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Copying and toppling heritage

Rita Angus mural, Bolton Street. Image: Mark Amery
Auckland Broadcasting House from the archives. Image: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.
Govett Brewster 50th birthday celebrations
Julia Johnston: Grae in his Studio
Portrait of Salvador Dalí, taken in Hôtel Meurice, Paris, 1972. Photo by Allan Warren.
John B Turner exhibition at Bowerbank Ninow Gallery
Who’s protecting what matters most to artists and art lovers? Mark Amery digs into some crucial issues and some juicy reads in your weekly arts media bulletin.


Battle for the Street (Artists)

Back in 2007, sculptor John Radford took Hallensteins to court over their use of a public sculpture of his in Western Park, Ponsonby on t-shirts for profit of images. The Copyright Act however has a special exception allowing 2D copies of "sculptures, models for buildings, or works of artistic craftsmanship that are permanently situated in a public place.” 

Well, that piece of legislation is currently up for review. It’s one thing when you put your work out big in public to expect it to be photographed and shared everywhere. It’s another, as artist Bruce Mahalski says in this excellent lengthy Stuff story, for it to be the subject of commercial gain without recompense. 

The story is part of an advocacy drive for artists by Wellington artist Xoe Hall in response to an image of her large Ghuznee Street’ three Bowies’ mural appearing on the cover of a calendar. Rather than fight it further legally, Hall has put her energy into setting up the Bad Exposure website so that street artists know their rights with intellectual property rights lawyer Tom Huthwaite. 

It notes that, unlike sculpture, street painting should be protected by the legislation if a case was taken but there are calls for this to be better clarified. Given the enormous growth in legal street art, such clarification seems essential. In an age when living rooms across the world are full of Google chromecast screensaver images featuring glorious street art, this may be the biggest intellectual property issue in public space of the moment.

Pictured is the latest giant street version of a Rita Angus painting in Wellington (the second, after Askew One’s in Bond Street painted Summer 2018-19). A reproduction of ‘Rutu’ on the side of the Bolton Hotel on Bolton Street, near to where Angus once lived. Painted by Sean Duffell, it complements a selection of Angus’s work in the hotel within. See the hotel story here

There’s another take on ‘Rutu’ in combination with another famous Angus work ‘Cass’ near the art shop Gordon Harris in Auckland’s Newmarket, painted by Jacob Chrisohoou and Johnny 4Higher (you can see it on this page). What Rita would say about her IP, we’ll never know but it’s worthy of note that these projects have the Angus family’s permission and in the case of the Bolton hotel, they are one of the commissioners. 

Auckland Broadcasting House from the archives. Image: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Protecting Heritage

Wrapped up in that street art discussion is the protection of heritage. While initiatives like Public Art Heritage are growing in considering what’s left of art in public space from previous eras, the entire infrastructure around cultural heritage has - of late - felt under attack. 

Beyond the prominent stouch over RNZ’s Concert FM, on 2 March physical opening hours for researchers to the National Archives in Wellington were cut by 40% (a response to digitisation) and public opposition to the move has been gathering (see this Facebook public group). There is just as much continued public heat over the National Library’s plans to get rid of 600,000 ‘non-New Zealand books’ to make more room for New Zealand, Māori and Pacific books. David Larsen on The Spinoff presents the argument against.

Receiving zero media attention, outside the Lowdown last year, was the retrenchment of our national film archive Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision from its beautiful building with sizeable public spaces on the corner of Taranaki and Ghuznee Streets to within the National Library. 

While the archive continues its good work, lost is a busy cinema with an active not-for-profit programme and several bustling exhibition spaces. The iconic building remains empty and up for sale. This week Ngā Taonga have announced that one treasured feature of its previous premises, neon artwork ‘Don’t Let It Get You’ by Mary Louise Browne (named after a 1966 NZ feature film) has been lit up in one of its new entrances.

Radio, meanwhile, lost its heritage buildings long ago. The loss of Wellington’s Broadcasting House in the 1990s was much felt, and in this glorious new piece by Chris Bourke on Audioculture, Radio New Zealand's Auckland Broadcasting House (which included the IZB Radio Theatre) is celebrated. The black and white images of this curvaceous art deco masterpiece in this story are utterly gorgeous, a memorial to our foolishness. 

The building was demolished in 1990, not that long after another nearby icon, His Majesty’s Theatre. It was “ground zero for popular music in Auckland for many decades,” declares Bourke, “the heart of Auckland’s music precinct in the central city.” Where is that now? In a big city called the internet. Still, we could have done with the grand public living space and recording studios.

Big Apple Wild Dogs

In a big deal for Pasifika Aotearoa presence in New York, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt by Tusiata Avia and directed by Anapela Polataivao has won Outstanding Production of the Year at the Fringe Encore Series. After its three week run there ended last month, Wild Dogs has been invited back for a six week off-Broadway run at SoHo Playhouse starting in April, as reported by Playbill. Read Tusiata’s reflections on the evolution of the show in this article.

Happy Birthday Gov

The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery has marked its 50th birthday with a street party, a giant glitter cake care of artist Reuben Patterson and the world premiere of a Len Lye work ‘Sky Snakes’.

But this weekend is the real meat in the sandwich: a symposium looking at the future of the art museum, called Uneven Bodies. The event responds to the gaps in collecting raised by Ruth Buchanan’s current exhibition The scene in which I find myself / Or, where does my body belong. Here’s the programme. In this Stuff story, John Leuthart and artists Ann Shelton and Joyce Campbell talk about the Govett-Brewster’s direction.

Celebrations. Photo:  Charlotte Littlewood

Festival Criticism

It’s festival peak this coming week with the voluminous Fringe programmes in Auckland and Wellington, not to mention Hamilton Garden Arts Festival now rolling, as well as Dunedin’s Fringe to come in a fortnight. Auckland Arts Festival opens next week (the first big arts casualty of the coronavirus, with the cancellation of large public event Place Des Agnes) joining a reinvigorated New Zealand Festival in the capital. What to go see? 

Well, all hail the reviewer. First up, go deep with Google to read overseas reviews for visiting international works you’re shelling out big money for. And, more importantly, make friends with NZ critics online - here are some gateways beyond the big newspaper and mag sites. 

Theatrescenes went all out for Auckland Pride festival, and is now caning it with the Fringe: 17 reviews up already as I write, including Nathan Joe’s preview of the Basement Theatre’s five four-hour long durational shows. “With the official announcement of Nisha Madhan as the new programming coordinator of Basement Theatre,” Joe comments, “it seems appropriate that the 2020 Auckland Fringe Basement Programme (her first Fringe in this position) has her artistic fingerprints all over it. In a continuation of Gabrielle Vincent’s established legacy of the annual Basement provocation, Madhan has stepped up to the plate with what might be the fringiest challenge yet: a season of durational theatre.”

In Wellington Art Murmurs are also publishing Fringe reviews, but the big parent here is Theatreview with Fringe and Festival reviews pouring out at a handful a day. Just up is a rave review from Ines Maria Almeida of the New Zealand Opera’s innovatively set production of Eight Songs for A Mad King, which is heading out nationally. Then there's the excellent Pantograph Punch, bottling things down with weekly "bite-sized" reviews starting here.

Julia Johnston: Grae in his Studio

Also amongst the festivals this weekend is Photobook NZ in Wellington. One speaker, Julia Johnston is publishing her book about artists and other Coasters on the road between Greymouth and Westport. We published a selection of her images in The Spinoff art section this week, while Lynn Freeman spoke to her on RNZ’s Standing Room Only.  To coincide with the festival, online is a guide to the best Antipodean Photobooks of 2019.

Right Now on Concert

Sunday is International Women’s Day and Concert FM (you might have heard about them a bit of late) are featuring women in music in the lead-up. Here’s their list of a selection of works by women composers they’ve recorded you can listen to online. Neatly, you can create your own playlist. 

And speaking of Concert, big congratulations to William Dart who is celebrating 40 years presenting the excellent new music show Upbeat. As he recalls in this RNZ story, one of his earliest shows featured the Sex Pistols in their heyday. Also the long-serving editor of art publishing treasure Art New Zealand (catalogue with some online content here), Dart also comments regarding arts criticism on New Zealanders shyness of speaking out.

“We’re too frightened to actually come out and say something. Jenny McLeod when she had her first performance of ‘Earth and Sky’ all her composer colleagues closing their lips and saying nothing, making her wonder if she’d done something terribly wrong. It’s a very New Zealand thing I think.” 

Racism in the Arts

Two stories caught the eye this week on first hand accounts of racist experiences as Māori in the arts. Anna McAllister writes about her fraught experience of art school commissioned by Pantograph Punch, while Ruby Solly writes strongly on E-Tangata about being Māori in the classical music world. Both highlight blatant racism and how far we have yet to go. 

“In the Save RNZ Concert group on Facebook,” writes Solly, “everyone has been quick to make claims about how diverse Concert is as a station and how supportive the community is of Māori and Pasifika. They’ve done this with the use of our kupu, like asking people to show “aroha” for the station and labelling it as a “taonga”, as well as describing and posting photos and videos of young classical musicians who they’re proud to point out aren’t “white”, or “old”, or “elite”.

“I know that, if this had happened 15 years ago, I would’ve been used as a political pawn in the same way. At first, this made me feel angry, but now I just feel concerned for those young musicians who are already in difficult positions just being in this community.”

Institutional News

Ashburton Art Gallery has been a regional gallery to watch in the last few years with a dynamic contemporary art programme. Here’s a story this last fortnight in the Ashburton Courier about how the gallery is ‘punching above its weight.’

Meanwhile Stuff have received and published the contents of a report Southland’s councils didn’t want made public yet on Reinventing the Southland Museum. It’s the work of consultant Tim Walker and its leaking was rather inevitable given the frustrations around the regions councils having sat on the report for eight months despite the museum board wanting it released. It recommends the councils invest $66 million in redevelopment of the existing, currently closed buildings. 

Portrait of Salvador Dalí, taken in Hôtel Meurice, Paris, 1972. Photo by Allan Warren.

And the big blockbuster exhibition news of the week: the arrival in December of a significant exhibition of surrealist art from Rotterdam at Te Papa. Here’s an RNZ Morning Report interview with Te Papa's Head of Art Charlotte Davy. 

John  B Turner exhibition at Bowerbank Ninow Gallery

More Great Online Content

Legendary New Zealand photographer John B Turner has been making images for 60 years, and an impressive series of vintage silver prints from 1963 to 1979 have been selected for show at Auckland’s Bowerbank Ninow. In this interesting exhibition tour video for Photoforum Turner talks to his work.

In an excellent opinion piece on Stuff, in the wake of leading fundraising for the newly opened Te Raukura ki Kāpitii Performing Art Centre, Cas Carter writes of the frustrations of the arts not being treated as a business.

I’ve featured the cool Urban Huts Club project close to me on the Kāpiti Coast previously, but here’s a great wee write up of a family visiting each hut with pictures. 

Pantograph Punch’s ‘Loose Canons’ series is a great artist led initiative. Here’s poet Grace Iwashita-Taylor ahead of UPU at Auckland Festival. Also on the Punch, editor Faith Wilson writes smartly on the words and stories behind UPU.

People can’t get enough of the aute (Māori tapa) work of Nikau Hindin. Here’s another  great feature interview with Hindin with images of her making work at Homes to Love

Finally some great reviewing from Tulia Thompson of the celestial artwork of Zac Langdon Pole at Michael Lett Gallery and Sarah Callesen at the Audio Foundation.


Written by

Mark Amery

5 Mar 2020

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

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