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‘Central Government Has Failed Us’

Kirsten Paisley speaking to Helen Clark for 'Cultured Conversations' podcast.
Kirsten Paisley, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Director.
Deborah Rundle.
Chris Parkin and Charlotte Davy with prize winner Poppy Lekner. Photo: Mike Aamodt.
2020 Parkin Drawing Prize winner 'Forward Slash' by Poppy Lekner.
Llew Summers with Ecce Homo, 2007. Photo: Elizabeth Light.
Installing work from Post Hoc Dane Mitchell, Christchurch Art Gallery.
Andrew Grainger in Master Builder, Auckland Theatre Company.
No punches pulled in this week’s arts news bulletin - Mark Amery brings you the outspoken, the controversial and the boundary pushers, along with what’s happening around the regions.


Moving Auckland Art Gallery forward? 

One of the highest-profile cornerstones of the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector is in the midst of a big period of adjustment.

Since Kirsten Paisley was appointed Director of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in 2019, it’s not only done away with the international visitor charge, but also introduced a new business model that Paisley says she’s been working on for over a year. It no longer sees a reliance on the blockbuster, values connection to community and already sees the gallery now ”permanently” open on Friday nights.  

Announced this week is the establishment of an advisory committee to support the strategic growth of the gallery, as the press release says.  The gallery is managed under Auckland City Council agency Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA). Chief Executive Chris Brooks comments that the committee will “provide invaluable advice and expertise – not just in guiding us through unstable global circumstances, but also in supporting our goal of the gallery being the leading arts institution in the Pacific.” 

That left me none the wiser as to what the key needs the committee’s establishment is addressing. So I spoke to Paisley direct. She confirms that, given RFA manages everything from speedway licenses for Western Springs to the Auckland Zoo, the committee was about providing more support and leadership for the gallery from those with extensive experience and passion for it. “We recognised a gap of external leadership for the gallery, and that the stewardship of the future planning role falls to the director.”

Kirsten Paisley, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Director.

They’ve brought in heavy hitters too. The committee is strong on senior figures with experience at a high level with strategy and in governance. Chair is retired High Court Judge Kit Toogood and included is former Prime Minister Helen Clark, and some key management and business leaders. 

To my eyes, the focus is not principally on the direction of the programming. The two most likely to offer it, Elizabeth Ellis (founding Chair of  Haerewa, the gallery’s Māori advisory board) and Dame Jenny Gibbs have been involved in the gallery for decades but are well placed to champion the cause to private and public benefactors. 

In terms of being “the leading arts institution in the Pacific”, the panel is notable for the absence of figures representing Pasifika or the burgeoning Auckland contemporary Pacific arts, nor does it address the call for more institutional support for the Pacific in Auckland (the gallery did, however, institute an inaugural Curator Pacific Art, with Ane Tonga in 2019). There are also no new Māori or mana whenua voices on this panel. Rather, there is a strong signal of the need for stronger leadership. Paisley in conversation is clear on this.  

“There’s a gap in arts leadership at a sector level,”  Paisley says. She is stepping up to play a wider leadership role to influence public policy. This includes a new podcast series, ‘Cultured Conversations’, where she interviews cultural leaders, towards influencing public policy. First up are with committee members Clark and Brooks.  

Kirsten Paisley speaking to Helen Clark for 'Cultured Conversations' podcast.

Central government has failed us,” Paisley says. She makes no apologies for being outspoken and is critical of the handling of funding to be distributed to museums through Te Papa. No doubt the new committee’s membership will look to give Auckland’s premier gallery more national clout. Paisley, like many in the arts sector, is concerned about ensuring a strong leadership voice to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage at this critical time when, she says, many museums and galleries worldwide will not reopen.

Step up

The nation’s elected decision-makers are also under the spotlight from Arts Access Aotearoa - who is calling for a government-wide approach to funding creative spaces. Concerns have already been raised regarding funding opportunities for such spaces from Creative New Zealand. “The Government needs to put its money where its mouth is,” says Diana McPherson, Director of Māpura Studios in Auckland in this Arts Access blog. “If Creative New Zealand doesn’t have the capacity to fund creative spaces, then other government sources need to step up and recognise the benefits of the arts for everyone, in particular for people already disadvantaged and facing barriers to participation.”

Creative New Zealand has opened up the first opportunities in its 12-month investment plan, following the completion of its first phase COVID-19 emergency response. They’re not about to get a pandemic slackers award - they have also just released “a best practice guide for local councils in supporting local artists, creative workers, arts groups and organisations through COVID-19 and into the future.”

Forward! Slash!

Wellington artist Poppy Lekner has won the 2020 Parkin Drawing Prize with ‘Forward Slash’ (above) - an A4 piece that employed Lekner’s left and right index finger on a Brother typewriter to pulse out slash marks, as if tightly weaving. In stridently employing the forward slash, it could be taken as an urgent call for change in these COVID charged times. Here’s Stuff story with a video of past prize winners and also the NZ Herald story.

Zoom-in and it’s rather mesmerising. Indeed, zooming in makes you aware of the failure of the digital to appreciate even a physical print-out from a typewriter. You want to see it for real. That speaks to the power of this wider use of the term ‘drawing’ in a computer-mediated world.  

This Newhub television item rather predictably starts with the devaluing quip that “if you’ve ever used the forward slash in a letter, text or email, well then you might well be a budding artist”, and then the comment “raising that age-old question what is art”. Luckily after that age-old baiting, the item leaves it to judge Charlotte Davy from Te Papa to speak eloquently on the work’s power, before doing some age-old baffled street vox pops. New approach to the arts please!  

Chris Parkin and Charlotte Davy with prize winner Poppy Lekner. Photo: Mike Aamodt.

There’s some clear craft and discipline to the minimalist work, with some contemporary conceptual ‘punch’. “I’ve always been drawn to abstract artworks and influencers such as Agnes Martin,” writes Lekner, a Massey University grad and former head of photography at Wellington High School in the press release, “whose paintings are very geometric and minimal but the touch of the artist through the mark is easily identifiable”.  

The Parkin Drawing Prize exhibition runs until 30 August at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts Wellington. Lekner receives $25,000 in cash from Mr Parkin.

Blurred lines

Andrew Grainger in Master Builder, Auckland Theatre Company.

Auckland Theatre Company seized the Zoom moment in lockdown with its excellent online NZ adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull, drawing they say over 25,000 views (quite a bump up from their usual theatre attendance numbers). Now, Ibsen buff Colin McColl has brought a contemporary version of The Master Builder online, created and filmed in the rehearsal room, with his longtime designer ally Tony Rabbit by his side. 

 Lynn Freeman spoke to McColl on RNZ’s Standing Room Only about what the process meant for what they could do - he calls it a hybrid between theatre on film, and a filmed work. The production is on Youtube 8-20 August. 

COVID-19 has hurt our theatre industry terribly, but here’s one silver lining: McColl told Freeman that ATC has made the decision to film one high-quality film version of a theatre work every year, either a New Zealand work or a classic out of copyright.

Going up in flames 

Llew Summers with Ecce Homo, 2007. Photo: Elizabeth Light.

Christchurch sculptor Llew Summers was 72 when he died a year ago, and with time to plan his own funeral, he chose to go out like a Viking: cremated on a pyre built by his son. If you navigate the red tape, it seems legal - as is also in this case burial on private land, as long as there is no public cemetery within 32km of the place of death. Friend and fellow artist Yvonne van Dongen writes beautifully on this and Summers in this story. It coincides with the release of a Summers’ biography by John Newton, Body and Soul (Canterbury University Press), an extract of which has been published online by Stuff.

Installing work from Post Hoc Dane Mitchell, Christchurch Art Gallery.

Still in Christchurch, three cell-phone towers disguised as trees (or ‘franken-pines’), have been placed around the CBD as part of Dane Mitchell’s Post Hoc (created originally for the 2019 Venice Biennale). A tour of the trees (which broadcast lists of things lost) is planned. They are to be found outside the gallery, in the Botanic Gardens and on Worcester Street. Here’s a Stuff story also announcing a Max Gimblett show. The gallery has a great new lockdown interview with Gimblett online (widely considered a living treasure!). Also from the gallery’s Bulletin is this recommended set of commentaries from artists on their studio set-ups during lockdown.

Regional lowdown


Community artworks will decorate the Sarjeant Gallery redevelopment site at Pukenamu, Queen's Park Whanganui, along 35 metres of a wooden wall. It will be in place for 32 months with paintings by adults and children. The Sarjeant are hosting 10 free painting workshops to this end. 


Meanwhile, always take note of what is on your own walls, or in the attic. Nelson resident Greg Thompson had no idea he had a Gottfried Lindauer painting hanging in his family dining room, the Nelson Mail reports, until a family friend took notice. The 145-year-old portrait of Edward Green, has now been donated to the Nelson Provincial Museum. The family admitted it had accidentally thrown out another Lindauer portrait, of Green’s wife, Isabella.


Womad New Zealand is considering its options for next March’s festival as COVID continues to hamper international travel. You may recall this is the festival that went ahead this year just days before lockdown. Event director Emere Wano says the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust are weighing up their choices, including cancelling, continuing with headline act Ziggy Marley, who pulled out last minute, or having trans-Tasman or a Kiwi Womad. In other words, no decisions yet!

On RNZ’s Standing Room Only: a catapult firing projectiles made out of oil, lard, wax and a pigment made from burnt bones is part of an exhibition by Los Angeles based Chinese-American artist Candice Lin, opening in New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster. With its look at racism and how plagues and viruses have been racialised, it’s rather relevant. Naturally Lin has not been able to visit, instead relying on the installation talents of the gallery staff.   

When Travel allows

Deborah Rundle.

Auckland  artist Deborah Rundle is the recipient of the 2020 Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Te Tuhi UK residency award (TBI news story here), the second recipient of this award after Darcell Apelu last year. Rundle will be taking up a four-week residency on site (when travel allows) to investigate the history of Ann Ellis, who in 1875 led a group of 9000 women and men on strike action in nearby Dewsbury. Concerned with labour rights, Rundle writes “I hope to call up the past to reappear as a reminder of the failings of the present. As today’s workers navigate their way in the field of labour, especially in the light of the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the climate emergency, it is clear that things should not continue as they are.”

Bold statements

Anthony Byrt’s book on artists Billy Apple, David Hockney and much else The Mirror Steamed Over: Love and Pop in London, 1962 is now out, reviewed beautifully on Newsroom by Andrew Paul Wood.

“Criticism is a form of close attention, honouring the artistic endeavour, which is vital to the overall health of the system,” says Byrt in a terrific conversation on the City Gallery Wellington blog with fellow critic and long-time Billy Apple career chronicler Wystan Curnow. “It’s a part of civil discourse that’s being lost,” he continues. “That’s why I don’t participate in Twitter anymore. I realised that, in the end, it was keeping me from slower forms of writing, looking, and thinking.”

That put me in mind of a short new blog about being brave by young peoples’ publisher Julia Marshall, who started Gecko Press in 2005. 

“There is a sea of safe, but the good books that help us explore emotion, help us experience events and situations far beyond our own lives, are still far and few between. What better time to build resilience than now?”

Introductory videos to dealer gallery shows, featuring the artists are becoming more common. Here’s a good example from Jhana Millers Gallery in Wellington with painter Will Bennett and a slow scan of his show, Polyester Soldiers Stitch Witches, which has a rather fascinating background with Roman history reenactors in New Zealand. 

Also in Wellington, the full suite of 14 video interviews with gallery curators and their artists in and around Cuba Street, Curators of Cuba, facilitated by Suzanne Tamaki, Pip Adam and myself is now online here.

Counterfutures is a biannual multidisciplinary journal of “Left research, thought, and alternatives.”  Online content is catalogued here including this excellent tour around Auckland inner city monuments by writer Murray Edmond, written in 2019, while Edmond was on a Residency at the Michael King Centre -well before this year’s eruption of discussion on the colonial legacy of our statuary. The essay will be published in hard-copy in the forthcoming November 2020 issue of Counterfutures.

That’s amore

There’s love radiating from Stuff’s interview with this couple, actor and filmmaker Paolo Rotondo, and wife, writer producer Renee Mark, who​ run Cinema Italiano: The Italian Film Festival, screening nationwide now.

Written by

Mark Amery

6 Aug 2020

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.