Friday 30 January 2009

How to tag lots of art

As we are looking into redeveloping our website i have been doing some research into way of engaging people with our collection.

I recently heard at the National Digital Forum, from George Oats, how Flickr has helped institutions tag their collection by leaving it open to Flickr users to add the tags of works online as part of the creative commons project. Making sure the tags come from the users rather than the institutions.

Browsing on the Brooklyn Museum's site i saw they have taken a similar route and made it into a 'game' for people to 'tag' their collection for them. You have to have an account to do this (i'm not sure about that part) but once in you are shown various items from the collection that you can describe it in words, creating tags.

Check it out here.......i'd recommend getting an account if you don't have one. It's actually quite addictive once you get started.

Once you have added your tags you can watch a 'thank you' video. A nice touch i think.

Something that will go in the vault to think of for our new website.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Cecil looking at Henry and Christopher and Augustus

Between the two World Wars, Cecil Beaton (1904 - 1980) was one of England’s best known photographers. His fame resulted from two facts; he regularly recorded celebrities and he always ensured his portraits were published in magazines which had a massive circulation.

Beaton adored royalty and cherished members of European aristocracy, yet his gritty character never dissuaded him from writing exceptionally negative comments about the nobility in his tell-all diaries.

Beaton accepted the fact that he was a committed snob. He was only interested in ‘cultured’ people, those who lived privileged or extraordinary lives. The portraits he made as a war photographer frequently seem more like decorative and romantic compositions. He staunchly avoided what he considered to be 'ugly subjects' so his military images often come across like campy fashion shots of wartime. However, as a challenging artist, Beaton never let his affection for celebrating ‘taste’ deflate his personal preference for surreal, and even bizarre, photographic oppositions.

One of Beaton’s astonishing gifts was his ability to visually dramatise reality. The Gallery owns two of his exceptional photographic portraits. Beaton’s double portrait (above) of the curator Henry Geldzahler and his partner, the painter Christopher Scott, was taken in 1969, the same year in which David Hockney completed his double portrait (Abrams Family collection, New York) which was used as the photograph's hilarious back-drop. The conceit of this photograph is simple – replicate an already novel painted composition as a pictorial re-staging by using the painting’s actual subjects. In the painting both men are made to look like a zombie couple, not the adoring partners that their friends knew them to be in life.

Hockney had spent January and February of 1969 completing his huge double portrait, which the painter described as ‘St Henry radiating light visited by an angel in a raincoat’. Kynastan McShine of the Museum of Modern Art commented that the painting was 'the scene of a contemporary annunciation' (see: Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, London, Chatto and Windus 1988, p103). However, Beaton’s photograph has more humour than Hockney’s portrait because the painting’s sitters are participating in a staged, and stagey, homage to Hockney's own painting of them.

Notice how comfortably the two men inhabit their trad-boho clothes in Beaton's shot. He was totally skilled at transforming the occasion of a photograph into a session of collaborative fun. Beaton's portraits on the wedding day of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II resulted in the most memorable photographs of any British royal wedding simply because he made that special photo-event into a theatrical performance with royal players.

Cecil Beaton’s compelling image of Augustus John from 1955 is a very telling portrait of an artist's personality. In England, during the early years of the 20th century, Augustus John was considered to be one of the nation’s finest painters. John’s drawing skills were extraordinary and his small-scale oil studies of his family are brimming with verve. Later, John told Cecil Beaton that ‘my wall decorations keep changing and evolving like life itself’ (see: Michael Holroyd, Augustus John, London, Penguin Books, 1976, page 717). The photographer knew that John had struggled for decades on his huge, and never to be completed, triptych of Gypsies.
Beaton simply asked the painter to sit in front of his mural. In the resulting photograph Augustus John looks frazzled, preoccupied and even physically unaware of Beaton’s presence. Five years later, in June 1960, John began his final oil portrait of Cecil Beaton who told the photographer ‘I think … this is going to be… the best portrait… that I have ever… painted’ (ibid, page 719). Sadly, John never completed his portrait of Beaton.

Image credits:
Cecil Beaton England (1904 – 1980)
Augustus John 1955
gelatin silver print
197 x 188mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1979

Cecil Beaton England (1904 – 1980)
Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott and their portrait by David Hockney 1969
gelatin silver print
317 x 458mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1979

Friday 23 January 2009

George Silk’s Papuan samaritan

George Silk was one of Life magazine’s best photographers and he worked for them from 1943 until 1972. He gained an international reputation overnight from publishing his poignant photograph of a wartime samaritan assisting a wounded soldier to safety. While Silk had been born in New Zealand’s town of Levin in 1916, he immigrated to Australia as a young adult and is well-known there as an artist.

During 1939, Silk joined the Ministry of Information and soon was working offshore as a combat photographer for the Australian military, firstly in North Africa, then in Greece and finally in New Guinea. Late in 1942, he made this remarkable photograph which immediately brought his combat photography to a wide audience when it was published by Life in March 1943.

This famous image is, arguably, one of the most moving photographs from the Pacific war. George Silk made it by chance when he was walking over Papua’s arduous Kokoda track, very near the battlefield site of Buna-Gona. It was Christmas Day 1942 and he chanced upon the blinded Private George ‘Dick’ Whittington, an Australian Soldier of the 2/10th Battalion (commission number QX23902), being helped by Raphael Oimbari, a Papuan orderly. Dick had been wounded in battle and needed to reach the Australian field hospital at Dobodura.

Bearers like Raphael had already become essential to the Australian war effort in Papua and were already affectionately known to soldiers as ‘the fuzzy wuzzy angels’. (click here for more on this)

Whittington had been blinded on 24 December in the battle for control of the Buna airfield. His eyes recovered from their wounds but he soon contracted scrub typhus and died suddenly at Port Moresby on 12 February 1943. Therefore, when Life published Silk's photograph Dick had passed away a few weeks earlier.

The National Gallery of Australia organised a retrospective exhibition of the artist's work and the curator noted ‘Silk recalled that standing alone near “the front” in a field of tall Kunai grass he saw two people walking towards him. A New Guinea volunteer was tenderly helping a wounded soldier. Silk was deeply affected and his response as a photographer was purely instinctive. He took only one shot. Blinded soldier, New Guinea was a powerful replay of the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan and it vindicated the efforts of the New Guinea native volunteers whose involvement in the war was pivotal to the allies’ success.’ National Gallery of Australia

Raphael Oimbari (1920 -1996) was a member of the Papuan Koiari tribe and he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his wartime assistance to Australian soldiers. He became renowned in both Papua New Guinea and Australia and is considered one of Papua’s greatest citizens. George Silk’s photograph brought Raphael fame and respect and he has become the international ‘face’ of Papuans during World War II.

'The men of the tribes of Papua and later of New Guinea flocked to help the Aussies.... Some fought in organised Units... .However, they acted as bearers, mostly. They carried food and ammo forward and the wounded back. By so doing they created a legend.' Digger History Website

Image credits:

George Silk (1916 – 1943) New Zealand/Australia/United States of America
Blinded soldier, New Guinea
Private George ‘Dick’ Whittington being led to an aid station by Raphael Oimbari
25 December 1942
gelatin silver print
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1975

Thursday 15 January 2009

Venus keeps her toes out of the water

We are back and raring to go in 2009. I meant to post about this before Christmas but it was not to be.

As part of The Enchanted Garden, our exhibition designer Scott Everson and the curator of the exhibition, Mary Kisler, decided that a water feature inside the exhibition would be perfect to enhance the 'garden' theme and provide a fantastic platform for Antonio Canova's beautiful Venus Italica (c1812) (sleeping happily in her crate below).

Now as you may already have read here we already have a forest of Pohutakawa in the exhibition so adding a pond as well has meant even more unusual goings on in the gallery. As well as wringing of hands amongst the exhibition designer and prep team.
Here is some documentary photography as Venus finds herself moved from her cosy warm crate to the middle of a pond.
Our Preparator Glen with some hazardous materials as he prepares the pond frame.

Not Sure what is going on here but i imagine some sort of sealing of the frame again by our prep Glen.

Glen putting a waterproof layer on the frame as Venus shivers in the background at the thought of leaving for the cold black box behind her.

Venus longingly looking back at her crate, as she is all wrapped up and brought out into the open.

Th sides going on the pond as curator Mary Kisler oversees the installation progress

Exhibition designer Scott and Preparator Shane check their handy-work as the stones are added to the pond.

Shane starts to put the tiles around the edge of the pond.

The pond nearly finished.

All finished as Venus rises from the water with a bottom to be admired by all. A definite highlight of the exhibition(Venus and the pond, not just her bottom).

Photos by Jennifer French and John McIver

The Enchanted Garden is on show until 8 February

Antonio Canova
Venus Italica
marble c1812
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Mr Moss Davis, 1931