Thursday, 19 March 2015

E H McCormick Research Library Summer Art Archive Internship

This summer I was fortunate enough to be selected as the inaugural E H McCormick Research Library summer Archive intern. I was given the choice of a number of archives that needed accessioning, finally settling on the IKON gallery archive.

The IKON gallery, originally known as ‘The Gallery’ was active in Auckland from 1960-1965, run by Don Wood and Frank Lowe. It was one of the first dealer galleries in New Zealand and exhibited works by a number of leading artists – Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere, Pat Hanly, Don Binney, and Toss Woollaston to name but a few.

The archive itself was varied and consisted of some 12 boxes, in a rather jumbled state. The archive contained everything from newspaper clippings, business receipts, sketches and plans, to personal correspondence between the gallery owners and artists. The sheer quantity of documents was initially overwhelming, especially considering the large amount of metal staples, pins, and paperclips that needed removing and replacing- finally being replaced with more than 800 plastic paper clips. This seemed like an insurmountable challenge! Fortunately for me, I had the invaluable guidance and patience of librarian and archivist Caroline McBride to help me find the way, and together we devised a plan of attack.

We defined categories for each of the types of documents and paraphernalia found in the archive, and I proceeded to work through the boxes identifying what they contained. It was important to decide if the boxes or files within them were organised in any particular way – known as original order. On ascertaining that there was initially an alphabetical order, it was decided to proceed with that, with some small adjustments.

Correspondence was sorted A-Z by artist, then the large quantity of business receipts and documents went into general folders, newspapers were put together, with any notable clippings placed into the A-Z correspondence files. Interestingly, there is also a full card index detailing all purchases and works left with the gallery during its run. This will make for detailed provenance information for many important artworks by leading New Zealand artists.

Due to the huge number of documents this took a significant amount of time, but the end results were well worth the hard work! The IKON gallery archive will be an incredible resource for researchers and the gallery. This is due to its fantastic primary material, with hand written correspondence from major New Zealand artists, and provenance information in the card index.

– Cecilia Lynch, E H McCormick Research Library Summer Intern

Monday, 9 February 2015

Learning through the Arts: What’s the value? How do you do it well?

Did you know that students participating in a one-off art gallery learning programme were shown to perform on average 9.1% better in their use of critical thinking skills than students who hadn’t? This improvement increased to about 18% for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students from ‘minority’ groups. 

Auckland Art Gallery Schools’ Team do lots of research into best practice in Arts learning (and learning in general), and into the impact of Arts learning on students within and beyond the subject. We integrate this learning into the programming we develop for schools.

We wanted to share with you a few things we’ve found really interesting and useful lately, that we thought would be valuable for classroom teachers, in the classroom too.

Crystal Bridges study

  • American study, focusing on what learning came out of a one-off gallery programme for school students 
  • Largest study of its kind involving 10,912 Years 1–13 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools 
  • Results show critical thinking, recall, tolerance, empathy and cultural interest increase
  • Effect is greatest for rural, high poverty and minority students 

Visible thinking skills

  • A flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters. Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions; and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mind-set, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them 
  • At the core of Visible Thinking are practices that help make thinking visible: Thinking Routines loosely guide learners’ thought processes and encourage active processing. They are short, easy-to-learn mini-strategies that extend and deepen students’ thinking and become part of the fabric of everyday classroom life. 

 Projects that use visible thinking skills to explore visual art and beyond

– Christa Napier-Robertson, Schools Programme Coordinator

Photography's Auckland

Auckland celebrated its 175th anniversary two weeks ago. There was a true party feeling downtown. Tomorrow we mark 175 years since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The Auckland anniversary festivities included a street display of huge blow-ups from historical negatives held in the Auckland Libraries collection. It was the biggest display of large Auckland photographs that I have seen.

Curated by Mike Mizrahi as part of the 175th event, there was a sequence of about 20 huge blow-ups displayed along Quay Street. They attracted thousands of people during their 72 hour display. Few people would have seen as many local photographs dating from 1860 to 1960.

These mammoth photos were irresistible. Many of the images were used as backdrops for selfies. The murals became a montage of attractions simply because they share history as images. The large labels were informative yet they did ignore the names of the camera artists who had created these images.

There's a lesson to be learnt there – don't forget to credit artists' names.

This exhibition proves that the public are fascinated with photographs of where they live, especially if they are of such a huge scale that one can scan them for detailed information.

I didn't know before seeing the above details that men’s trousers in the summer of 1860 were sometimes made with double-seamed linen in an unbleached coarse-weave or constructed from raw cotton woven as a mid-weight duck canvas. Or that caps were frequent head day-wear.

I liked the way Mike chose the sites for the enlarged photos. The above image related closely to where the photo was sited. It showed the central city recruiting station during World War 1. Volunteers visited daily and the names of the successful applicant to New Zealand's army were named in the next day's newspapers. The Auckland suburbs that they lived in were also named.

In the profile that the New Zealand Herald produced about Inside Out Company's work for the Auckland anniversary Mike said "The selfie generation will really love this as it's a perfect backdrop for seemingly blending into history and somehow becoming part of it."

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

On the Mend: Part III

An update on the conservation of Woman with a Floral Wreath 

Last post, I described mending the tear, lining the canvas for support. Now finally I can give you an after treatment image.

Before Treatment                                     After Treatment
 To recreate the surface of the original paint where there was lost material, the areas of missing paint were filled with a putty-like material similar to the original ground, and the original surface texture was replicated using very fine tools. The fill was carefully retouched to match the surrounding original paint with a stable resin, which mimics oil paint well, and importantly has good aging properties. The resin remains fully reversible in solvents which don’t affect the original work should anyone wish to remove the retouching in the future. All this information is carefully documented.

(1) Detail of the tear before treatment (2) Detail of the tear after filling with white putty-like material (3) Detail of the tear after treatment.
The tear is in quite a challenging area with lots of flat colour. This can be more challenging than areas with a lot of detail. With a lot of patience and with the help of optivisors the project was finished. I look forward to seeing her on the Gallery wall soon.

– Genevieve Silvester, Paintings Conservation volunteer

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Installing the Lindauer Māori Portraits exhibition in Berlin

As a Registrar, I have been responsible for the logistics associated with the tour of Gottfried Lindauer portraits travelling to Europe. It has been a complex process that I have been working on for the last 18 months, with exhibitions in both Berlin, Germany, and afterwards in Pilsen in the Czech Republic in 2015. Like Sarah Hillary, I was a courier, but in my case I travelled on a passenger plane and was responsible for 38 paintings and 91 photographs of Māori travelling on four pallets from the collections of the Auckland Art Gallery, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the Alexander Turnbull Library.

On arrival at Auckland Airport I oversaw the palletisation of the four pallets of crates in the Air New Zealand cargo sheds. The pallets were then loaded onto the aircraft.

After 29 hours travelling time, I finally arrival in Frankfurt where the crates were transferred to a Hasenkamp truck and we then spent eight hours travelling to Berlin. Thankfully it was a beautiful autumnal day for sightseeing. We arrived at the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, late in the evening, and the crates were moved into the exhibition space for 24 hours acclimatisation.

The Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Over the first two days we opened all the works on paper – photographic images of Māori and the Lindauer Visitors Book – and Ingeborg Fries, Paper Conservator, and myself condition checked the works to make sure they arrived in the same condition as they left New Zealand. And yes, they all arrived safely and in good condition!

The Technicians then secured the framed photographs to the vitrine panels and tested the positioning of the matted photographs within the vitrines, waiting for the Designer to finalise the layout.

The carte-de-visite photographic albums, and the Lindauer Visitors Book, were placed within glazed, locked vitrines, sitting on custom-made book supports.

We then started the process of opening the crates containing the Lindauer Māori portraits. One by one the works were condition checked by Sarah Hillary and Ina Hausmann, Paintings Conservator, prior to being installed by Lutz Bertram and his team of Technicians.

We worked with a wonderful team in Berlin, consisting of Conservators, Designers and Technicians, and the works looked amazing in such a beautiful building. Signage and banners were installed and we were ready for the dawn blessing of the exhibition Gottfried Lindauer: The Māori Portraits.

As dawn broke on that calm Tuesday morning, a large crowd of press and other dignitaries were welcomed to view the blessing of the exhibition by Haerewa (the Auckland Art Gallery’s Māori Advisory Group), supported by nine members of the Ngati Ranana Māori London Club.

So if you’re in Berlin over Christmas break, do visit the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin to see this wonderful exhibition, which is on display until 12 April 2015. The exhibition will then head to Masné Krámy Exhibition Hall, in Prague, Czech Republic from May to September 2015.

Members of Haerewa (Auckland Art Gallery's Māori Advisory Group), Ngati Ranana Māori London Club, Auckland Art Gallery Director and staff members, New Zealand Ambassador to Germany, descendants of the portrait sitters, and descendants of Gottfried Lindauer

– Julie Koke, Senior Registrar

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Art, artists and AIDS in New Zealand

Isn’t it frustrating that there are few ways to easily review historic broadcasts of New Zealand’s documentary film and television? Little of this material is straightforwardly accessible. While some thematically-based vintage moving image material is available, only a small amount is published online. One reason that vintage television material is difficult to access because of the demands of copyright.

We seldom encounter exhibitions which profile panels from New Zealand’s AIDS Memorial Quilt with moving images. So, I am grateful to curator-at-large (and photographer) Gareth Watkins for assembling Thirty; firstly for Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision at Wellington. A revamped and expanded version of the show is currently showing at their Auckland office until February 27 2015.

Thirty is a type of exhibition we infrequently encounter. I have never seen before a multi-part documentary about AIDS and its effects on New Zealanders. You can download the Auckland exhibition’s catalogue here. The Auckland exhibition includes additional material on women and AIDS.

The New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilt was initiated in 1988 and is already dedicated to loved ones who died from AIDS related illnesses. The quilt is a multi-part artwork held, on deposit, by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. As a large-scale community-based memorial the quilt consists of 128 hand-crafted panels. All the panels can be viewed online. I have been wondering if the Memorial Quilt is actually the largest scale public art project yet attempted in New Zealand. Almost all of the AIDS Memorial Quilt was created by amateur artists.

On Monday 1 December, World Aids Day, I recalled that it is three decades since the first death caused by an AIDS related condition in New Zealand. AIDS has shaken up the art world everywhere. When City Gallery Wellington showed Robert Mapplethorpe’s exhibition (9 December 1995 – 20 February 1996) most visitors were aware before they visited the show that the artist (1946–1989) died of an illness caused by the AIDS antivirus. I wondered then, as I do know, if the manner of Robert's dying made people more curious about his art?

In New Zealand, during 1988, Fiona Clark made a multi-part artwork with photo-albums that address AIDS. These five albums remain one of New Zealand's most moving artworks dedicated to the lived presence of AIDS . Fiona's images are unforgettable and were created collaboratively with the people in the photographs. Her approach as an artist was ahead of its time locally and the significance of what she achieved is not yet widely understood. Written comments were added by each person to the album pages; reading these comments is like hearing the voice of each person speaking directly to you. Unlike Mapplethorpe’s art where the effects of AIDS are only apparent in his late self-portraits, Clark’s work is upfront and direct because it is so personal. Fiona and I will be holding a public conversation about her important 1988 project early next year.

The first exhibition in Auckland to address AIDS was Implicated and Immune – Artists Responses to AIDS (18 September – 18 October 1992) curated by Louis Johnston for the Fisher Gallery (now Te Tuhi) in Pakuranga. The show included artwork by John Barnett, Jack Body, Fear Brampton, Lillian Budd, Malcolm Harrison, Lesley Kaiser, Richard Killeen, Lily Lai’ita, Stephen Lovett, Richard McWhannell and Jane Zusters. The visitor programmes for this exhibition were the first occasion when local artists and commentators spoke publicly about AIDS and contemporary art. Early in 2015 Michael Lett Gallery will reprise the Fisher Gallery exhibition and return our attention to AIDS and artist responses.

For me, the combined effect of seeing the documentary footage included in Thirty is of a documentary collage focused totally on AIDS and its effect in New Zealand. This show is in fact built into one overall multi-part documentary presenting more than 180 minutes of ‘found’ footage, almost all of which has been publicly broadcast.

I recall the conversations I had during the early 1980s with the late Bruce Burnett, Nigel Baumber, Kerry Leitch and Neil Trubuhovich. This was at a time when amost nothing was being broadcast on local television about AIDS in New Zealand. Gareth Watkins's sampler now lets us review how AIDS was later publicised by on TV. This is a show that marks the 30th anniversary of the first New Zealand death from AIDS with respect. It is tough viewing yet it reveals the imminence of AIDS as an ongoing reality.

Image credit: 
Altered Lives 2012
In the Blink of An Eye produced by Bronwen Gray, animated by Sue Lim.
Stills Collection, The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero. 

With grateful thanks to Fiona Clark. I appreciate the assistance of Gareth Watkins and Paula Booker of The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero, Wellington.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

International art courier

I recently travelled to Europe for the installation of the Gottfried Lindauer: The Māori Portraits exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Berlin. I couriered the twelve biggest paintings that were too large for a regular plane cargo and had to go by air freighter.

My role as courier began when the crated paintings were collected from Auckland Art Gallery and taken to the airport for palletisation. From then on I was responsible for getting them safely to their destination in Germany.

The crates on the pallet, wrapped in plastic and webbing, ready to be loaded.

The only area of seating in the freighter was behind the cockpit, including a small kitchenette and bathroom. The seats are large and comfortable. There are no movies or alcohol, but you can make endless cups of tea and heat up your own meals when you feel like it.

Flying over Zagros Mountains in Iran

The trip involved stop-offs in Singapore, Chennai (Madras), Sharjah (UA Emirates) and Amsterdam. After two days of air travel it was still another eight and a half hours by truck to Berlin, but I arrived early on the 9 November just in time for the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Berlin. It was an incredible celebration and definitely worth staying awake for!

Balloons illuminating the Berlin Wall for the celebrations 

The installation of the exhibition took eight days and there was a wonderful team of people involved, including my colleague and Senior Registrar from Auckland, Julie Koke. I also had the chance to meet with conservators from the Alte and Neue Nationalgalerie ( Old and New National Galleries) who were interested to hear a bit more about Lindauer’s technique.

Presentation about Lindauer painting technique to local conservators.

Kerstin Krainer, conservator Alte Nationagalerie (second from left), Ina Hausmann (third from left) private conservator involved with the installation, Hana Striecher from the Neue Nationalgalerie (third from the right), Kristina Mösl, Head of Conservation Alte Nationalgalerie (second from right), and Sophie Matthews, Project Manager for the Lindauer exhibition. 

Māori representatives of the sitters in the portraits as well as a descendant of the artist came to Berlin for the various openings, much to the delight of the media and Berlin audience. Also present were Auckland Art Gallery Director, Rhana Devenport, Indigenous Curator and Lindauer expert, Ngahiraka Mason, and members of Haerewa (Auckland Art Gallery's Māori Advisory Board) including the Chair, Elizabeth Ellis.

Afterwards, I travelled to Prague to continue my research into Lindauer’s technique. I met with Theodora Popova, Assistant Professor (Restoration) at The Academy of Fine Arts, to examine a number of early works by the artist. Finally I visited Pilsen, the birthplace of Gottfried Lindauer and the location of another exhibition devoted to his work opening in May 2015.

View of Prague from Petrin Hill

– Sarah Hillary, Principal Conservator

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Development of Schools Programmes for Learners with Special Needs

Twenty students from Rutherford College’s Satellite unit visited the Gallery last term to participate in our Signs and Symbols (shape, pattern and colour) pilot programme – including a Gallery and Studio session.

We began with a quick impromptu tour of parts of the Gallery (I couldn’t not – the kids were so excited to be here!) They loved it! It was a good way to introduce the idea of symbols – particularly shape, pattern and colour and of course, the Gallery. It would definitely be good to do this each time they visit so we can reinforce ideas/experiences, give them opportunities to remember and draw on past experiences here and gradually extend their experiences, responses and understandings. I want them to feel at home here. Posing questions in each space gave them something to focus on.

We then spent time in one of the Gallery spaces, looking at these two artworks:

Sandy Adsett, Waipuna, 1978
Gordon Walters, Genealogy 5, 1971
We looked closely at the work and spoke about what we noticed. In small groups the children manipulated a selection of different coloured shapes to help them understand the work better. Then they made their own patterns using the shapes provided, which we compared to the artwork.

The art making session in the studio allowed everyone to feel proud of their work. Each student chose a symbol that said something about them (e.g. plane, computer, cat) and made a stencil which they drew around to make 8-12 identical shapes in a colour(s) of their choice. They experimented with pattern by moving the shapes around their chosen background paper. The use of more technical terms such as overlapping, reflecting and rotating then modelling what I meant was good for some of the students when making their patterns. They chose their favourite pattern and glued it in place.

They shared and reflected on their work. How can you tell who made this? What could it tell us about the person? Does this pattern/shape seem to match the person who made it? How? How do the colours tell us about the person who made it? Which patterns are similar? How? How could you describe the patterns?

Here’s some of the work made by the students in the studio session:

A focus on pattern, shape and colour seemed appropriate for this group. They were able to draw on prior knowledge and make connections with things they are familiar with. They could be successful but still had the opportunity to learn some new ideas through making comparisons, observing closely and participating in an activity related to the work.

Future considerations: 

I would like to visit the regular groups at their school so I can see how the teachers work and interact with them and the types of programmes they participate in. Also as a way of building my relationship with them, getting to know them and their needs better (and their teachers) and for my own professional development.

Where to now?

Five other schools have booked in to participate in this pilot programme over the next few weeks. Once I have taught everyone, received feedback from the teachers and made changes where necessary, I would like to make this programme part of our standard programmes permanently on offer to schools. Then on to the next pilot programme – Portraiture and Identity!

As the two artworks used above are no longer on show in the Gallery we will use the works below:

Jonathan Jones, untitled (sum of the parts), 2010/2014 
Michael Parekowhai, The Bosom of Abraham, 1999
– Mandy Jakich, Educator LEOTC

Image credits:

Sandy Adsett
Waipuna 1978
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1995

Gordon Walters
Genealogy 5 1971
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Gift of Dame Jenny Gibbs in honour of Chris Saines, Gallery Director (1996-2013)

Jonathan Jones
Kamilaroi / Wiradjuri people

untitled (sum of the parts) 2010/2014
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2010
Courtesy the artist and Tim Melville Gallery

Michael Parekowhai
The Bosom of Abraham 1999
Edition 2/14
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1999

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

On the Mend: Part II

An update on the conservation of Woman with a Floral Wreath 

Before treatment began
Last week I described how the painting had been removed from its old stretcher and the excess wax carefully removed. The next steps in the treatment plan are to mend the tear in the canvas before lining the canvas for support and to enable re-stretching before retouching the loss so it is no longer a focal point.

Mending the tear 

The fibres around the tear were broken and in disarray and some were sitting on the wrong side of the canvas covering original paint. To have any hope of getting a flat surface (crucial for achieving a perfect retouching) and recovering the hidden original paint meant hours under the microscope, removing old fill and carefully placing the fibres back into their original positions. These were supported by the addition of a few new threads where threads had been broken or were missing.

1. Under the microscope the mess of matted fibres embedded in the white fill is apparent  2. Looking at the same area with transmitted light, after the fill was removed and the fibres were aligned and new fibres were being added to fill in gaps. 

This highly delicate work can only be achieved under magnification.
Filling and lining 

The old losses were then filled and the painting was lined onto a new lining canvas using a vacuum table and with temperature control. After lining, the painting could be stretched onto a new stretcher.

Lining the painting

1. During lining the painting is under vacuum 2. The painting is stretched and ready for retouching
Varnishing and retouching 

The final stages of the treatment are the varnishing and mimetic retouching which aims to make the new repair invisible to the viewer.

Further research

Before a treatment begins, the painting is subjected to a thorough examination, and throughout the conservation process the conservator naturally gains a pretty intimate knowledge of a painting. Examination under magnification reveals just how the painting was made, identifying pigments, revealing the build-up of paint layers and changes since execution. Occasionally samples of paint can be taken and looking at these under strong magnification can reveal the painting’s composition. Two samples were taken from Woman with a Floral Wreath using a method shared in a previous post.

These samples shed light on how the ground was applied – unusually, in three distinct and separate layers.

A tiny sample of paint from the flesh tones of Woman with a Floral Wreath. The upper layer of paint shows a mixture of red, blue, yellow, black and white pigments used to create an area of flesh in shade. The bulk of the sample is three layers of white ground. 
The information gained from these will hopefully make it possible to make an informed estimate of the origin of the canvas. It is hoped that this research into provenance through technical examination will be continued after the treatment is complete. The discovery of French newsprint on the old stretcher, the ground structure and identification of pigments are all great leads for further research on the provenance of this painting.

Fragments of newsprint on the old stretcher
Please check back later for further exciting developments, and to see the painting after the treatment is complete!

– Genevieve Silvester, Paintings Conservation volunteer

Friday, 31 October 2014

On the Mend

The conservation of Woman with a Floral Wreath from the collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Before treatment: the discolouration of old overpaint over a large tear in the lower right of the painting is very distracting.
Probably late 18th century, Woman with a Floral Wreath is a copy of the work of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805). Scarred by an old tear in the lower right of the canvas – which had become raised and discoloured – our painting has lingered for a number of years in storage awaiting conservation treatment.

First steps

The impetus for treatment centred on that tear. The edges had begun to lift and the retouching was significantly discoloured, no longer integrated with the surrounding original paint. To improve the repair, the old retouching and fill needed to be removed.

But, to complicate matters, the painting was wax-resin lined (a second canvas is adhered to the original) some time ago, but the adhesion had begun to fail. Unfortunately the adhesive was applied unevenly which caused deformations in the original canvas. To remove these, the two needed to be separated and the glue removed. This also allows realignment of the fibres in the tear which would help ensure an almost invisible repair.

Removal of the lining

To protect the surface of the painting, a sheet of strong but flexible tissue paper was adhered to the surface.

Applying facing tissue
The stretcher and lining canvas were then removed. It was exciting to discover newsprint in French still adhered to the stretcher giving further clues to the painting’s provenance. The thick layer of wax resin adhesive was removed as far as possible. After which the painting regained much more flexibility and the deformations relaxed back into plane.

1. Removing the old stretcher  2. The lining canvas, made from cotton duck 3. The original canvas, with a layer of thick uneven wax-resin

Removal of the varnish 

To support the painting during varnish removal and while mending the tear, it was temporarily adhered to a polyester fabric around the perimeter. This was attached to a strainer, allowing safe handling, access to front and back, and air circulation during varnish removal.

The back of the painting made accessible while attached to a temporary strainer during treatment.
A film of discoloured varnish and much of the overpaint was removed, revealing the subtle tonal modelling of the painting.

Halfway through varnish removal, the left side still has a layer of yellowed varnish.

About me

A kiwi paintings conservator, fresh from training and working in Europe, I was looking to gain experience with fellow New Zealand conservators when the chance to be involved in this project arose and I have been preparing this French beauty for a return to the gallery wall.

In my next entry I hope to show the process of repairing the canvas and lining and retouching, and maybe dabble with some technical examination results. Check back soon!

– Genevieve Silvester, Paintings Conservation volunteer