Cold, Cold Truths and Hot, Hot Wax: Lowdown #53

St James Theatre - sourced from
Kate Powell syphons the steaming hot news and cold realities in this week’s Lowdown


St James needs a Miracle

As the number of live venues in Auckland continues to dwindle, the news that St James Theatre faces “infinite mothballing” is a real blow.

The venue has hosted legendary performances by Sonic Youth, The White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs – who infamously literally brought the house down with their art punk racket, hospitalising a gig-goer. While Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Queen Elizabeth II have also trod the floorboards.

Despite its rich history, restoration has stalled since 2017, just two years after it was promised that the grand dame would undergo a facelift - along with a new cohort of apartments for sale. An in depth article is available on the New Zealand Herald.


Graham Bennett and his bridge design. Photo sourced from Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Design competition “ruined by political interests and aesthetic dead heads”

Christchurch artist Graham Bennett has put his local government on blast for scrapping a competition that would see a bridge across the Avon River merge practicality and art. After designs were submitted by 13 teams including Graham, the competition was scrapped by Christchurch City Council, citing concerns about the cost of maintenance. Now Ōtākaro - the company who called for submissions in the first place - has released its plain-Jane design that would cost the same as the art bridge.

Graham was understandably upset having spend hundreds of unpaid hours on the project, saying that the competition was "seriously flawed and seriously disrespectful to artists" and was ruined by "political interests and aesthetic dead heads” in an interview with Stuff.

It’s a real shame that the Christchurch Council forfeited on an opportunity and allowed so many artists to waste their time and finances. Surely they would have done their due diligence and researched other examples of similar work and known what they were getting into in the first place?  There is some real outrage being expressed on social media.   To establish a competition without that knowledge seems more than a little careless and this unfortunate outcome only continues to perpetuate the notion that artists are not worth paying - which is old news to say the least. 


Announcing a Hot Coterie 

In a pleasing development for budding art journalists and critics, a beloved local independent outlet has announced a new section dedicated to all things art. The Big Idea’s very own Mark Amery and esteemed art writer Megan Dunn are co-editing The Spinoff Art. It’s been written time and time again that the mainstream New Zealand media landscape is lacking regular exhibition reviews that are punchy and accessible without sacrificing intelligent debate.

So together, Mark and Megan are “gathering a coterie of smart writers across the country to regularly report on art.” This is exciting news, not just for artists who will get their work promoted on one of New Zealand’s biggest web-based media sites, but also makes a case for the importance of robust, articulate criticism and the role it plays in keeping the whole sector turning.

Also, as the article itself points out, Spinoff Arts will offer a good in-between and indeed complement outlets such as The Pantograph Punch who specialise in longer form analysis.

Megan Dunn wrote of her desire to write about art crimes. I’d recommend that she pops along to the upcoming NZ Art Crime Symposium happening in September.  Arthur Tompkins, trustee of the NZ Art Crime Research Trust and District Judge recently had a chat with RNZ about art crime. 

Edith Amituanai and Sriwhana Spong 2018 - photo via The Spinoff

The Spinoff Art will also be joined by another regular feature ‘Things I learnt at Art School’ where artists unpack the development of their practice and their knowledge. Photographer Edith Amituanai is the subject of their first instalment. The recent New Zealand Order of Merit recipient chats about her first camera, her favourite scene in Mean Girls and the ethics of representation. The conversational tone and compelling questions manages to provide insights into both the personality and practitioner well.  Edith is our latest contributor to our Advice to My 22 year old self, catch it here!


Wax Out of the Museum

1987 was the year (vinyl) music died for New Zealand. Rumour has it that our very last vinyl press was scrapped before its bones were unceremoniously shoved in the Wellington Harbour. 32 years later, the art of vinyl-pressing has been resurrected in Aotearoa thanks to Holiday Records. The company celebrated their first batch of records - courtesy of rockers Mini Simmons - as the records rolled off the press over the weekend, ahead of their official release this coming Friday. Initial sales have been positive, with second pressings in the pipeline. Good luck to them.

Mini Simmons - photo via


Others Way Still Holding its Own Course

More good news for lovers of New Zealand music came through recently with the announcement of the Others Way line up for 2019. Now in its sixth year, Others Way has become an essential on any indie music lovers calendar as well as being an annual love letter to K’Rd in all its grimy, elegantly dishevelled glory. As with previous years, the line up is the perfect balance of established and emerging talent, with Straightjacket Fits, Blam Blam Blam, The Chills, Contenders, Creme Jean and Bailey Wiley all on the bill. A full list of artists and dates available here.


Water Water Everywhere

Not only is climate change real, the ramifications of man-made environmental problems are rightly creeping into artistic outputs. Canterbury Museum are currently hosting an exhibition about the region’s complex relationship with water. Entitled The Water Project, this award-winning exhibition was curated by Ashburton Art Gallery Manager/Curator Shirin Khosraviani, It features 37 works by 17 artists from around New Zealand. Each of the pieces intend to “honour, question and highlight the community’s relationship with water.” Featuring art by Peter Trevelyan, Jenna Packer, Phil Dadson, Dani Terrizzi, Ross Hemera and more, the exhibition spans multiple mediums. It is on at the Canterbury Museum until 10 November. 

Meanwhile, another artist on the same topic. In Wellington, artist Donna-Marie Patterson, spoke of her inspiration. Her family’s property on the West Coast, originally mined for gold and farming, it is now regenerating into a rainforest. On RNZ , Donna-Marie said that she “wants New Zealanders to really think about water, how precious it is, how under-valued and how at risk [it is].”Her latest exhibition entitled Oil and Water merges sculpture and drawings and is currently showing at Solander Gallery.

Donna-Marie Patterson - sourced from RNZ


Finalists for Parkin Drawing Prize Announced

400 artists submitted 500 works for consideration for the Parkin Drawing Prize. Of these, 79 finalists have been shortlisted. The winner of the $20,000 prize will be announced at a Gala Dinner on 5 August, by judge John Gow of Gow Langsford Gallery. All finalists will be showcased in a month-long exhibition at the Academy Exhibition. The judging panel received works from Russell to Dunedin and from New Zealanders living as far afield as Berlin and Florence.


Success runs in the family

Congratulations are in order for brother-sister dance duo Mason and Piper King who have both won spots at London’s Royal Ballet School. Hailing from Lower Hutt, the 15 and 13 year old have spent countless hours to date at Chilton Ballet Academy when they weren’t gracing stages in New York, Monaco or Berlin. Although it is an incredible feat to have both siblings accepted to such a prestigious programme, Mason was one of only eight boys selected from 1000 auditionees from around the world. Quite something!

Photo of siblings Mason and Piper King - sourced from Stuff / Johnny Hendrikus

Written by

Kate Powell

10 Jul 2019

Kate is a cultural critic and curator.   To date, she has held a variety of roles as a social media strategist, artist liaison, artistic director, and publicist.  Kate has studied at the Sotheby's Institute (London), Victoria University (Wellington) and AUT (Auckland).

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