Archive for August, 2009

Rules of Engagement

This last week I have been thinking a lot about engagement of public institutions with their audience. This partially stems from some research that I’ve been doing, where I have looked at the relationship between a curator and the perceived viewer of an exhibition – specifically the distance between the two.

I have had cause to talk to a variety of curators of late and their views on my research topic and curatorship in general covered a broad spectrum. It also became very apparent that their engagement with an audience varied hugely as well. This led me to the bigger idea of how institutions regard their audience. For a start do they really know their demographic? Are they interested in widening it? Publically funded institutions are generally measured by numbers of real people coming through the doors and only just now in some places is the virtual visitor becoming important.

Museum2.0is a wonderful blog by Nina Simon on the topic of interactive institutions. She writes “I believe that every museum can grow its audience as long as it is willing to grow with that audience by taking risks, trying new things, and communicating openly.

I see evidence of this with several New Zealand art institutions successfully blogging and twittering including Te Papa, and the  Auckland and Christchurch Art Galleries. I guess I am most impressed with CAG, but that might be because I won a competition :-). A summary of what they are doing with their Brought To Light blog can be found here. I agree , its a smart move. Engagement on many fronts seems to be the key though.

There are also some wonderful initiatives about such as Digital NZ, and NZMuseums who are encouraging digitisation of collections. The National Digital Forum Conferencein November is doing more to spread the digital word and even has a subsidies available for small community organisations who would otherwise not be able to attend. Digitisation goes part way to help with the issue of collections of works and artifacts that don’t ‘get out much’, so I think its important. It also transcends geographical barriers.

New Zealand is a small country and it seems to me that there could be more happening in the form of collaboration between public art institutions. In many ways we have a distributed national collection through all the public galleries rather than the ‘official’ one centred in Wellington. The recent Rita Angus exhibition is an example of how this could work and also showed up a few pitfalls. Although Rita was free to other galleries, the (rising) fees normally charged between galleries sometimes prevent works from getting about and also smaller galleries can have trouble meeting stringent requirements that are often required. Obviously works need to be protected but a more liberal, generous attitude could have us – the audience – seeing more of our visual art treasures. Digitisation is all very well (ok more than that) but seeing art ‘in person’ can’t be beat.

Personally I’d like to see more of this getting around so people can see it rather than it being sold off to private hands.

Queensbury Rules – perhaps not the best set for the art world

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A Tale of Two Cities

The focus of this blog is essentially visual art that I come across and how it impacts on me and my life. I extend this to New Zealand literature and a few other tangents including architecture.

Since I’ve moved South to the Dunedin area I have been constantly amazed by the architecture and history at every corner. Recently I visited the suburb (and former borough) of Green Island. It’s an odd little place. State Highway 1 used to run through it before the motorway was built and at one time there was a railway junction for the Walton Park branch.

The little township is in a sorry state now, although there’s much talk of revitalisation. These buildings typify the area.


The date on this building (top center) is 1859. It is the standout building of the area and has a very cool vintage clothing shop with a 1950s vibe on the ground floor.

On the opposite corner:


You can just see the Victorian brick building to the left. I believe this building used to be the town hall/civic centre/movie theatre. Its now a church. I am picking it to be 1960s?

From what I could see on inspection, this hamlet seems largely to have been built in either the Victorian era OR 1960s/70s. I am intrigued by this and imagine it has something to do with economic follies.  There are some pretty awful modernist buildings including two very ugly churches, one replacing the little neo-gothic beauty to the left of this picture taken circa 1906.


You can see the 1859 buiding at centre too.

Oddly it all seems to fit, even though there are maybe 100 years between some buildings. I am currently fixated on suburban developement and small urban areas and how older areas have been changed by the car and how that might be reverting a little. Green Island was once a town separate from Dunedin – probably a stopping off place, then the highway went through and then it was diverted. Now there seems to be a renewal. What’s next?

EDIT: Date on the brick building is actually 1869. And work started on the Lighthouse building in 1958.

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Tour of the Cages

So much as been happening that I have been incredibly slack on the blogging front. I have seen a lot of art, been out and about a lot (for me) and have had an incredible banquet of ‘food for thought’. More prosaically I started ukulele lessons (woohoo) and as it seems spring is on the way so thought I’d better do some pruning and gardening.

Last week was a week of McCahon and Brasch. Managed to get to Peter Simpson’s excellent lecture on the relationship between Charles Brasch and Colin McCahon. A good opportunity to see a few images I hadn’t before but also to chat to a few people and note that there are an inordinate amount of men with goatee beards and glasses there. I took 8 pages of notes but being there was the thing. Later in the week I raced to the Hocken library on a Saturday morning (‘sorry officer I am trying to get to an exhibition before the gallery closes at noon’) to see a showing of Brasch’s private art collection as donated to the Hocken collection. The McCahon pieces that stood out for me were a pen and ink wash three Marys at the Tomb, a 1949 Crucifixion and Nelson Hills 3. The later was amazing and for once you could get super close to see the work, its layers and brushstrokes.

Following on from that I had a Dunedin Public Art Gallery(DPAG) week. A great meeting regarding some research I am doing and many many more topics and then an informal opening for Joanna Langford’s “The Landless” installation on Friday night. The opening was a bit of culture shock. The installation was ok. Using the “What is the artist trying to do? Do they achieve it?” way of looking at art, I come up with a ‘maybe’.  I found the artist’s installation in the Rear Window space on Moray Place much more successful. As usual though ‘what do I know?’

As for culture shock – it was good to meet some longtime e-correspondent arts people and lots of new ones. I had a big blog post written in my head about it all, regarding touring the art cages and young artists, but really it comes down to the fact that I am an observer not a participant. There were a few who I’d love to talk way more with (and a few I wouldn’t). I think this cartoon sums it up best.

HatTip to Blackwattle Boy for pointing out the cartoon to me.

Finally I did a very quick studio visit but I want to write more on that! It deserves a separate post.

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Art is where you find it

Even in your kids books. Here are two pages from “The Happy Rag” by Tony Ross. It seems the central action takes place at the foot of a Henry Moore. We’ve had this book for years and I’ve only just noticed it.

(Apologies – bad day with the scanner)

It is one of these sculptures though isn’t it?

Reclining figure from sculpture.net

The Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped in Kew Gardens

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