Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A gift

To all of you with enough time to check out OTN on the off chance we’d post on Christmas Day. Happy Christmas.

Image: Father C welcoming travelers through the Bund Tourist Tunnel in Shanghai

Monday, December 24, 2012

We were wrong about Bangladesh and our ability to post from there. China was a problem but here in Dhaka there is wireless in most of the houses we have visited and in the hotel we are staying in and that means we can show you these wonderful hand-painted penguins. 

They're copied from a popular ice cream brand and are used to decorate the backs of rickshaws, a sort of pictorial brake light. Each one is different and you do get the feeling that they work on the Chinese Whispers principle slowly morphing as they are copied and in then copied again.

But having said that, we are going to be in places where there probably won't be easy access to the internet so will make this the last post (maybe) until 7 January. You need the break.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Images: Left, Ron Mueck Angel and right, a ‘version’ at the Shanghai MoCA shop

Friday, December 21, 2012


Five installations spotted at the Shanghai Biennale that could have been art, but probably weren’t.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Can't LEGO

Regular readers of OTN will know that no LEGO art goes unnoticed so when we were on a back street in Shanghai and saw this LEGO artist’s studio lit up in the darkness, we knew what to do. If that’s not enough for you, go here to see a 40,000 LEGO brick version of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell from the Divine Comedy by Romanian Mihal Mihu.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Surprisingly to us Shanghai is the city with the most art deco buildings in the world and it’s not hard to see great examples as you walk the streets but it was in the Hongkou District that we saw possibly the strangest of them all.

It’s called Building 1933, which kind of nails its deco credentials for you. Originally designed by a British architect as an abattoir, this complex concrete structure was built with aggregate imported all the way from Portsmouth in the UK. The result is a mindboggling arrangement of air bridges, ramps and stairs that immediately bring to mind the optical confusions of M C Escher. To even think of cattle being herded up and down the building’s interior ramps is beyond surreal. Later Building 1933 became a medical factory and since 2008, after a major renovation, has been attempting to reinvent itself as a hip entertainment centre cum creative hub. Hopefully it had more success when it was an abattoir.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

China town

You want to talk architectural models? We did that when discussing the soon-to-be-started Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth but in Shanghai we caught the mother lode. It’s a model showing all the buildings in the central city and stretches out over an entire floor of the Urban Development Museum. And did they take liberties with heights, angles and distances between buildings? Well … maybe on that pointy-topped one you can see 1,347 from the left and 589 from the top.

Monday, December 17, 2012

One day in the planning office of the Shanghai Biennale

Project Manager 1: What are we going to do about visitors touching the 
Project Manager 2: I assume it’s not up for negotiation that we have to let them in?
PM 1: Not that again.  You know our sponsors are adamant about that.
PM 2: High voltage…forget I even said that… I guess it’ll have to be stanchions again.
PM1: Agreed but this time I want them to be a bit more stylish.
PM2: We could get the marketing department off our backs for once and have them branded.
PM 1: Brilliant! What’s our brand colour?
PM 2: I’m told it’s bright orange.
PM 1: That should stand out and keep the buggers away from the work. Besides it could look quite striking.

And it did.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

By the numbers: International edition

1      The number of American Bald Eagles on Robert Rauschenberg's combine Canyon that prevented its sale especially after the US Tax Department sent a $35 million tax bill. The work has now been donated to MoMA.

1      The number of years that Liam Hughes and Jason Parker will each spend in jail for stealing a Henry Moore sundial and selling it for scrap.

14    The number of video games that have been purchased as part of the MoMA ‘s collection this year.
77    The number in thousands of NZ dollars that were awarded to Elizabeth Price as this year’s Turner Prize winner

91   The amount in dollars Liam Hughes and Jason Parker got when they sold a Henry Moore work worth $970,00 for scrap.
104 The age in years of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer who died last week in Rio de Janeiro
145 The number in millions of dollars that Leon Black paid for Edvard Munch’s The Scream that he has now put on temporary loan to MoMA.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Model behaviour

There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows a couple of architects and their client standing around the model of a skyscraper. “Oh no, I think you misunderstood,” one of the architects is saying. “The $3 million is for the model.” Yes, architectural models have become crucial in the selling of architecture both to the client and, often more importantly, to the local community.
The reality is that apart from architects and builders (and architects will tell you most builders are marginal) hardly anyone can read plans. That’s why the spaces in so many buildings never seem to quite work for the functions that they are supposed to serve. The people who know what’s needed find it almost impossible to express what they know to the designers.
And then of course there is the exterior appearance of buildings. Architectural renditions and models are important not only to show what a building will look like but how it looks in its surroundings. And that’s where it can get tricksy. We’ve all seen presentations where the goal is to tone down how a building will impact its neighborhood. That’s how you can get a huge tower block shown as though it’s only just a tiny bit higher than the small wooden church it will in fact dominate. So the smart thing to do is look at models and renditions with a good dollop of suspicion.
Take the way the new Len Lye Center is presented in relation to the existing Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. A key requirement of the new building is that it ensures the Govett-Brewster retains its independent identity but you may be excused for thinking a few liberties have been taken.
1.     In the model the Govett-Brewster juts out into the street proud of the LLC. While this goes some way to downplaying that the LLC’s façade will be twice the length of the original Govett-Brewster building, it’s not accurate. The new stainless steel façade of the LLC runs in line with the existing gallery building. You can see this on the plans here.
2.     The artist’s rendition makes it look as though the new LLC has a large forecourt where people could gather. In fact, as you can see from the model and plans, it is the same width as the standard footpath that extends in front of the existing Govett-Brewster.
3.     In the gleaming façade of the artist’s rendition you can see a park land with trees reflected. It is almost bucolic. In fact it is the green area at the top of the street; the new LLC façade alongside the Govett-Brewster will reflect the White Hart hotel and other buildings.
Over-enthusiastic promotion or deliberate smoke screen? OTY.
Images: Top, model and bottom, artist's rendition
Other OTN stories on the Len Lye Centre: FundraisingDesignExhibiting Len Lye

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Give us a sign

In Russia the exhibition End of fun by Jake and Dinos Chapman is being investigated for a possible prosecution under the country’s extremism laws. The offensive content is in the form of tiny figures in Nazi uniforms. In the last two months our RSS feed tagged to ‘swastika’ has captured over 100 stories from around the world featuring the outrage, indignation and prosecutions caused by swastikas being displayed, used as Christmas decorations, sprayed on gravestones and Obama posters etc.
Meanwhile in Germany the New Zealand exhibition Contact could feature a painting by Peter Robinson with a swastika and the words ‘Pakeha has rights too’ and raise not a peep. What does an exhibition have to do to get a little attention? We can’t find any reviews of the show, and certainly nothing on the Min of Culture and Heritage’s site or even the NZ at Frankfurt sub site. Maybe some sort of record has been broken here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The things that count at Te Papa

Looking at the attendance figures in Te Papa’s Annual Report we were struck by the fact that there were no figures allocated to people under the age of 16. Given the huge push Te Papa puts on education for young people, the fact that school groups at least must book in it seemed kind of weird. There was of course the possibility that Te Papa are trying to downplay the perception of them as a ‘children’s museum’.
Te Papa tells us that because of “legal reasons” (don’t ask) they can only extract a very limited amount of information from people under 16. However they “estimate” that the under 16s represented 289,845 of the 1,377,173 visitors last year (that’s only 21 percent). As to how many of those were voluntary ie don’t come on organized visits is anybodies guess – our guess is around 60,000. So why the all the dumbing down with the simplistic labels, the obvious themes, the art way up on the top floor and the fun and games in the main foyer etc?
And why is the under 16 figure just an ‘estimate’? Even if they can’t find out what the young people are up to after dark they do at least know how many of them are under the age of 16 even if it is just by elimination.
We also asked Te Papa how they actually counted people and it turns out they use “a thermal camera, with a back up intercept beam”, so it’s all very Flash Gordon at the front door.
Image: a thermal camera

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stop thief... whoever you are

One of our readers (thanks D) has pointed us to the recently published finale of the theft alluded to in Dr No. The portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Goya seen in the movie was stolen from the National Art Gallery in London and eventually recovered. Kempton Bunton, a 61-year-old unemployed bus driver, confessed to the crime and spent three months in jail although he was eventually found not guilty of nicking the painting only of stealing the frame. It now appears that it was in fact his son John who did the deed. Friday’s Guardian tells all:

“Just before dawn on Monday 21 August 1961, John Bunton – a temporary van driver living not far away in digs off Tottenham Court Road – stood on a parking meter to get over the gallery's back wall. He then used a six-metre ladder left by builders to climb through the unlocked window of a men's toilet to get into the main building of the gallery.

"The painting was standing on an easel in a roped-off enclosure at the top of the main stairs. 'I went up to it, took hold of it, and carried it back to the gents toilet,' he told the police. He climbed back out of the window, down the ladder, and retraced his steps to the back wall by St Martin's Street. 'I climbed over the wall, still holding the picture in one hand ... I put the picture on the back seat of the car and drove back to [his furnished room in] Grafton Street. I then put the picture under my bed.'"

Bunton said that he hadn't carried a jemmy and if the toilet window had been shut he would have had to give up. He had to push-start the small black Wolseley that he used as a getaway car.

You can read more of this strange art story here.

Images: Look and Learn magazine illustrations for a story on the theft. Thanks to this new information we now know they got the thief wrong and that the painting wasn’t taken off a wall. The illustrations Recovery of the stolen Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington are by Andrew Howat / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / The Bridgeman Art Library

Monday, December 10, 2012


For all of you OTN regulars who only read to the left of the blog we will be in China and Bangladesh for the rest of the month. The great cyber wall of China and the great absence of easily available internet in Bangladesh will mean that OTN posts will be intermittent. Still we will do our best to post when we can but, if at all, only once a day until 10 January.

Friends and neighbours

Since earthquakes obliterated Christchurch Art Gallery’s ability to operate normally, it has been very busy taking itself in new ways to the city and the country via outreach and the web. It’s been an impressive effort but it must have been depressing for them not to be able to continue with the large scale, big production value shows they were becoming known by. Given that, how did the large exhibition of Shane Cotton’s work curated by Christchurch’s indefatigable Justin Paton avoid becoming another casualty of the disaster and instead open this weekend? Through collegial cooperation, that’s how.
Brisbane’s IMA gallery has always been a strong supporter of New Zealand artists thanks to its director Robert Leonard. He got to Brisbane via head curating jobs at the Auckland Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and has never lost his commitment to the art of his own country. Since he took over in 2005 Brisbane has had a pretty good taste of what’s on offer from NZ.
By agreeing to partner up with the Christchurch Art Gallery on Shane Cotton’s The hanging sky and launch it from the IMA, Leonard has not only made it available to Brisbane but has also ensured that with the grunt work done it will be shown in NZ too. Perhaps this Australian gesture will serve as a prompt to some of our own art museums. A partnership with Christchurch would be pretty helpful given their continuing lack of a building and a few exhibition posters with the line ‘in association with the Christchurch Art Gallery’ would be good for all of us.
You can see a sample of Shane Cotton’s paintings for the Christchurch Art Gallery/IMA exhibition here and some beautiful shots taken during the installation here.
Image: Australians loving Shane Cotton at the IMA opening in Brisbane

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Champ chimp

While it’s true Legoflamb picked this story up and ran with it on Thursday, OTN remains the blog of record for animal art so here, if you caught it on LoL, it is again.
Turns out Bubbles (b.1983), the chimp that lived with Michael Jackson and the subject of Jeff Koons’s eponymous sculpture, has turned his own hand to art. This is the same chimpanzee that accompanied Jackson on his visit to the Mayor of Osaka during the Bad World tour and was allowed to join the two for tea. You can see Jackson and Bubbles doing the Moon Walk here.
Bubbles went to live with Jackson on the Neverland Ranch in 1988, the same year Jeff Koons made his famous porcelain Michael Jackson and Bubbles as part of his Banality series.In the early 2000s Bubbles became aggressive and was sent to an animal sanctuary eventually ending up in the Centre for great apes (CGA) in Florida where he  lives now.
In his old age (chimp years) Bubbles has taken up the brush and is making paintings one of which was sold at Art Basel Miami this week.
Images: Top, Michael Jackson with Bubbles and bottom, Bubbles painting

Friday, December 07, 2012

Art in Adland

Lotto's latest TV advert reaches out to Damien Hirst's diamond encrusted skull to sell a must-have moment to their punters.


If you’re an art museum director at present the most likely thing you're out there hunting for is a senior curator. There was a time in NZ when only the biggest institutions had more than one curator but now smaller institutions have added more and with them another layer to manage them. Today the City Gallery, Te Papa and the Govett-Brewster are all after a senior curator. And it’s not just in New Zealand that these senior curators are in demand. In Los Angeles three art institutions are on the hunt for one of their own.

Regular art curators are the ones who get to look at art, pick the shows, mess around in artists' studios, visit entertaining collectors and spend time in the storerooms gloating over the purchases they have made by bidding in exciting auctions. Senior art curators, on the other hand, all too often are handed the administrative end of the stick. They get to spend their time making sure that the regular curators are free to have their fun. Hmmmm.

So eyes will be on Auckland’s recent appointment of Zara Stanhope as senior curator aka principal curator. Will she slip into an admin role or see herself as the kind of lead curator who sets the curatorial agenda, develops the programme and takes on the plum exhibitions? How ever she plays it, it’s now one down and three to go.
Image: Legendary British curator David Sylvester back in the day

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Looks like art

From photographer Jessica Hilltout (via Flavorwire) pictures of soccer balls made by kids in Africa. You can see more of them here

The blues

For most people involved in art the three nudes on the left probably look like bad colour matches for the famous Yves Klein blue as applied to a plaster nude in his 1982 Venus Bleu, Torso of Nude Blue. That one is in fact the nude on the right. The other three have been spinning round the web over the last couple of days as their ‘blues’ come not from art but from social media brands. From the left they are Facebook blue, Tumblr Blue and Twitter blue. 
Image: Blue 3.0 (Consumer Calibration), 2012 via http://thejogging.tumblr.com + Yves

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


There have been many rip-offs of Gordon Walter's version of the koru but haven't seen one quite as brazen as this Auckland example for a while. (Thanks Y)

By the numbers

One of the most notable changes in the art museum and dealer gallery business over the last decade or so has been the growing importance of women as they take on increasingly influential positions. 
But what about the supply side? How do women make out at the coalface exhibiting their own work as artists? In a sample of 20 well known dealers taken from around NZ (the full list is here) the number of women artists represented compared to men is only around three for every seven men on dealer gallery rosters. (The average number of artists in the NZ dealer galleries represented by this sample is around 22 with the range being from a low of six to a high of 47 artists) 
So is the male/female ratio any different when women are the dealers? A bit, but not as much as you might expect. On average, male artists make up 58 percent of the representation by galleries operated by women. Of course there are outliers. Two of the six women running galleries in this sample have more than 50 percent of the artists they represent as women with the highest hitting 58 percent.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Pope art

The statue of Pope John Paul II that has been erected near to the Rome Railway station has caused all sorts of public grief. The artist Oliviero Rainaldi was told to go back and re-jig it and has done so. Now the complaint is that it looks more like Italy’s war time dictator Benito Mussolini than the much-loved Pope. Rome’s Mayor when asked if the public outcry would mean the sculpture’s removal muttered 'Vox populi, vox dei” (Voice of the people, voice of God).
Images: Sculpture, dictator and Pope, you be the judge

When good sculpture turns bad

This barely squeezes into our series on public sculpture When good public sculpture turns bad, but it’s near enough since this particular one's having a double anniversary this year. That's 20 years since Jeff Koons’s Puppy was erected at Documenta 9 (Koons wasn’t invited but went anyway) and 15 years since it was showcased outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao at its opening. And that's where this story starts. 

As Puppy stood in readiness for the Museum's big opening day, its 43-foot frame covered with 20,000 individual flowering plants, three members of the Basque separatist group ETA set out to disrupt the opening and possibly kill or injure King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. The plan was to plant explosives in potted plants and detonate them via remote control during the opening events on the Saturday. 

On the Monday morning before, two policemen saw a suspicious-looking van parked in a side street near the Museum. The number plates turned out to be false and the police saw three men dressed as gardeners carrying potted plants toward Puppy. When the 'gardeners' saw the police approaching they fired four shots killing police officer Jose María Aguirre. The police took up the chase and soon all three were apprehended along with more explosives and firearms. The square where Koons’s Puppy now stands is named after the murdered policeman.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Public elf service

Wellington last week was dominated by Hobbits including a Hobbit Artisan Fair with Elfin weaving, Wizard treats and Goblin snow freeze to go. We even had Barry (Edna Everage) Humphries telling us “Peter Jackson has turned Wellington into the artistic capital of the Southern Hemisphere." (thanks Barry, good to know)
Fortunately Jeweller Karl Fritsch (we suspect not entirely innocently) ended the week on a high note by setting up his own fair in the Hamish McKay Gallery on Saturday. Cadging work from friends and artists Fritsch assembled a candelabra themed show that also included a few of his own brilliant free wheeling efforts. (Thanks Karl).

Counter intuitive

Te Papa has just released its latest Annual Report covering 2011-2012 and it gives some interesting insights into how the institution is faring. Visitor numbers have pretty much flat-lined since a surge back in 2008; they are up three percent on last year but down 12 percent against the golden year of 2008. We didn’t see any hand clickers or door beams in a quick check yesterday so visitor numbers must be constructed out of surveys and sampling (the margin of error is not mentioned). Ticket sales are a very reliable form of counting but Te Papa chooses not to share them so no visitor numbers for paid exhibitions like Oceania: Early Encounters 

So why was 2008 such a strong year for Te Papa? The answer is in this year's Annual Report. “The strong visitor performance in 2008/09 can be attributed to successful choices around visitor experience, but especially Monet and the Impressionists, the Colossal Squid, and Rita Angus: Life and Vision.” Yes, art proved itself a major attractor for Te Papa (two of the Big Three 08 attractors) and is used constantly to push the brand. Of the seven shows Te Papa toured in New Zealand last year, five of them were art exhibitions.

Yet, art is still Te Papa's unwanted child relegated to unsuitable makeshift spaces up five flights of stairs or via a confusing lift/stair combo. The fact is Te Papa has still not put to rest the shadow of MONZ (Museum of New Zealand) in which the independence and credibility of art were gleefully destroyed by art bureaucrats. For a cold-water-in-the-face experience check out Gaylene Preston's extraordinary fly-on-the-wall documentary film Getting to our place. It's a chilling real-time record of the early development of Te Papa. You can view it here.

And what is Te Papa’s solution to the anti-art legacy instituted by Ken Gorbey and Ian Wedde? “Work is underway on the Proposition for Art project, which seeks to establish Te Papa as a nationally and internationally recognised premier institution for art and visual culture in New Zealand, from its earliest expressions to the present day”.

Next week we will have another look at the Te Papa report. Our question, where are the lost children?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

New Wave

It’s Saturday a perfect opportunity to get down to the beach and make a few modernist sand castles. That’s what this guy did anyway.