Make a big difference to The Big Idea.  Help us tell the most creative stories.

Home  /  Stories  / 

New Audiences, New Conversations

20 Aug 2020
Doors may be shut in Auckland again but there’s surging support for art online. Mark Amery looks into how it’s working and what’s demanding your attention in our weekly arts bulletin.

How are our galleries doing?

Commercial galleries in Auckland are, with the new lockdown, once again closed, pencilling in a 27 August reopening. 

How are they faring? This will depend on the strength of their existing client relationships and a little on their online setup. Sales don’t come from walk-ins, like they might for a shop. And art collectors are a loyal bunch. 

The Sydney Morning Herald has been doing some digging, talking to dealers across the ditch, and they report that in fact, “Australian art galleries are thriving. Galleries are reporting sold-out shows from buyers, new and old.” 

Paul Becker, CEO of Australia’s Art Money, a finance company specialising in buy-now-pay-later for art purchases, says revenue has doubled in the last 12 months. One of Sydney’s most experienced dealers Roslyn Oxley attributes some of the strength to the fact that a lot of her wealthy buyers are usually overseas at this time of year for three-four months going to art fairs.

I am privately hearing similar stories here from some of the bigger dealers. Yet gallerists are experienced marketeers; broadcasting doom and gloom is not in their interests. More worrying is the longer-term prospects in a recession. Right now it’s clear that there’s a ‘buy-local’ bonus for dealers. I got in touch with My Art - our equivalent to Art Money but operating a philanthropic rather than a business model. They aim to get people collecting art and return profits to art organisations via charitable donations. 

“In the months since the first lockdown, we've seen a really positive surge in support from the wider community.” write My Art’s Sonja and Glenn Hawkins. “Artists and galleries have been producing some fantastic online content and trying out new ways of engaging with audiences. This has, in turn, led to a strong increase in online art sales.”

The Hawkins’ report that revenue over the past six months from their interest-free art loans has been enough to enable My Art to increase philanthropic activities, including now funding an annual laureate award with the Arts Foundation. 

My Art has been running a story series with artists, gallerists and collectors since lockdown began. Selling is increasing online: featured is an interview with the founders of the new online alternative art fair May Fair, currently in its third week. 

This fair runs outside the art dealer model, run by artists and artist-run spaces. I got in touch with May Fair to get a sense of sales. They confirmed some booths have nearly sold out, and that “almost every person” involved has sold multiple artworks. “Artists have been able to reach completely new audiences and start new conversations around their practices.” They say they’ve surpassed their goals and are already looking to 2021.

Suite Gallery still waiting to open its doors to the public for the first time.

Originally due to open April, dealer David Alsop of Suite has now had to cancel the official opening of his new Auckland gallery in Ponsonby Road twice - it was due finally to happen last week. I wrote on the move, before lockdown for Australian Art Collector (that story online). For Alsop 2020 is “not for the fainthearted.” He reports that interest in Auckland has been on par with what he would have expected. Yet, “it might take time to bounce back from this stint.”     

How can you support? You could start by reading the Spring edition of Art New Zealand, which has been released free online for two weeks to support the galleries until 28 August ., the online exhibitions listing site, has also just launched a new online section showcasing art books and limited editioned artworks, to purchase from galleries and independent publishers. A smart idea and a way to affordably engage with art at home.

A Sad Passing

It’s sad to hear this week of the passing of Australian painter John Nixon. He has had a strong presence in New Zealand galleries and collections, long represented by Wellington’s Hamish McKay Gallery. Furthering a radical history of minimalist abstraction over 40 years, Nixon was an influential independent presence in the art world. Here’s a Sydney Morning Herald tribute on Tuesday. 

Aotearoa Artists, Global Reach 

Opened this month in Saskatoon, Canada is Shannon Te Ao’s Ka Mua, Ka Muri at major new museum Remai Modern. This the gallery where Gregory Burke was until recently founding director and now, fresh from a short stint at the Govett-Brewster, helmed by Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh. Te Ao’s work is the focus of this interview.

Simon Denny, Remainder 1 (detail), 2019, Margaret Thatcher scarves, Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 30 F/-1 C - R parts, Ripstop Nylon, Down sourced from second hand San Francisco garments, carbon fibre, glass fibre, wood. 210 x 55 x 40 cm. Photo by Nick Ash. Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel.

Meanwhile, how about an Egyptian-style Mummy made from repurposed sleeping bags and Margaret Thatcher’s scarf collection? Who else could it be from but Simon Denny.  Contemporary Hum has published a fascinating two-part conversation between Berlin-based Denny and curator Amira Gad, which gets us up to speed with Denny’s current global parade of projects. 

Part one sees the pair talk about recent exhibitions in San Francisco and Auckland. Part two includes coverage of Denny's show Mine at MONA in Tasmania, with details on new versions. Drawing together ideas about data-mining and mineral mining, Mine travels to K21 Düsseldorf in September: “I have collaborated with an amazing courtroom sketch artist from Brisbane,” Denny remarks, “and I have asked her to produce a number of speculative drawings of trials which should happen, but likely never will.” Mine is then onto New York. 

With Minecraft museum, Mythical Institution Denny is also producing a doppelganger of the Mine exhibition in Minecraft. “But produced,” Denny says, “as if the exhibition space in the K21 were underneath an historical coal mine site in the region of the museum.” That could be the online exhibition of the year.

COVID made the video star

Everything Rises, Brydee Rood, 2019 Urban Walking Festival. Photo: Jody Yawa McMillan.

Right now, we could have a whole weekly Lowdown devoted to live-streamed online arts discussion and new video content. Here’s what’s new.

New this week - Thursday morning 8am, as part of Tempo Dance Festival’s online “virtual dance wonderland” (featuring new online dance work), they present a panel ‘Activism and Art in Aotearoa and Beyond’ via Facebook. It will be available for a week afterwards.

RNZ Music has amped up their video content, not only showcasing this excellent hip hop mini-doco series but completing this week publishing the live and Roundhead Studio sessions.  

Moving image art agency Circuit, have an extensive video art archive. Premiered this week is documentation of a Matariki performance work by Brydee Rood, responding to navigation and climate change themes. Filmed just after dusk under a full moon before the rising hulk of Rangitoto, 38 people carry a glowing line of solar lights along the water’s edge. The performance was part of the 2019 Urban Walking Festival.

Speaking of art and climate change, Track Zero brings the two together with science through events. They have partnered with Performing Arts Network New Zealand (PANNZ) and Auckland Live to host a series of six Wednesday evening online conversations on the “powerful role arts can play in shaping a fair, carbon-neutral future”, 19 August to 23 September. The series is supported by the Royal Society Te Apārangi and The Big Idea

The PANNZ Hui on more specifically arts focussed kaupapa was also back after an absence on Monday - spooky timing given it was planned before Auckland returned to a form of lockdown. Here’s Kate Powell’s account of this week’s conversation. 

Start reading young

Awardwinning Mophead author Selina Tusitala Marsh.

As a parent of young readers, I’m a big fan of the way the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults puts focus on some remarkable local books every year. This year’s winners have been announced, with Selina Tusitala Marsh’s ingenious Mophead getting the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award. Another fave in our house, Weng Wai Chan’s debut Lizard’s Tale won the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction.  Sam Brooks has reviewed this tale set in Singapore’s Chinatown during World War Two on The Spinoff. I spoke to Weng Wai Chan on RNZ last year.

Weng Wai Chan and her book Lizard's Tale.

In the same week, children's writer Kate De Goldi has been appointed as New Zealand’s first Reading Ambassador. The position is for two years. She spoke to Lynn Freeman at RNZ about what it involves. A recent OECD Programme for International Students assessment has discovered that “half of New Zealand's 15-year-olds have never read for enjoyment.”

Bend and Merge 

The merger of Auckland Council-controlled organisations Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) as recommended here and welcomed by Mayor Phil Goff to oversee Auckland’s events, stadiums and cultural assets, and economic development, will be interesting to watch for its implications for the arts. Arguably it may bring the arts back closer under the public watch and provide a more coordinated approach, but it’s also worth noting the main thrust of the merger is that it could “save up to $67 million over the next decade”. The recommendation of an independent review, there has long been criticism of the double-ups across the two organisations.

Welcome Wallywood

Meanwhile in the Wellington region, a new $45 million film production facility is being built in Upper Hutt, as reported by Stuff, able to accommodate 500 workers. Wellington NZ’s Screen Wellington general manager Nicci Boucher says the Wallaceville Hills studio will complement similar facilities and that there’s “no shortage of domestic and international film projects in the pipeline”. Best quote goes to Upper Hutt mayor Wayne Guppy: “We’ve already got Wellywood, now we’ll have Wallywood up the road.” 

Mystery and milk runs

Artist Bruce Mahalski’s Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery is a rather remarkable private museum which also doubles as what must be one of the world’s most interesting Air BnBs. Here is a short documentary by Declan Wong, filmed between 2017 and 2020.

Hallelujah, New Zealand has a new smart independent online magazine: Ensemble. Fashion, beauty and ‘lifestyle’ are its key focuses but there’s lots of culture around the edges, particularly in the features in its people section. All about upending the current fashion mag approach, co-founder Rebecca Wadey writes about its genesis on The Spinoff.   

Photographer Derek Henderson has revisited the Hastings streets of his ‘70s milk run. “These are the strongly local suburbs of a rural city,” writes local art writer Toby Buck in a review for Photoforum, “fairly unchanged in decades, an idiom that runs between the historical, political narratives of urban prosperity and empathetic, national welfare policy. There’s much fancier, upper-middle class residences just a street or two over.” Milk Run is on at the Hastings Art Centre until 11 October.

In this gentle review, Paula Green over on NZ Poetry Shelf calls poet Mary Maringikura Campbell’s Yellow Moon E Marama Rengarenga “a mesmerising self-portrait”. She is the daughter of poets Alistair Te Ariki Campbell and Meg Campbell.

Finally, the inimitable Steve Braunias leaps into the Guardian to once again embroider the truth and remind us that all we still wish for is to be mentioned overseas: “Like the line in Anton Chekhov’s novel The Shooting Party where a character says, unreasonably, “This is barbaric! This is like New Zealand!” As they say: yeah, right.


Want More of the Lowdown?

Check out past Arts Media Lowdowns here and subscribe here to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.

Our Annual Directory of Arts Online can be found here.

News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of Arts Media Lowdown. Please send to [email protected]