Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

On review

I have been thinking a lot about art/literature reviews.  It may sound obvious but I think really you need to read a series of reviews by an author and compare them to your own findings to be able to “trust” them – or at least to know their foibles and leanings.

I recently fell into a trap of trusting a book review by a reviewer unknown to me – I think because what they wrote agreed with my assumptions about the book. Now that I have delved into the book myself, I don’t come to the same conclusions. Oh well.

With art writing for an art newbie (like me) it is more difficult to build up this ‘trust’ as there are few regular reviewers about. I got to rely on Mark Amery’s* column in the Dominion Post (now re-instated I believe), John Hurrell is possibly the most prolific reviewer in NZ but eyeContact mainly only covers the Auckland area. The Listener has a rotating bunch of art writers. I guess the local art mags have more known voices but they aren’t as current being monthly editions. I am only starting to get a hold on art writing in the daily paper here so won’t voice an opinion yet.

The other thing I am finding about reviewing is the conflict of interest. I find it almost impossible to write an art review because I don’t really have the background knowledge to do it properly but I do put forward a personal opinion here. The tiny art scene in NZ is bound to cause at some point a reviewer reporting on a personal friend (or enemy) and this happens in literature as well. How to keep aside the prejudices…?

Maybe I’ll find out as my academic work this year involves some formal reviewing exercises.


* Wonderful talk with him on the Kim Hill show this last Saturday (MP3) talking about labels in art museums and the small world of NZ art curators/writers.

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It really has been an odd few weeks (months?) and to have sudden realisation and clarity can be a bit of a shock to the system. Wake up call even…

Today I have been on the receiving end of “a bad review”. I have been doing a writing course to fill in some time and the marker on my latest efforts has bought me back to earth with a bit of a crash. Not a bad crash, but a great lesson on reviewing and being reviewed and thankfully not cutting in a CK Stead kind of way. However I shall in future try not to be so flippant in my opinions here now that I partially understand the effect!

Also another sharp reminder of how small NZ is generally and hence the art world village here came today when in my internet art searches I came across a ‘new’ artist doing interesting stuff and then found they had a very personal (if once removed) connection to me. It was quite startling and because of the connection I can’t quite bring myself to “showcase” the work here. Life is so complex! It reminds me of a hospital administrator who once said “it would all run so much smoother if there were no patients”.

Enough of my day of personal revelations. How about “we need more happy art” as a discussion topic? Don’t you find a lot of art is very serious, stark and angst ridden? Full of deep half-hidden meanings and symbolism and dark thoughts and concepts? Then when something with a bit of humour arises, it’s dismissed as flippant or lightweight? So what about this then (from an artist)

Art that makes you HAPPY. Not just art with deep meaning. If it brings you joy when you walk in the door, brings you a smile when you’re down, I’ve made something so much more meaningful. I’ve given you something to bring you life! We can’t be serious all the time. We cannot bear the weight of the world on our shoulders 24/7.”

Lastly this art (design/fashion statement) should NOT make me happy – but it does…

Who Killed Bambi?”

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I am in a particularly bad mood today so small things are annoying me. I picked up the latest copy of the Listener to find MORE art journalism and I am going to be mean about it. Actually one of the reasons I dont’ do review and critique very well is that I don’t like upsetting people but today I am throwing caution to the wind.

Lindsay Rabbitt has written a 3 page article (albeit with a large illustration of ‘Closing In’) about Seraphine Pick and secondarily about her work.  Now I am one of the people in the world that thinks there is too much art journalism and not enough critique. This has been voiced by at least three other people this week with far more standing than me, Andrew Paul Wood, Mark Amery and yesterday Max Gimblett in a quite marvellous interview on Saturdays with Kim Hill. It appears this is down to marketing and branding and the Listener article symbolises for me what is wrong with a fair amount of art writing.

So what is wrong? Well I am sick of hearing ‘about the artist’ and want to hear about the work. Yes there is a small amount of commentary, but it plays second fiddle to the artist. Also the timing of the article is simply weird. The show at the Mahara has finished and is now at the Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui “in an abbreviated form” so you missed out if you wanted to see all of it. That may not be a bad thing though (see below).

And yes maybe this is the pot calling the kettle black because of my writing this blog, but I haven’t got the breadth and depth of expereince or knowledge to be able to critique in a constructive manner. If you want an uneducated opinion, I find Pick’s work uneven. Some startling pieces (as Rabbitt suggested ‘Surface Paradise’ is good) but at least in the ‘After Image’ exhibition it’s surrounded by stuff I didn’t like at all and wondered why it was on the walls as they seemed to be preparatory sketches or musings, ideas not fully formed. I take it that this is a new direction but I guess I just don’t ‘get it’.

On a more pleasant note the Max Gimblett interview mentioned above was a joy. I was going to write more about it but Jacky B at Passages  has done it so well. She writes “[I was] moved in many ways, even by the sound of his voice inflected by emotion, speaking truths, baring his soul. But most of all in the way he described his eschewing of audience, of working to something internal, perhaps a kind of inner muse.”  I have read some vitriolic criticism of Gimblett this week so was very pleasantly surprised. The interview audio should be on the Radio NZ website here for the next 6 weeks or so.

Ah ha you say  – the Gimblett interview is just more art journalism and that could be true, but I think it had a lot more to say about his art and art in general than the piece on Pick.

Page from Yoke (2001) A unique artist’s book

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Art writing

I have been a little un-generous about art writing here at times. I have been trying to understand it which I guess is part of the issue and of course being a bit ingenuous. Some people will be getting a laugh from my writing anyway!

So I see Hamish Keith NOT celebrating the 10th birthday of Te Papa in the latest Listener. He made some very good points about the architecture dictating to the collection etc. At least they have managed to expand the art space a bit. He also said not many people took the opportunity of the anniversary to say what was wrong with ‘our place’. Funny, I read quite a bit of criticism at the time. It was tempered with “but the kids love it” kind of comments, but it was out there, mainly in blog-land (I refuse to use the other blog word). I do agree that a separate art museum would be good – in Auckland? NO! But that’s just because I find it difficult enough to get in to Wellington to see anything let alone having to get to Auckland. There is some merit in placing some larger national institutions where the majority of the population is but its quality not quantity right? I am not implying that Auckland isn’t quality (or am I?) but that you can’t base these decisions simply on numbers. In print, Keith sounds tired though – or his opinions do anyway (to me).

Which brings me to some items I’ve been reading over at Beattie’s blog where Gordon McLauchlan called for cultural organisations to move to Auckland and committees to be more representative according to population base. The debate in the comments is great. Then today I read that McLauchlan has been (in some people’s opinion) censured for his views and I responded only to find it may all have been a joke. I need to stay away from this stuff. I don’t understand the nuances and I find game playing at this level rather unbecoming.

The other art piece in the Listener was discussion by Abby Cunnane of the Adam Portraiture Award . I found this item a better bit of art writing than what’s been included in previous weeks. I guess this is a good reason to have a variety of writers doing the Art column. The Listener is not the only thing I read, I am just pleased to see arts writing back there (but where are the poems?) .

The Blue Girl – Irene Ferguson

I also picked up the Autum 2008 edition of Art News. It provoked a funny conversation with a librarian. The cover is Spleen, 2007 by Richard Orjis. The librarian said “that was me last night when my compost bin exploded, but I didn’t think to take a photo and call it ART”. I guess this is a typical reaction to this type of conceptual stuff? There was lots to read including some more on the One Day Sculpture series. What I did think was amusing were the reviews of the books “The Big Picture” and “Towards Aotearoa“. In every review I have read of these books, someone complains that XXXX was left out. Well of course some one will be left out – thats the nature of the beast even in NZ’s comparatively short art history. I do agree that you just have to take the Hamish Keith book and DVD as a “highly personal take” on New Zealand art.

Recently the Domisnion Post has had lots of arts coverage because of the Arts Festival and I have enjoyed Mark Amery’s writing – particularly what he wrote about the Tom Kreisler exhibition, Opposites Attract. I confess I usually read the papers in cafes or the library so I don’t see the arts section every week although I try to. I also usually avoid the Sunday papers but read through the Sunday Star Times this weekend over a long black. Normally their ‘Sunday’ lift out irritates me – I mean ‘shoe of the week’ – really. But they had a good piece about the Arts Festival by Matt Suddain. It was ‘light’ but well written and I loved these quotes.

An entry in the big red comments book ‘I felt the show had ritual content, that you were altering the cosmos as you moved’ on the next page someone had put ‘weird but interesting’


Shen wei had something to tell us, but he could only whisper it to us in a secret language

I think both comments could apply to art in general.

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