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Mark Amery's Lowdown #6

Sarah Longbottom - Ngā Rangatahi Toa, DJ Sir Vere - Photo: © Simon Grigg, Roger Shepherd - Photo: Chris McKeen, Glen McDonald - Wellington’s Vincents Art Workshop
Takarunga - Mt Victoria, Devonport, The Long View - Mary Macpherson
Design for Ravenscar House Christchurch
Kate Newby 'I can’t nail the days down' Kunsthalle Wien 2018 Photo - Jorit Aust, courtesy the artist
Design for Hundertwasser Centre Whangarei
Christine Losecaat MBE guides NZ's Createch leaders through the UK's journey and how New Zealand might lift its game.
The sixth instalment of the Arts Media Lowdown: Shifts at the Govett Brewster, the latest gongs, Auckland funding announcements, arts participation results and a heap of great reading and watching.


Mark Amery with the sixth instalment of the Arts Media Lowdown, bringing together significant news and arts content online from across the arts in Aotearoa New Zealand over the past fortnight.

Good News and Gongs!

Everyone has their rays of sunshine on Queens Birthday Monday from the honours list. In the arts, here’s a group of people for me who have been vital to our culture and the evolution of their artforms. They’d make a remarkable government cabinet. The Topp Twins became Dames (interviewing themselves here at the head of the full list), and new Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit are playwright and scriptwriter Briar Grace Smith, Comedy Festival and Classic Comedy founder Scott Blanks, DJ Sir Vere (aka Philip Alexander Te-Aorangi Bell), theatre director and creator of The Conch Nina Nawalowalo, Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd and filmmaker Roger Donaldson. New Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit are Catherine Chappell of Touch Compass mixed ability dance company, film producer Ainsley Gardiner and Sarah Longbottom of youth arts mentors Nga Rangatahi Toa (who writes the latest TBi Soapbox here). And nice to see a Queen’s Service Medal to the remarkable Glen McDonald who runs Wellington’s Vincents Art Workshop. Underrepresented in the list, it feels, are literature and the visual arts.

Meantime, film director Sima Urale was honoured Saturday night with the Mana Pasifika Award at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival, awarded by PIFT Pacific Islanders in Film, Television and Online.

Waikato Museum have announced the finalists for the National Contemporary Art Award, the winners of  which will be released in August. This year’s judge is Pataka Director Reuben Friend. Pataka in Porirua has recently reopened after a refit of its galleries.

Luke Willis Thompson is but one of a clutch of New Zealand contemporary artists doing rather well in Europe right now. Two of the three winners of prestigious Ars Viva prize for young artists living in Germany for 2017-2018 were New Zealanders: Zac Langdon-Pole and Oscar Enberg. This is an unprecedented event, as former Wellingtonian Carter Imrie-Milne notes writing on Langdon-Pole’s work at Contemporary Hum.

Langdon Pole was also recently shortlisted for the BMW Art Journey Prize and currently has a solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Darmstadt in Berlin ahead of a residency at Fogo Island Arts in Newfoundland, Canada.

Kate Newby 'I can’t nail the days down' Kunsthalle Wien 2018 Photo - Jorit Aust, courtesy the artist

In Vienna, Kate Newby’s major installation ‘I can't nail the days down’ at Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz until September is beautifully introduced in this Kunsthalle youtube interview – highly recommended as an introduction to Newby’s work.

In Hamilton: nice to see “a quiet artistic revolution shaking up Frankton”, with galleries and studios Skinroom now running, as covered in this Stuff article.  

Last week we announced that artists Sara Hughes and Peata Larkin have been commissioned to create large works for the exterior of the new New Zealand Convention Centre in Auckland. Here is an interview on Maori Television with Larkin about her work.  

“I don’t know of any recent show or performance for adults that has allowed babes in arms. Even the World of Wearable Art show, which is full of the sort of costumes that would entertain my baby for hours, told me that I would have to buy him a full price $50 ticket if I really wanted to bring him (despite the fact that he would not actually be in a seat).”

That’s Rachel Millar on The Spinoff, ahead of Femme Natale a play at BATS Theatre Wellington by parents and for parents which has a matinee performance for babies. Why should parents be denied theatre?

And on theatre for young people, after premiering their new work Trolls (reviewed here) in Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch, theatre company Trick of the Light have been on the road touring their much travelled The Bookbinder to Canada’s Calgary Kidsfest and The Road That Wasn’t There to Edinburgh International Children's Festival (May 30 - June 1), and from June 9-10 Albany Deptford in London.

Getting Strategic

There are some interesting take-outs from Creative New Zealand’s latest triennial survey into New Zealanders attitudes and participation in the arts - although that might depend on what value you place on Colmar Brunton surveys involving 6000 online respondents.

Yes, there’s some familiar fairly meaningless flag-waving: eight out of 10 New Zealanders have participated or attended in the last 12 months. But how about these stats? More than one million people have donated to the arts in the last three years (a big jump); there is a decline in enjoyment and participation for young people entering their teenage years (does this correlate with increased digital engagement?); Maori attend and participate in the arts more frequently than other groups; and, Auckland is one of the most challenging regions in the country to access the arts despite an increase in venues (sort out that public transport Phil!). It’s a little buried but here’s a handy filter to look at the results online at the CNZ site here and here.

The survey fitted neatly with Prime Minister Jacinda Adern’s launch speech at CNZ’s annual symposium Nui te Kōrero – Roadmap to the Future, where she announced she’s about one word: “access.” Youth got a key mention as CNZ announced a $5 million fund they’ll roll out to reach young people. Adern in this editorial piece in the NZ Herald details more of her intentions.

Meanwhile, reaction to last month’s budget remains on the one hand charmed by Ardern’s lovely words and, on the other, quietly exasperated at the business as usual approach to actually funding artists. The issue of access for youth is nodded to in talk of “inspiring youth through the school curriculum” but there’s been puzzlement as to why this seems to be laid at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s door rather than the education ministry.

Christine Losecaat MBE guides NZ's Createch leaders through the UK's journey and how New Zealand might lift its game.

At their symposium CNZ also advised they had a meeting of an advocacy group they had put together.  They have drafted a set of ‘urgent calls’ (details here) and  discussion on those calls was held at the hui.  We await a plan. Advocacy and leadership are much needed from lead organisations across the sector.One group doing some strategy work is the “alliance of New Zealand creative industries” WeCreate who are developing an Action Plan in partnership with government and in collaboration with some key industry thinkers. They put together last year’s Creative Economy Conversation in Wellington. They recently brought to New Zealand for CreateTech NZ 2018  Christine Losecaat, who has spent over a decade working with the UK government, as a creative industries advisor, driving the implementation of the international strategy for the sector.

Design for Ravenscar House Christchurch

On buildings and what funds them

The Ravenscar Trust and Canterbury Museum have released the final design for Ravenscar House in Christchurch, a $15 million contemporary museum, displaying fine and decorative arts, sculpture, furniture and antiquities. Construction will start October. Earthquake rubble will be used in the aggregate to make the concrete panels.

In Whangarei new investment into the Hundertwasser Art Centre with its Wairau Māori Art Gallery by the central government’s Provincial Growth Fund was announced on Friday. The centre got the go-ahead last year. The centre will showcase both the work of Hundertwasser and Maori fine art. Whangarei Art Museum Trust Chairman Grant Faber announced on Saturday that work will start on 11 June and the build will take 26 months.  $9.94 million has been pledged from the Provincial Growth Fund. Of that, $6.94 million is new funding announced this week, and $3 million had been pledged by government in June 2017. The total construction cost of the Centre is $26.5 million, more than half of which has been raised by the community.

Design for Hundertwasser Centre Whangarei

As reported in the Taranaki Daily News Director of Govett Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre Simon Rees has departed. The gallery is due to institute a much debated admission fee this month, a move that has led the Len Lye Foundation (without whom, let’s face it, there wouldn’t be a Len Lye Centre) to reject taking its cut from the fee. Len Lye Foundation director Evan Webb has said that charging would have been against Len Lye's philosophy. 

The Govett Brewster move follows on from Auckland Art Gallery’s controversial decision to charge overseas visitors (as reported in Lowdown #1). Good news though for the gallery in last week’s confirmation of Auckland’s 10-year budget of an extra $2 million per annum. Though, we understand planned cuts to the public art budget stand. Meanwhile in Wellington Stuff reports things were getting a little heated around the funding decisions for the 2018-2019 arts and culture fund.

And, in Palmerston North: “Honestly, I think, the loss of Centrepoint, to Creative New Zealand, would not be a major blow.” Strong words from that professional theatre’s last artistic director Jeff Kingsford Brown in this piece by Baz Macdonald. With the demise of the Fortune last month it’s our last remaining professional regional theatre. Fears also continue in Palmerston North that what was the Manawatu Art Gallery, now part of museum Te Manawa, will be lost in current redevelopment plans.

And in the Pacific the big building news is that a national gallery of contemporary arts for Fiji is getting closer to becoming a reality. You can keep up with progress on the gallery on a Facebook page.

Online Reading and Watching

"More and more people are interested in theatre," Louise Wallace, formerly of Real Housewives of Auckland, tells Stuff. She hosts new Face TV (Sky TV 83) talkshow Opening Night where she interviews theatre people. "I think the art scene is going through a renaissance, I honestly feel there is a great uptake in the arts and theatres." Well, there’s one person surveyed. First episode features Blair Strang (whose production company Sapphire is premiering Albert Belz’s play Morningstar this month) and Alison Bruce (in Auckland Theatre Company adaptation of The Cherry Orchard). You can also find former TV presenter Liz Gunn interviewing Auckland theatremakers here at the 13th Floor (the latest with Indian Ink Theatre Company). Does that count as a new trend?

Established in 2017 The Sapling is a web content exemplar. The Sapling’s stated aim: “to find conversations nobody has been able to have in the main media about children’s books and give them a good airing.”. New content includes Megan Dunn on Maurice Gee’s O series. And on the subject of children’s literature, the New Zealand Book Council’s blog features this piece on Jane Waddell’s new theatre work about Margaret Mahy, at Circa on Wellington.

“Right now, we’re in a really special moment,” says filmmaker Jane Campion in a substantial interview with the Guardian, speaking of #metoo and the time for feminist advocacy. “I’m so excited about it. It’s like the Berlin wall coming down, like the end of apartheid. I think we have lived in one of the more ferocious patriarchal periods of our time, the 80s, 90s and noughties. Capitalism is such a macho force. I felt run over.”

Highly recommended: this indepth look by David Herkt at terrific Fiona Clark’s 1988 exhibition AIDS NOW. This vital suite of images has been published by Michael Lett Gallery, as a suite of three books.

Takarunga - Mt Victoria, Devonport, The Long View - Mary Macpherson

Part of this month’s Auckland Festival of Photography is a strong suite of images exhibition by Mary MacPherson at Pah Homestead that give edge to the banal tectonic shifts in the urban Auckland landscape, easily overlooked. A strong selection feature in this photo essay on Spinoff and Mary also spoke to RNZ Standing Room Only’s Lynn Freeman. Peter Ireland writes on the show at Eyecontactsite. "Curiously," Ireland writes, "artists such as Simon Denny and Luke Willis Thompson are posited as the golden boys of New Zealand art for work that owes more to the tradition of social documentary photography—having its origins as far back as the 1880s and continuous since—than any ‘ism' the art world can dredge up. Why are these dots not being joined?"

Every year, at the end of their first Term the entire Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School travels from Wellington to Manutuke, south of Gisborne, to be hosted by Manutuke Marae. This magic video online with an introduction from Toi’s Christian Penny and Teina Moetara explains how marae noho works for both Toi Whakaari and for Manutuke.

In more Vimeo Maori theatre action the crew behind lauded theatre production Cellfish share some brief insights ahead of its staging with Silo Theatre Auckland, a play dealing with the high prison incarceration rate of Maori. Worth noting this month also is that Taki Rua have their first ever Te Reo Māori mainstage adult production touring to six North Island centres: He Kura E Huna Ana written by Hōhepa Waitoa and directed by Nancy Brunning. WellingtonNZ talked to Taki Rua’s Tānemahuta Gray.

Speaking of reviewing: like most of us, he is gone from the newspaper but still present online. Former NZ Herald visual art reviewer TJ McNamara says he’s putting more time into his blog. And he makes no apologies for being out of step with the times, which will comfort the similarly perplexed. On exhibition Most Things Happen When I am Asleep at Artspace Auckland and the announcement that Luke Willis Thompson is a finalist for the Turner Prize: “Both have convinced me that some aspects of modern art must have happened when I was sleeping. Collectively they show me the nature of much modern art but aspects of both have left me puzzled.” TJ however is still good for some clarity of thought taking on the complex Serene Velocity by Michael Stevenson. And here are his brief takeouts from Auckland Art Fair.

Physical and Digital

Pantograph Punch dipped their toes into something many people call for – a compact print edition of exhibition reviews with a special Auckland Art Fair edition of its ‘Unmissables’. You can now download it as a PDF here.

For the world of old physical publications the digital can for new readers revive. Landfall’s back catalogue – PDFs from 1947 on! - is now available online here.

Meanwhile a far newer journal Mimicry, dedicated to emerging artists of all stripes, has just launched its fourth edition. You can buy a PDF but it’s a paper delight from a small independent bookstore near you.  Watch for their story this week on The Big Idea’s website.

Want more of the Lowdown? Check out Mark Amery's past Arts Media Lowdowns here and subscribe here  to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.

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

Written by

Mark Amery

5 Jun 2018

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

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