Tuesday 18 December 2012

Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism

Leonard Mitchell, New Zealand Centennial exhibition 1939

Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism is an ambitiously scaled book. I don't think there is any previous local publication which has comprehensively profiled the conversation between art, illustration and tourism. It shows our art history has avoided the mix between fine art, commercial art and trade development.

Simply put, this book overviews how tourism has been promoted through visual illustration. All the artwork is connected with marketing New Zealand as a venue for national and international tourism.

Stanley Davis, Time 1931

Decades ago many of New Zealand's towns and cities were connected by rail travel. It was our primary means of travel between the regions. The car took over by the mid 1950s and by the late 1960s air-travel became a preferred method of transportation. Rail was king first, though.

The Railways Department had its own Wellington-based art studio. Some of our most best illustrators produced railway banners, travel posters and booklets. Segueing with Railways was the National Publicity Studio developed to work across Government Departments by providing visual material fostering local travel. Railways had first started this notion by promoting tourism in the form of excursions and short-term holidays.

Peter Read, Carefree Holidays c1955
The twelve essays in this book are illuminating. They do not regurgitate earlier research and present a fresh take. Each essay addresses a theme. In thinking about some of the essays I was impressed with how Margaret McClure looks at how tourism developed in tandem with publicity. She shows the effects that aviation had on tourism.

David Pollack evaluates how travel posters related to the international illustration tradition. No one working here had the vision of A.M. Cassandre, Edward McKnight Kauffer or Paul Nash. Their innovative work transformed European travel imagery by inserting the lessons they gained from modern art. In contradistinction, our travel poster artists were visually conservative and much of their work utilises the style of magazine illustration.

Railways Studios, Timaru by the Sea 1936

Richard Wolfe profiles the intermeshing between posters, stamp and booklet design as a way to promote ‘Māoriland’ to a country that was also deemed to be a ‘Playground of the Pacific’. It is fascinating to see how nation's self-branding is reduced to strap lines intended to shape visitor experience.

Mark Derby's essay overviews how influential Māoridom was to the marketing of tourism and how control of Māori representation was not determined by Māori. Mark's contribution to this book could have been given more space for amplification. The inclusion of G.F. Bridgman’s text on Poster Design shows how little researched our design history is. Incidentally, this fact brought to mind the fact that Dr Christopher Thompson could well have contributed to this book. He has more knowledge about design as a form of national marketing than anyone else in this area of art history.

Unknown, Tauranga for Winter Sunshine 1934

Lee Davidson reviews how mountain tourism established New Zealand’s reputation as an adventure playground. Going to alpine zones in trendy clothing has become totally inseparable from the marketing of our sportswear. New Zealand's garment industry sells more sportswear internationally than our boutique fashion houses do.

Gail Ross reveals how illustration became a career path for young artists from as early as 1900 while also mentoring immigrant artists who arrived under the La Trobe scheme. Her essay could have been more extensive as it was ranging over new perspectives on design history. The interface with National Publicity Studio merits much more research, especially now that their archive is more accessible.

Unknown, The Romance of the Rail 1928

Warren Feeney presents a fact often forgotten - ‘The fine arts in New Zealand have always sustained a mutual and beneficial relationship with commercial art.’ Warren’s position is revisionist and all the more impressive because of this approach. I like the way he takes a provocative position to break down the high/low art relationship between painting and illustration. Look at this sentence -‘By the 1950s, the fine arts began to catch up with commercial art.’ I doubt whether I would have read statement that in any New Zealand art book a generation ago.

Barry Hancox indicates that photography and tourist publicity have always intersected here. Late 19th century landscape photography by artists such as Daniel Louis Mundy predated tourist art but showed a way of looking that later influenced it. The conversation between pictorialism and illustrative design is only just beginning to be analysed.

Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism deserves close study. It gathers images few people will have encountered outside archives or museums. They have probably never encountered them in a public art gallery. No big exhibition of this material has been attempted. This book is as much about art as it is about New Zealand's promotion of visual identity.

Alan Collins, Night travel is easy c1950

Peter Alsop, Gary Stewart, Dave Bamford
Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism
Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson 2012
ISBN 978 1 877517 77 8

Peter Alsop informs me that this book is available from all leading bookstores, and online with a 10% discount and free postage within New Zealand from www.sellingthedream.co.nz

Monday 10 December 2012

Polynesia: the Mark and Carolyn Blackburn collection of Polynesian art

The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn collection of Polynesian art
Of the collection catalogues I studied this year one that I return to is a testament to what collecting can mean when it is both assiduous and informed. Polynesia: the Mark and Carolyn Blackburn collection of Polynesian art overviews this Hawaii-based collection of over 1,000 items. The Blackburn collection is considered the pre-eminent private collection of Polynesian art.

It is likely that such a collection can never be duplicated again because it focuses on artworks of the highest artistic rarity and quality. Many of the items are also amongst the earliest known examples. When I first saw this catalogue I instantly recognised that only a few public collections hold comparable material. The intelligence of the collector’s acquisition strategy is everywhere evident; it is as if they only decided to acquire the best of the best.

The items presented in Polynesia come from New Zealand, the Austral Islands, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Futuna, Hawaii, Malden Island, Easter Island, Rennell Island, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, and the Tuamotus, and other locations. This taxonomic approach is impressive because it very difficult to initiate such a collection on such a comprehensive basis. When the Blackburns began collecting decades ago, such broadness was still possible. It would be unachievable to assemble similarly today.

The Blackburn’s have been close friends of Adrienne Kaeppler for many years and, as the curator of Oceanic Ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, she was arguably one of the most experienced scholars to write the collection catalogue. Had he been able to contribute, Professor Roger Neich could have beneficially contributed. This is the most impressive catalogue because it is so far-reaching in its information.

Adrienne has commented, 'This is probably the best private collection of Polynesia in the world….They are not just outstanding pieces, but representative objects. It's very unusual for a private collector to look for so many different things.'

I met Mark and Carolyn Blackburn at a Pacific Arts Association conference in Rarotonga a couple of years back. I told them that I believed they had assembled the most important private collection of Polynesian art since that established by William Oldman (1879-1949). The New Zealand government in July 1948 purchased Oldman’s collection. Parts of the collection are now distributed between the Museum of New Zealand, Auckland Museum, Canterbury Museum and Otago Museum.

I certainly hope that the Blackburn collection can remain together because this is what curators call ‘a serious collection’. The Blackburns kept files about all their acquisitions and they extensively read all the literature – be it historical, modern or contemporary. Their collection catalogue is not widely available in New Zealand; four copies are held at Auckland Libraries. I recommend this wonderful book.

To read an interview with Mark Blackburn

To sample what is held in the Mark and Carolyn Blackburn collection

Adrienne Kaeppler
Polynesia: the Mark and Carolyn Blackburn collection of Polynesian art
Honolulu: Distributed by the University of Hawai’i Press, 2010
ISBN 9781883528386

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Gallery garage sales - then and now

Last week in our weekly staff newsletter I shared a link to this post by artist and designer Kelli Anderson, about her involvement in Martha Rosler's exhibition Meta-Monumental Garage Sale at MoMA. Anderson designed a newspaper available as part of the exhibition, which took the form of a real-life gigantic garage sale in MoMA's atrium.

One of our research librarians replied to let me know that the Gallery once held its own garage-sale-as-exhibition - exactly 37 years ago to the day!

On 5 December 1975 artist David Mealing's week-long exhibition Jumble Sale opened at the Gallery. You can read about the kerfuffle it caused, and Wystan Curnow's opinion on its overall effect, on pages 29-30 of this Gallery Quarterly.

Incidentally, David Mealing is now curator and manager of the NZ Cricket Museum in Wellington.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Staff spotlight: Scott Everson

As exhibitions designer and coordinator, Scott is part of the Collections team responsible for handling the artworks and physically delivering the exhibitions at the Gallery.

He works closely with curators, conservators, technicians and artists to develop the display and look of the gallery spaces, as well as overseeing their installation… which can involve anything from deciding where to hang a painting, to figuring out how to secure 70 live goldfish into the passenger seats of a chartered plane!
What’s the best part of your job?
The variety that comes from working with art and artists is always really exciting and inspirational. I think it's a real privilege to be part of what we do at the Gallery. Dealing with such interesting and culturally significant items while collaborating with talented people never really gets old.
What are the challenges?
Beside the regular practical and technical ones, working with content that many people, not just the artist, are so passionate about is a pretty delicate exercise at times. Concepts and practicality or ideal aesthetics don't always align, so establishing that level of mutual trust required to come up with a compromise that responds to everyone's needs can take a lot of work, particularly when you're working off plans and drawings rather than with the actual piece in a finished gallery space.
How do you want people to react when they walk into a space you’ve designed?
It really depends on the type of show and artwork we're displaying. Often the best exhibition design is one that only a few people might notice. Generally if we've got it right I'd hope visitors’ reactions and feelings will be driven by or at least align with the art on display and what the artists or curators originally wanted to communicate or provoke. Hopefully the exhibition design just helps this along a bit, enhancing the experience.
Out of all the shows you’ve worked on, which one(s) stand out as being your favourite?
I definitely could never pick one, that’s kind of like having to pick an all time favourite song and I'd probably come up with a different answer each day of the week. There are some like Yinka Shonibare MBE or For Keeps at the old NEW Gallery that still stand out because I'm such a fan of the elegant and slickly produced art that was in them.
With shows like the Julian & Josie Robertson Promised Gift and Degas to Dalí it's really humbling and memorable to be involved with such historically impressive and valuable pieces, while others like the Walters Prize or some of our large scale commissions are cool just because of the professional relationships and processes it took to deliver them.
We've just opened Who Shot Rock & Roll so of course that sticks out. I've always spent a lot of time going to live gigs so there's a lot of stuff in there that interests me. Gail Buckland (curator) and Roger Taberner (coordinating curator) were great to work with, giving me a lot of freedom to have some fun with the design and layout.
What are your interests outside of work?
I've got three old American cars that keep me entertained and poor when I'm not watching friends’ bands at some local dive bar. Actually, the only roadworthy car we've got at the moment is a ‘77 Chevy Camaro with a bit of drag racing history; it makes grocery shopping and running errands fun. Although they're gathering dust right now, I've also got a ‘51 Chevrolet I've been restoring and customising for way too long and a ‘51 Mercury Coupe which is more pile of rusty metal than vehicle at the moment.
Messing around with them in the garage is a good distraction if I'm getting too tied up in an exhibition, but for me there's also a real similarity with the kind of form versus function problem-solving and satisfaction I get from working on shows at the Gallery.

Friday 30 November 2012

The friendly face of the Gallery

Last week I spent two days in Wellington at the National Digital Forum having my mind blown. Some of the most brilliant minds in the international galleries, libraries, archives and museums sector were there, talking about the wonderful ways we can reach our visitors and improve access to our collections online.

Courtney Johnston, director of The Dowse and the Petone Settlers Museum (and who blogs over at Best of 3), gave an especially inspirational talk that reminded me of the importance of making emotional connections with our visitors.

At one point Courtney mentioned a friend who’d felt lost and confused while visiting a gallery. She compared these feelings to the online experience of getting a 404 (page not found) or 403 (access forbidden) message while browsing. The best way to prevent or counter them? Make your front of house staff the ‘fail whales’ of your organisation – the friendly reassuring face who explains what’s going on and gets you back on track.

As I sat in Te Papa’s lecture theatre listening to Courtney’s talk, I felt so proud of our guide team back home. We have 50 friendly gallery guides on staff, from many different backgrounds, but all with an astounding knowledge of the visual arts. If you do find yourself wandering in circles, they can help with that, but more importantly, they love to talk about the stuff on the walls. If you’re wondering what on earth you’re looking at or why it’s important, have a chat with one of them.

The guide team don’t roam the galleries to keep you in line. They exist to enrich your experience.

Guides are easy to spot – they all have the same t-shirt or jacket (right now they’re sporting ‘CREW’ t-shirts in conjunction with our exhibition Who Shot Rock & Roll), and most have a handy bag with an ‘i’ on it that’s packed with useful things like maps and brochures.

If you’re adventuring in our galleries and realise you need some direction – be it physical, intellectual or emotional – look around you. There’ll be a guide nearby who can give you what you need.

I should also mention the stellar job done by the volunteer guides who give our free daily tours – another crucial part of the visitor experience we provide.

We’re constantly getting feedback from our visitors about the amazing work our guide team does:

•    ‘Thanks for being so helpful and informative about the gallery.’
•    Visitor commented on how much she enjoyed having guides to discuss art with, as she was travelling on her own, and said it was a great initiative, something she hadn’t come across elsewhere.
•    ‘The guides bring this space alive! It’s great to hear the stories.’
•    ‘You were wonderful – you really opened it up for us.’
•    ‘Thank you! Our guides and guards don’t talk much. What an absolute pleasure to talk with you – it has made our visit!’ (Couple from New York)
•    A visitor said she had been told at the entrance to ask guides about the art in each of the rooms, and she had found it very rewarding: ‘I’m very pleased I did!’
•    ‘It’s great how the guides have encouraged us, and facilitated us around the gallery.’
•    ‘Thank you for all your knowledgeable information. It makes it so much more enjoyable when people explain things.’
•    ‘The guides are an asset to the gallery, and all so lovely to talk to.’

I’m so proud to work in an organisation with such a friendly face. Hurrah for the guides!

Monday 5 November 2012

Mary Miss and the city as a living laboratory

The Indianapolis Museum of Art are leaders in the use of online media in their programmes.

Recently, New York artist Mary Miss gave an illustrated talk about her project FLOW (Can You See the River) where she mapped people living in Indianapolis with their environment. She is fascinated with how people communicate in the place that they inhabit. Her recent work has many points of comparison with Hou Hanru’s theme for the 2013 Auckland Triennial – what is it like to live here?

Installation photograph from the Mary Miss FLOW (Can You See the River) 2012 project for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Courtesy: Indianapolis Museum of Art
Mary links urban planning and the arts by focusing on home territory. Instead of making art in, and for, other places, she wants to address where people live and how artists shape public space.

Mary’s project was for City as a Living Laboratory (CaLL) where sustainability became a tangible reality through the arts. This was a project developed by the artist and Marda Kirn, Executive Director of EcoArts Connections.

You can see Mary’s projects for the 100 acres surrounding the IMA. This is one of the key environments in the USA where artists and museums collaborate on the environment. Mary’s lecture about her citywide project FLOW (Can You See the River) is fascinating.

Looking at such use of media in relation to art projects reinforced my belief that we should have similar media arts initiatives. Building arts projects with parallel website/YouTube/Twitter etc components. How often have you wanted to hear an artist’s talk that you were not able to attend? How regularly do you need visual updates about ongoing arts projects?

With our recent Home AKL project, we involved the larger community virtually. The public interacted way beyond the physical exhibition.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Jim Allen

Jim Allen's sculpture Polynesia is proving to be a popular artwork in the section of our collection exhibition Toi Aotearoa that affirms New Zealand's art from the period 1900 to 1965. It is not only because Polynesia is a rigorously realist sculpture but because the figure's ambitious scale and its sensuality. It is a beguiling sculpture which exudes a keen sense of life.

Polynesia is an important life-size sculpture from the period when Jim Allen was living in London. It was created as his submitted diploma work for the Royal College of Art. By employing the title Polynesia, Allen utilises a neo-romantic mirroring of a subject with its title, a feature commonly utilised by many artists of the period; such as Len Lye, George Woods, Russell Clark and Rita Angus.

The high finish that Jim has given to the ancaster limestone gives the nude figure a human quality all the more reinforced by the stylisation and articulation of her limbs. Like his teacher Frank Dobson's own figurative sculpture and drawing, there is a scrutinising focus upon expressing an erotic nature to the woman's form.

The figure does not result from any preparatory drawing; being in itself a direct stone carving which began at the front and then progressed to the rear of the figure. Ancaster stone is Middle Jurassic period oolitic limestone, quarried around Ancaster, Lincolnshire. This warm and fleshy material was one of Frank Dobson's and Henry Moore's own favourite British stones.

Together with Molly Macalister, Jim Allen is a key post World War II New Zealand sculptor. All of Jim's publicly commissioned work has been unfortunately destroyed. His commission for the Pakuranga Mall just disappeared. Polynesia is the artist's only major sculpture pre-1965 which is now extant.

The artist placed this sculpture on loan to The University of Auckland in 1952 and chose to gift it to the people of Auckland in 2007 as a permanent addition to this Gallery's collection. It has since become one of the public's favourite examples of New Zealand sculpture.

Jim Allen (William Robert Allen) was born in Wellington in 1922 and was enrolled at the Wellington Technical Institute from 1939 to 1940. After enlisting in the New Zealand Army, he travelled to Egypt and Italy and later studied sculpture at the Institute di Arte in Florence. Returning to New Zealand in 1946, he studied sculpture at the the University of Canterbury School of Fine Art under Francis Shurrock and graduated in 1948.
With the support of a New Zealand Art Society scholarship, Jim Allen continued studying at the Royal College of Art in London under the tutelage of Professor Frank Dobson. At the same time he worked part-time for the sculptor James Woodford. After returning to New Zealand during 1952, he gained a position within the arts and craft section of the Department of Education in Auckland, before working as a lecturer, then Professor of Sculpture at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland (1960 to 1977). (I am grateful to Kate McGahey for these biographical notes.)

From 1977 he became the distinguished Director of the Sydney College of the Arts. Working mainly in a non-figurative style, after 1969 he developed an interest in kinetic sculpture, performance art as well as environmental art working with both town planners and architects on city environs.

Internationally recognised as a major New Zealand artist, Jim Allen has exhibited extensively. His influence as an artist and teacher is widely regarded as exemplary. As both a mentor and art educator he is considered an emblematic teacher within this country's tertiary art community.

During the last Auckland Triennial, Jim presented a conversation with Simon Ingram that was a revelation to all were lucky enough to have attended. Jim confirmed how much his work has been about people and their relationships. Instead of being a postulation of theory, all of his art has been dedicated to the reality of human experience. This fact is not widely discussed in the the literature about his vocation as an artist.

In April 2007 Jim Allen was invested with an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Sydney in gratitude for his contribution to the art of Australia. He is also an Honorary Doctor of AIT University. Jim's contribution to contemporary art in New Zealand is both on-going and exemplary.

I am not a portrait photographer but I could not let the occasion of one of Jim's visits to the gallery go unpassed without taking a snapshot of him with his sculpture Polynesia.

Jim Allen
Polynesia 1952
Ancaster limestone
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki
gift of the artist, 2007

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Staff spotlight: Mathew Norman

Mathew Norman is like a kid in a candy store. Only instead of sweet treats, the objects of his desire can be found in Auckland Art Gallery’s collection of historic works on paper.

Mathew joined the Gallery in July as assistant curator. It’s not his first time on staff – in 2008 he was awarded a Marylyn Mayo internship and spent nine weeks researching a staggering 1,500 artworks.

Prior to joining the Gallery, Mathew worked in the print collection at the British Museum in London, where he received two prestigious scholarships. He’s also worked at Te Papa, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and at the National Gallery of Ireland… and in a dairy factory.

Mathew is responsible for the international print collection, supporting Mary Kisler in her role as Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art. He also facilitates visits to the Gallery’s print room and supervises students and visitors as they examine the artworks.

One of the biggest drawcards of the role for Mathew was access to the Gallery’s collection. “This is one of the three finest collections in New Zealand from an historical perspective – and we have a superb print collection with real depth, which makes it possible to produce exhibitions and scholarship of merit.”

The Gallery’s collection of more than 15,000 artworks contains a large number of objects by unknown artists. Mathew is undertaking research to help ‘fill in the gaps’, and has already had some success in identifying artists. At the end of October he’ll be presenting a talk about a seventeenth-century oil painting titled Battle Scene, which he believes he’s been able to attribute to a specific artist. “I’m awaiting the opinion of an expert in the Netherlands, but the evidence points to the artist I have identified,” he says.

On top of this, Mathew’s busy planning an exhibition called Travels with Mr Hollar which will open in early 2013. It will be the Gallery’s first large-scale exhibition of work by 17th century Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar.

So how do curators put together an exhibition? “I get the impression people think we just dream up a list of objects and throw them up on the wall or onto plinths – of course it’s not that easy. There’s a huge amount of teasing out of the relationships between the works that has to be done. There has to be a rationale and it has to be obvious to visitors.”

Mathew says the best part of his job is the hands-on access to artworks. “I’m not a theoretician. I’m about the objects themselves,” he says. “I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with objects of real international significance.”

When he’s not poring over prints, Mathew enjoys cheese and baroque music, and is currently dreaming of setting up his own vegetable garden.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Appointment of Principal Curator

I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Zara Stanhope to the new role of Principal Curator at the Gallery. Zara holds an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London (Art in Britain 1840-1966), a BA (History of Art), University of Reading, (majoring in Twentieth Century Art), and is currently in the final stages of completing her candidacy for a PhD at the Australian National University, Canberra, which she commenced in 2009. The subject of her thesis is contemporary social art practice in public spaces.

In her pre-art museum life, Zara also worked as an Audit Manager at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Melbourne and London, is a Chartered Accountant (ACA), and holds a B Comm (Hons) from the University of Melbourne.

Concurrent with her present studies, Zara chairs the National Exhibitions Touring Service in Victoria (2012-) and before that was a member of its board (2009-12); she is teaching Art Theory at the School of Art, ANU (2012-); is a Guest Curator at the Bundanon Trust (2012-); has organised The World and World-Making Conference at ANU (2011); and is an Advisor to RMIT's University School of Art Galleries Board, Melbourne (2010-).

She was previously Deputy Director, Senior Curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art, in Melbourne, from 2005-2008 and, prior to that, was a Senior Curator there from 2002-2005. As part of her latter role, she helped to reshape the organisation's vision and established a programming team that brought curatorial, collection, public and education staff together with a focus on innovative, audience-focused programming and operations.

From 1999-2002, Zara was inaugural Director of Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University in Wellington, where she developed a strong reputation for research and for delivering educative and accessible programming. Before that, from 1993-1999, she was Assistant Director of Monash University Gallery (now Monash University Museum of Art), Melbourne, and Gallery Assistant at the Wapping Arts Trust, London.

Zara has an extensive background as a curator and art writer. She is currently working on Arthur Boyd: art and empathy for the Bundanon Trust (2013); curated The world in painting for Heide MoMA (2009); We know who we are for Gertrude Contemporary Art Space (2006); Three Colours, Gordon Bennett and Peter Robinson for Heide MoMA (2004); and Co-Existenz: Parallel worlds and Botanica for Adam Art Gallery (2001).

She is also currently co-editing the Humanities Research Journal, World and World-Making in Art (2013) and Asian Connectivities (2013), and edited Les Kossatz: The Art of Existence in 2008.

Other projects include The Persistence of Pop, Monash (1999) and The Body Remembers: Jill Scott, ACCA (1996). Among her co-curated projects are TRANS VERSA, artists from Australia and New Zealand, with Danae Mossman, which toured to Chile (2006); Heide: Future, Present, Past with Kendrah Morgan (2006); and Close Quarters, Contemporary Art from Australia and New Zealand with Christina Barton and Clare Williamson, Monash and ACCA (1998-2000).

Zara comes to this new role as a highly qualified and very experienced art museum curator, art writer and gallery programme manager, who I am confident will make a positive impact on our collection development, exhibitions and research activities. She is very much looking forward to returning full time to the art museum sector.

Zara will commence work at the Gallery in March 2013.

Chris Saines

Friday 12 October 2012

Artworks on loan, October 2012

At Auckland Art Gallery we have a very busy loans programme, with artworks constantly travelling to museums and art galleries throughout New Zealand and around the world.  Here's a rundown of some of the artworks from Auckland Art Gallery and Chartwell collections that are currently on show elsewhere.  

You can find out more about our collection and loans policies at:

Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua

One of the current exhibitions at Pataka Art + Museum is Joe Sheehan: Other Stories, a major survey show featuring a range of sculptural work by Joe Sheehan.  This exhibition is open until 25 November 2012, and if you're in the Wellington region this would be a great opportunity to view Joe Sheehan's incredible sculptures made from pounamu, marble, granite and other types of stone.

Joe Sheehan, Slide Show Carousel 2, 2009, (detail), 80 jade and pounamu slides, slide projector, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2011

Two works from the Chartwell collection are included in this exhibition - Slide Show Carousel 2 and Words Fail.

Joe Sheehan, Words Fail, 2011, carrara marble, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2011

Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Dunedin Public Art Gallery is currently showing work by Alfred O'Keeffe (1858-1941), who was an artist and teacher based in Dunedin.  O’Keeffe studied at the Académie Julian in Paris during the 1890s, at the same time as the young Charles Goldie attended the school. Unlike Goldie, O’Keeffe developed an impressionist style.

Alfred O'Keeffe, Still Life: Roses and Arum Lilies, 1906, oil on cardboard, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1957

City Gallery Wellington

On 19 October 2012, Ben Cauchi: The Sophist's Mirror opens at City Gallery WellingtonTwo works by Ben Cauchi from the Chartwell collection are included in the exhibition - The way of all things and Loose Canvas
Ben Cauchi, The way of all things, 2010, wet-collodion on acrylic, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2010

Ben Cauchi, Loose Canvas, 2007, tintype, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2009

The series of public programmes offered as part of this exhibition would offer some fascinating insights into Ben Cauchi's practice, and would certainly be interesting if you wanted to find out more about the techniques used to create these photographs.

Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany

Further afield, the exhibition Contact.  Artists from Aotearoa New Zealand has just opened at Frankfurter Kunstverein in Frankfurt, Germany.  This exhibition is part of the New Zealand presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where New Zealand is the Guest of Honour for 2012.

Included in this exhibition is one of Francis Upritchard's 'heads', Untitled 1, on loan from the Chartwell Collection.

Francis Upritchard, Untitled 1 2002-2003, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2003

If you're interested in finding out more about this exhibition, check out the video below made by the team at NZ@Frankfurt. 

Thursday 11 October 2012

The fascination with the savage ‘Other’

A look at the Lounge room Tribalism series of paintings by Graham Fletcher in Home AKL by Gallery Guide Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh

Western cultures have always had a fascination with the ‘other’. The term ‘other’ is derived from the concept of Orientalism and the Arabesque, with the West colonising the ‘savage’ and indoctrinating them into the new world, supposedly civilising them towards global integration. Unfortunately, Colonialism still exists in complex forms today.

Graham Fletcher’s series of paintings and sculptures Lounge Room Tribalism combines the familiar and the unknown, the primitive and the modern. Home AKL includes two paintings and five sculptures from this large body of work. By introducing the ideas of the fascination with the ‘other’ to the audience in the first room, the curators set the tone for the exhibition.

Graham Fletcher, Untitled, 2010
from Lounge Room Tribalism
oil on canvas, The University of Auckland Art Collection
Within the Untitled paintings, there is a juxtaposition of two cultures in one composition. You see fertility and God-like totems next to psychedelic patterns of fabric, wallpaper and furniture. What is striking is that they are ‘Tribal’ objects’ set inside a modernist interior.

Holding onto the past and keeping its memory is what is interesting with this painting series. It is as if these worlds have always co-existed  (coloniser, colonised) within these living room compositions. These paintings tell a visual story. They slowly reveal themselves and prompt many questions. What is behind the desire to domesticate the primitive? What are these indigenous artefacts, which disturb modern design doing in suburban homes around the country?

Graham Fletcher, Untitled, 2010
from Lounge Room Tribalism
oil on canvas, courtesy of Melanie Roger Gallery
The objects demand attention and command a physical presence, may it be just curiosity or a sense of bringing the spiritual back to the suburbs. They are taken out of their original use and context and placed in a new ‘home’. There, they become inactive and join the vases, picture frames and coffee table books. Now these objects of culture and tradition are transformed into exotic household interior design. Detached of cultural significance, they have lost their function and are fetishized.

For a more comprehensive look into the ideas behind Graham Fletcher's paintings, I recommend the publication produced by Mangere Arts Centre. It is a well-executed catalogue in design and writing content, well worth a read.

Read Shahriar's previous posts on Home AKL here.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Conserving the Cornwall Park Map

Camilla Baskcomb, paper conservator, and Laura Mirebeau, paper conservation intern, are glad to open the doors of their conservation studio in order to present this project.

In early June, a large 1901 hand-drawn map of the proposed design for Cornwall Park came into our paper conservation lab, which was initially stored at the Auckland Museum by the Logan Campell Residual Estate. This map, composed of six sheets of wove paper lined on canvas, measures 260 x 303 cm, and is nailed along both the top and bottom edges on wooden battens, which allow it to be rolled and unrolled. You will easily guess that the unusual size of this document is quite problematic for its conservation.

The map is painted with watercolour, and one can see the graphite preparatory drawing and squaring up by looking closely. It is particularly interesting and moving to realize that the original design differs from the park as we can enjoy it today, as one can see two lakes on the map that were never built.

Before treatment


The map was kept in storage rolled up and thus suffered from severe distortions and horizontal undulations.

The bottom edge was particularly damaged along the batten, creating several areas of losses, caused by pests (one can see rodent teeth marks when looking closely) and by the storage conditions. Two creases were weakening the top edge of the map along the batten. The surface was embedded with dust and grime throughout, but mostly in the bottom part, and along the edges. The paper had darkened and discoloured over time, with brown foxing spots visible, water stains, splash marks, footmarks, dark brown stains (probably of a corrosive nature), and rust stains. These damages are mainly due to atmospheric pollutants, a previous water damage, and generally bad handling of the plan.

Before treatment close-ups of the areas of losses, ingrained dirt and teeth marks


Raking light examination showed us the extent of the distortions. Extensive photographic work has been undertaken by Gallery photographer John McIver.

We also discovered watermarks during the examination phase, along the left edge of each sheet of paper, which identified the papermaker. “James Whatman Turkey Mill Kent 1900” reads the watermark, giving us the manufacturer, the location and the date the paper was made. Whatman invented wove paper, soon very esteemed by architects, engineers, and surveyors who were looking for a uniform surface for their detailed drawings.1

After measuring each sheet, we came to the conclusion that it was actually Antiquarian wove paper, the largest hand-made paper ever made in Europe, which “became famous for its use in the production of maps, prints and watercolours”2. That paper was almost universally used by 1873, according to that same book, and could take up to a year to properly dry before being sold. As the map had been drawn in 1901 in New Zealand, and considering the length of the shipping trip, it is highly likely that that batch of paper was still in its drying process on the boat to NZ.

Raking light photograph of the watermark


Considering the size and the nature of the map (media and construction), it was decided that we would not carry out any aqueous treatment to de-acidify the paper or reduce the foxing spots and other stains.

Because of the width of the map, we put two benches end to end so we could roll and unroll the map as we progressed with the treatments.

Dust and superficial grime have been removed very efficiently. The crumpled tears have been flattened in order to be able to mend it. All the tears and loss areas have been repaired and consolidated using an antique Whatman paper, and a calico lining (cotton textile) on the back. These areas have then been retouched with watercolour in an archival manner.

Dusting with a conservation vacuum cleaner

Before and after dry cleaning

Conservation powder eraser before and after use

Before and after vacuuming


Tracing of the losses

Antique paper piece made after the tracing of the loss

Sticking down the loose canvas and reattaching the pink ribbon

Heat spatula applied to reattach the new canvas patches

Retouching with watercolour

Before and after retouching

The map is now ready to return to the Auckland Museum for storage and display.

1. T. Fairbanks Harris, M. Fuller, M. Green, Papermaking and the Whatmans, in Papermaking and the Art of Watercolors in Eighteenth-Century Britain, T. Fairbanks Harris ans S. Wilcox, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 83. 
2. Op. Cit., p. 106.

Monday 1 October 2012

Three carte de visite portraits from New Zealand

In New Zealand, it is uncommon to encounter carte de visite portraits of the same person taken about a year apart. Here are three images of the same man which show how the photographer has altered the way he has asked a person to pose in order to reflect his growing maturity. Look at how body language is controlled by the photographer. It shifts from seated shyness to standing authority.

Little analysis has occurred in our photo-history that discusses how 19th century photographers contrasted how their sitters sat or stood. In theatre, we call such arrangements the mise en scène, which describes the situation of a planned event, what the surrounding scenery is and the properties of the encounter. Good photographers limited the material in their studio to props that looked like they could be from a home while also adding sculptural plinths et alia.

Note how the lighting is uniformly from the left, which to my way of thinking suggests a north facing side window rather than a top light. It is obvious that the earliest image of the seated young man is taken at other premises. With the silk bookmark, I wonder whether the book he holds is not a Holy Bible. Certainly, the double ink well suggests that he is a student. From all of his attire it is obvious that he comes from a family of means.

Friday 28 September 2012

Janet Lilo: the poetics of home

Gallery Guide Zara Sigglekow responds to Janet Lilo's work in Home AKL. Zara Sigglekow is a photographer with a developing interest in curatorial practice. She recently curated a contemporary photography exhibition, Presence in Absence, at Black Asterisk gallery.

Charles Baudelaire, the French art critic and poet, wrote in 1846:
‘The life in our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as through in an atmosphere of the marvelous; but we do not notice it.’

Janet Lilo’s video work Beneath the Radar in the current exhibition Home AKL brings to our attention to what we, according to Baudelaire, often pass by. The city and communities Lilo inhabits are artistically refigured and communicated in semi-documentary style.

Janet Lilo, Beneath the Radar (scenes 1-3), 2012
video, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012
courtesy of the artist
Lilo focuses on her local urban Pacific community – seen, for example, in the hip-hop figures that grace the screen like graphics from a music video. Yet aspects of the work communicate a broader regional experience extending beyond her Pacific community. The volcanic cones that dot Auckland feature in and act as vantage points from which to film the expanse of suburbia and the city. Like earlier New Zealand Landscape artists, such as Rita Angus, characteristic geographical features (here of volcanic hills and suburbia) are highlighted and linked to our notions of local identity. This is enhanced by the symmetrical layout of the video: the pieces of landscape are mirrored reinforcing their visual prominence. Digitally altered fluorescent colours of sky and land, which change later to luminous blue tones with twinkling lights at dusk, add a sentimental and ‘marvelous‘ atmosphere. The steady flow of cars, another characteristic of Auckland, appear soothing, an impressive feat.

Janet Lilo, Beneath the Radar (scenes 10-12), 2012
video, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012
courtesy of the artist

Three months ago, on the same wall in the gallery sat John Fergusson’s work Dieppe, 14th July 1905: Night, as part of the Degas to Dalí exhibition. A group of fashionably attired folk stroll the streets in the city fireworks erupting in the night sky. This work was part of the avant-garde backlash (of which Baudelaire was part) of artists who found their inspiration and subjects from the city and landscape around them, rather than historical, literary or religious scenes. The painting is a record of time and fashions and reveals a particular beauty of the period.

As I see it, Lilo continues the tradition of painters of modern life (the school to which Baudelaire and Fergusson can loosely be ascribed) albeit in the contemporary medium of video. Turning her eye to the city and communities around her, Lilo transforms what often seems banal, due to the everyday viewing of our city, into the marvelous, and reminds us of our unique place of home.

Janet Lilo, Beneath the Radar (scenes 13-15), 2012
video, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012
courtesy of the artist
- Zara Sigglekow

Monday 24 September 2012

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson passed through Auckland on 24 February 1893 on his way to Sydney from Apia aboard the S.S. Mariposa. He met Sir George Grey here but I haven't found a photograph showing them together. RLS wrote of this meeting “What a wonderful old historic figure to be walking on your arm and recalling ancient events and instances! It makes a man small, and yet the extent to which he approved what I had done—or rather have tried to do—encouraged me. Sir George is an expert, at least he knows these races: he is not a small employé with an ink-pot and a Whitaker.” RLS departed Auckland on 28 February. 

I discovered Edinburgh has a photo-portrait of Robert Louis (pronounced Lewis) Stevenson - it's wonderfully casual. Taken in late July/early August 1889 at Butaritari in Kiribati by Joseph Strong. From left, the sitters are Nantoki, Fanny Vandegrift Stevenson, Natakauti and RLS. This is one of the important images of RLS's Pacific life. It is also one of the rarest portraits of the artist, ranking with those made by Sargent and Nerli.

While plenty has been published about the writer RLS (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894), there is little about how he appeared to others. Looking at the many photos and paintings produced of him, I reckon he comes across as a Scots dandy. He dressed more casually than 19th century expectation. Some people considered RLS nonchalant, insouciant, in choosing attire that showed him to be a dapper artist.

After arriving in Samoa on 7 December 1889, RLS frequently wore no jacket, a habit he initiated after visiting Hawaii and Kiribati (Gilbert Islands). The Pacific's heat was better for his health. To local colonials RLS's appearance was surprising. Immigrant Germans and Brits went about with boots and woollen serge jackets, preferring rampant perspiration to airy comfort. RLS only wore his boots on formal occasions.

If you compare Joseph Strong's photograph with two portraits by John Singer Sargent, RLS shifts from wearing his silk velvet smoking jacket to an open cotton duck shirt. While both oil paintings are intimate they do not express the relaxed casualness of the Samoan image. Exceedingly thin and of delicate health, Stevenson is shown by Strong as totally relaxed. Just as you see in family snapshots. Sargent's portraits are among the best he made of any artist.

Graeme Lay wrote a fine tribute to RLS in 1996. He notes why RLS named his home 'Vailima' - a fact many non-Samoans don't know. Lay's essay is informative, and I hope that the current owners of Vailima will soon make it available to visitors. If they do, I promise to write about the reasons Fanny Stevenson chose to decorate Vailima with siapo. I will even offer to give a curator's tour of Vailima, a pleasure I undertook decades ago.
Graeme Lay

attributed to Joseph Strong
Robert Louis Stevenson 1889
Edinburgh City Libraries and Museums and Galleries, item 20206

John Singer Sargent
Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife 1885
oil on canvas
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville

John Singer Sargent
Robert Louis Stevenson 1887
oil on canvas
The Taft Museum, Cincinnati