Friday, 22 August 2008

The journey from conception to show – curating The Enchanted Garden.

Giusto Utens Medici Villa at Pratolino, 1599
Museo Firenze com'era, Florence

A common question that curators are asked is ‘How do you think up exhibitions?’ The question, inevitably, can’t be answered simply. Sometimes a show is curated to answer a particular need, to explore a particular artist’s history of working, or to honour a patron who has sponsored particular works, or perhaps to give an overview of a particular art historical period. When a curator is ferreting through storage, works are constantly being revealed that suggest a particular theme, or point to a need to explore a particular artist or period. And then there are the times when just for the pure joy of it, you decide you’re going to see just how many works you can put together on a theme because it has triggered a memory of a pleasurable incident. And that is precisely how The Enchanted Garden, which is going to show upstairs in the New Gallery from 13th December 2008 until the 15th March 2009 came about.

From late 1991 to July 1992, I lived in Florence, having received a scholarship from the Italian Government to carry out research for my Master’s Degree, which I was doing through the Italian Department at the University of Auckland.

Stefano Della Bella. The tree house at Pratolino c. 1652
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki,
bequest of Dr Walter Auburn, 1982

I often visited public gardens in the weekend, partly to escape the stony environment of the city. Once spring arrived, more gardens opened, one of which was Pratolino. Like so many villas in the countryside around Florence, Pratolino had once belonged to the Medici family. The Museo di Firenze com’era (The Museum of Florence as it was) holds a remarkable set of lunettes painted by the topographical artist, Giusto Utens, who was commissioned to paint all the Medici villas, as they appeared at the end of the 16th century. These show the gardens and villas in their entirety from a bird’s eye view. Pratolino’s original formal gardens have all but disappeared, as a Capability Brown style of garden was introduced when they became all the rage in the eighteenth century. The only sculpture left is Giambologna's Giant of the Appenines Luckily however, they are also recorded in Stefano Della Bella’s set of etchings carried out fifty years or so after Utens, providing a close up, as it were, of the parterres, walks, grottoes and sculptures that used to be there .
Stefano Della Bella
Giambologna's Giant statue of the Appenines c. 1652 Pratolino
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki,
bequest of Dr Walter Auburn, 1982

When I came to view these prints in storage at the Gallery in 1999, I immediately saw the possibility of curating a show on the theme of gardens. So why, you ask, has it taken that long? In fact it had been considered for our programme three years ago, but for a number of reasons had to be postponed until now, and during that time has moved from a space in the Main Gallery to the upper floor of the New Gallery. Over the next few weeks I will elaborate on the processes that go into putting together an exhibition, covering such topics at the selection of collection, sourcing loans; layout and design, research and writing, public programmes, and installation.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

What is a docent

Recently at one of our regular Thursday staff meetings, Education Assistant, Christine Wildman did a fantastic presentation on our docent team. Here is an extract from that:

"Definition of docent – usually a volunteer guide and the word comes via German from the Latin ‘docere’, which means to teach or lead. It is a term introduced to describe our volunteers when the programme was instituted about 25 years ago.

We currently have 26 Docents (25 women and 1 man) who cover a wide range of life experiences and ages – ranging from 20+ through to 80+ - generally the age is older and the mix favours women." Christine Wildman, Education Assistant, Auckland Art Gallery

With our main gallery building currently being closed, and our only exhibition space being the New Gallery, the staff are under pressure to try and provide the same kind of service in a very different environment. I was amazed to find out that docents sign up for a two year contract with us, and receive a 10 week training programme. some have been with us for over 10 years!

It just made me think how fantastic they are for committing their time to the gallery, totally for free, for the public and i thought it would be good to find out from one of them why they do it. So i have, and here is what docent Elizabeth Buchanan writes.

Being a docent at Auckland Art Gallery
by Elizabeth Buchanan

"I suppose I have always been interested in art. Unfortunately I am not gifted to paint or draw well myself. The opportunity to become a docent at the Auckland Art Gallery was just the incentive I needed to indulge myself in my desire to see more and learn more about art. What an opportunity!
Many years ago an inspirational art teacher quoted “never has anything in your home that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful” - I liked that. But as a docent, it’s often been a real challenge for me to revaluate how I personally think about objects and how I value them. Sometimes I really do not immediately relate well to some shows. I am constantly required to re-appraise my definition of “beauty” and look at more than just the skill displayed. What is the artist telling us, what is the truth here?

I love the regular docent meetings with the chance to hear curators describe their new exhibitions and share their excitement and knowledge. It’s then up to me to research independently. I am especially interested in understanding the historical and political background of shows.

Ultimately docents have the pleasure of talking to visitors, often from other countries, about the elements of the current shows. Visitors bring a different perspective too, which is often very interesting.

I especially enjoy helping the education staff in a practical way with the school groups who come to the gallery to view an exhibition. The children then create something for themselves influenced by what they have seen.

I count it as a real privilege to be a docent. Lucky me!"
Elizabeth Buchanan, 2008

I really hope anyone who can comes and tries one of the docents free 2pm tours (they also help with education groups, adults group tours and support our access programmes, among other things). The docent team are not only highly knowledgable but also extremely entertaining. We are so lucky to have such a fantastic and committed team.

p.s unfortunately Elizabeth Buchanan isn't in any of the photos!!!

On Photography - Len, Wog and the girls

Frequently, I encounter photographs where I have no knowledge of why they were discarded. Markets and second-hand stores regularly offer photographs, which people have discarded but chosen not to destroy. Less regularly, I come across transparencies that were once called ‘colour slides’. They had their hey-day in the 1960s and 1970s when overseas trips by locals could result in interminable slide shows, sometimes containing hundreds of poorly exposed images. As if every photo taken on holiday is of interest to others.

At a market a few years back I came across a collection of Kodachrome slides taken on a trip from Sydney to Brisbane. How do I know this? The slides have inscriptions and there is what we call ‘internal visual evidence’. The most interesting picture was this image (below) of Len (left hand side) and his Italian mate Wog (right hand side) on the New South Wales to Queensland State Highway.

Unknown (twentieth century)
Australia Len and Wog circa 1965-1966
Kodachrome transparency

They are going north and eucalyptus trees surround the highway. The guys are propped against the cab, on the tailgate of what appears to be a Holden FB ‘Ute’ from about 1960. A 1956 Holden FE is seen in the road behind, followed by a Holden EJ (1962-65). It is summer and they want a tan. They have a couple of friends in the cab and the passenger has turned back to get the shot.

Unknown (twentieth century),
MMM Man! Sydney circa 1965-1966
Kodachrome transparency

Another shot is labelled North Sydney and has the title: MMM Man! Our travel photographer now peers at two young women modelling summer swimwear at a local wharf for a fashion photographer. A local woman looks down on him disapprovingly; he is definitely snooping on this scene with his camera. Both shots should be dated in the period 1965-1966.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Ron Brownson – On Photography

My fortnightly posts will address photography, from both the past and the present. I’ll include photographs held in Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki collections as well as other collections, both public and private. My aim is to open up some discussion about various practices of photography – here in New Zealand and elsewhere.

My posts will include images by well-known artists as well as unknown practioners. Images may be famous or may be currently outside public awareness. All will be interesting to look at and to read about.

Photograph 1:

John Kinder (1819 – 1903) , Pikiareo (clematis paniculata), circa 1865
albumen on paper
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki purchased 1983

The Reverend Dr John Kinder began making photographs about seven years after he immigrated to New Zealand in 1855. His employment as the Master of the Church of England Grammar School at Auckland allowed him sufficient leisure for a photographic hobby, which required lots of time and effort. Simply making one photograph a day would entail mainy hours of his time.

Kinder’s fascination with local flora also characterises his watercolour painting, and is evident in his early photographs of New Zealand’s landscape (1863-68). This close-up is one of the very first still-life photographs made in New Zealand. Taken in full sunlight outside the Master’s home, Kinder subsequently inscribed the album’s page with his photograph’s title - Pikiareo (clematis paniculata). He omitted to name the other flower he had arranged in the Parian ware vase – a sprig of kōwhai ngutu-kākā or red kākā beak.

Kinder took photographs for nearly two decades using the hugely difficult wet-plate process. This entailed the advance preparation of large plate-glass negatives followed by a considerable time for exposure and the immediate development of the negative, usually in a makeshift portable darkroom.

John Kinder is one of New Zealand’s finest photographers. His images of landscape, architecture, and flora are amongst the best image made locally. Always concentrated by an artist’s pre-vision and always with tons of emotion-filled response to his subjects. Kinder’s are some of our rarest photographs and some of the best.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

and the judge is.........

The judge for the Walters Prize 2008 has been announced.

Paris based curator Catherine David will be deciding the winner of the 2008 Walters Prize, choosing from the work of the four finalists announced earlier this year.

Here is a bit about here from the 'official' press release:

Catherine David has worked at the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou (1982-90), the Galerie National du Jeu de Paume (1990-94) and the Witte de With, center for contemporary art in Rotterdam (2002-04).

She is highly regarded for her groundbreaking role as director of documenta X (1994-97) and her acclaimed project Contemporary Arab Representations 1 and 2, produced in association with the Tàpies Foundation (2003). More recently, she was a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2005-06), where she worked towards a project entitled Di/Visions: Culture and politics of the Middle East (2007).

Earlier this year, she received the Award for Curatorial Excellence from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, in New York. She was selected for the award by a panel of leading critics, curators and art experts, which praised her most recent collaborations between institutions in the Arab World and the art world as being particularly important for our time, and acknowledged her as someone whose contributions have shaped the way we conceive exhibition making today.

photo credit: Catherine David, Photo, by Bob Goedewaagen