to all the OTN animal stars). The result? “There could be art but no artist.”  On behalf of animal artist all over the world, stick it where the sun don’t shine LaBossiere.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Space man

“Metaphysics and megalomania mixed on a daunting scale…”

The Guardian’s Michael Prodger describing the German artist Anselm Kiefer’s 36,000 square meter studio on his 81 hectare property in Barjac, France

Uplifting or in your face

Eight years ago Auckland artist Campbell Patterson stood in his parents' living room and picked his mother up in his arms. He then stood holding her like some sort of Bizarro World Pieta for as long as he could. That first attempt (one minute 47 seconds) features trembling legs and a few near drops as the artist’s strength ran out but he got stronger. Every year at around the same time Patterson and his mother perform the same feat and each time it is videoed becoming part of a series known as Lifting my mother for as long as I can.

Different cultures, different responses. In Greenland the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson has also been making a long term series of videos. Since 2000 Kjartansson and his mother have repeated their performance once every five years. Titled Me and My Mother, in these works Kjartansson’s mother repeatedly spits in his face.

Smiling or spitting, mothers, you’ve got to love them.


Images: top, Ragnar Kjartansson Me and My Mother and bottom, Campbell Patterson Lifting my mother for as long as I can

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Branded: Andrew Beck

The moment when artists become brands

Going, going. Gone.

The resignation of Sophie Coupland from Webb’s has been in the air for a couple of weeks but she has now resigned her position as head of Webb’s Fine Art Department.  As of Monday the Webb’s staff list had no head of department for art which is surprising given their recent moves to make art their major focus. 

Coupland’s departure certainly marks the end of an era for Webb’s. She has knocked down a sack full of record prices for artists and from her position behind the rostrum seen the rise and rise of the contemporary art market since the wobbles of the last recession. It also sees the severing of Peter Webb’s final connection with the business that still bears his name.  Starting out with an auction company named Cordy’s (after Hamish Keith’s middle name) he later started Peter Webb Galleries that morphed into the auction house Webb’s. In 1990 when Peter Webb married Annie Coupland he gained a daughter who worked her way up through what was now the family business to take her place running the art department.

So with the departure of Coupland and Neil Campbell who was Managing Director, watch out for further big changes for Webb’s. Never shy to use statistics based on past auctions make its claim as the number one house in the country there's a big reputation to hold onto. It's going to take some inspired hires or a major step-up by the relatively inexperienced people left behind to do the job.