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Shaky Time for Arts Media in Print

As several print institutions fold, Mark Amery looks at the loss for the arts and the current state for our art magazines, in this week’s arts news bulletin.


Dark Days for Arts Media

The shutdown of at least 10 major, long-established New Zealand magazine titles by German-owned Bauer Media late last week represents - on top of the progressive gutting of our newspapers over the years - a significant loss to the arts media at a time when artists are hurting. It remains to be seen whether these titles will find a future life with new owners post COVID-19. 

A particularly big loss is the NZ Listener. While ageing with its baby boomer subscription base and its currency increasingly competing with publishing online, it has continued to be a key resource for lively, intelligent arts writing.  I started writing there under arts and books editor Chris Bourke (now with Audioculture, online) in the early 1990s. I also wrote art features for Metro, North and South and NZ House and Garden - all dropped by Bauer. The Listener has been notable for its support of strong arts and books editors. Alongside Bourke, in this generation, Philip Matthews (The Press) and Steve Braunias (Newsroom, online) continue to work impressively in this field.

Time then also to salute outstanding arts writers who have written committedly for NZ Listener for decades, like Sally Blundell, Elizabeth Kerr and Diana Witchel. With the curtain falling on Metro (plenty online to illustrate the significance of this loss), we also lose the local voice of one of our best art critics, Anthony Byrt. Let’s hope they find new platforms. Right now, those might not be with publications principally funded by advertising - an effective method for the commercial sector to assist the public good.

Byrt, incidentally, has been hit by multiple cancellations. He was due to appear at Auckland Writers’ Festival in May with his new book, now delayed, The Mirror Steamed Over: Love and Pop in London, 1962 with Auckland University Press. The book takes us to the Royal College of the Arts in the early 60s and the coming together of artists David Hockney, Barrie Bates aka Billy Apple and Ann Quin. Byrt continues to write for international art magazine Artforum - in the latest issue this piece on the excellent new work of Zac Langdon-Pole recently at Michael Lett Gallery.

NZ's remaining print visual art publications.

What About Our Art Magazines?

What, then, of our own print visual art publications? Beyond subscriptions, they are totally reliant on exhibition advertisements. Art New Zealand has published quarterly without exception since 1976. The Autumn edition went out to subscribers and, without the ability to visit a store or gallery, I recommend buying the digital version through their downloadable app. For the duration of the lockdown, they are sharing reproductions of artwork from their digital archive on Facebook. Will a winter issue appear? 

Unfortunately, we already know the answer to that question for a publisher with a similar moniker. I spoke to the quarterly Art News New Zealand’s editor Brenda Chappell. They have made the decision to cancel their winter issue (the first time they’ve missed one since 1997). Subscriptions and gallery advertising will be held over for another issue. Chappell says they rely on advertising for around 95% of their revenue (no CNZ support here). They too got their autumn issue off to subscribers just in time. You can see the content here and send an email through to order online. Naturally, there are plenty of copies.

There’s a third magazine locally also reliant on gallery advertising you’re not currently picking up, Artzone. The magazine puts out some great artist interviews. Luckily they continue to roll these out online. Recently published are interviews with Caryline Boreham, Elizabeth Pointon and Joon-Hee Park.

Ron Hanson in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, art magazine White Fungus’s editor Ron Hanson (pictured) has been interviewed by Asia New Zealand Foundation about life on the ground in Taiwan during the pandemic, where the virus has thus far been successfully contained. You can read here.

Theatre Initiatives Online

When it’s all over, may it be remembered that it was Palmerston North’s Centrepoint Theatre who first took the initiative to organise a major new theatre creation initiative online. 

Better still, they ask that you buy tickets so they can pay something to the artists. For this 24-hour challenge, 10 playwrights were paired with 10 actors to write, perform and film ten original monologues. Each writer had 12 hours starting on Saturday, April 4 at 9am, the actors had to do the rest. Being virtual and with time on everyone’s hands led to a double-dozen theatre dream team. 

Writers included Victor Rodger, Briar Grace Smith and Roger Hall and the performers included Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Anapela Polataivao, to give you a sense of the spread. When you buy a ticket, you receive a link and password to the library of monologues. Other theatre producers will be watching this one with big interest - it seems likely this will be the first of many such online content creation initiatives for artists and viewers alike. Meanwhile, Playmarket has indicated that many of the bigger theatre producers are exploring streaming productions. 

Last Lowdown, we discussed BATS Theatre’s live streaming lead. Here’s a smashing story on Pantograph Punch from theatremaker Jean Sarjent talking with the managers at BATS Theatre about handling things as lockout loomed larger and larger during the middle of a Fringe Festival.  

Festival Focus

As Kate Powell rather usefully sums up here, on The Big Idea, Monday’s PAANZ arts hui had the fate of festivals at its focus, with its speakers the directors of Wellington, Auckland and Tairāwhiti Festivals.

Last week I posted my own A-Z reflect-back on NZ Festival on TBI, while Auckland Arts Festival director David Inns gave this heartful account of closing the festival and the impacts on staff. 

Tauranga Arts Festival have announced that they have cancelled their Queens Birthday Weekend Escape! Festival (a mix of writers, speakers, theatre and food) and instead have turned their energy to a web-based project. Amongst the planned content are audio recordings from the 2018 Escape! festival, posted twice a week. The first being ‘Stroppy Women’, featuring writer Tracey Slaughter, former Green MP Sue Bradford and former Tauranga City councillor Mary Dillon is already online.

The same Festival has also taken the opportunity to congratulate the New Zealand Fashion Museum on its tenth birthday with this article, noting that - given the museum is already a digital museum - it hasn’t suffered so much from the lockdown.  

In a nice initiative that emphasises not everyone is streaming the same thing,  Arts on Tour continue to tour artists to small towns, but now online. When they say virtual tours, they mean it. From Kaeo to Cromwell, Te Reo R&B jazz-pop duo Aro are currently live-streaming to the communities they were due to play to every night of their current tour.,  Here they are sounding gorgeous at home in Pukekohe where they will play from every night, reaching new people at every turn. Details on tuning in at the Arts on Tour Facebook page.

The Cuba People Project. Photo: Andy Spain.

Visual Art Windows

Last Lowdown’s item on galleries exhibiting in their windows for inner-city residents brought lots of interest, and the number of galleries exhibiting online continues to grow. This week, McLeavey Gallery’s online show of Christina Read’s work made a Newshub TV item on artists online. 

Cuba Street in Wellington isn’t part of my recreational walking bubble, so I neglected to add last week that, as he tells me, photographer Andy Spain’s Cubadupa ’The Cuba People project’ went up on hoardings in Cuba Street the day before shutdown (pictured above). Here’s this great project online.

When it comes to New Zealand arts initiatives responding innovatively to the ‘new normal’, props to Te Uru Gallery’s Walking About programme (pictured). Beginning late last year, this programme sees artists create monthly walks to take in Auckland. Now they have gone online, and the beauty of this is your online life can charge up your appreciation of your offline local recreational environment, wherever you are.  

For ‘Sports Day’ from noon on 4 April, Vanessa Crofskey set home athletes a series of sports challenges with excellent video instructions (all still online for your recreational requirement or armchair enjoyment). To make it clear, this isn’t the Olympics: included are the ‘Groceries Race’ and the ‘Slow and Steady’. 

Mustag Missouri Walking About.

This Saturday via video Mustag Missouri takes you “on an amble through Northwest Westgate”, in a walk written and directed by Melissa Laing. You can join a watch party on Vimeo 4pm Saturday.

Council-related public art projects aren’t always so lucky, as they struggle with council-wide ordinances. In Auckland, the 2020 Digital Art Commissions for Matariki in June have been cancelled as they were deemed part of the council’s non-essential workstreams. Shame, particularly after I hear the public art team made efforts to respond to COVID-19 in the way they asked artists to deliver their projects from home. We need new things to look at out there in public space that aren’t just teddy bears and easter eggs. In these times, surely public art has an important role to play.  

Nikau Hindin. 

Dame Doreen's Gift 

Award-giving continues to be deemed an essential service, thankfully. Nikau Hindin, well profiled here on The Big Idea, has been widely praised in the last year for her revival of Māori aute (tapa) making and is the 2020 recipient of the $10,000 Dame Doreen’s Gift. The Gift is presented by the Blumhardt Foundation, who are dedicated to supporting outstanding applied arts practitioners. The Foundation was established by the late ceramicist and educator Dame Doreen Blumhardt. They have recently increased the value of the award and made it annual. 

In response to COVID-19, the Foundation is one of those arts organisations who has recently launched an Instagram Artist in Residence Programme - a great way to give artists further reach at a time like this and show their practice. This week it’s the marvellous Matthew McIntrye Wilson taking beautiful care of things.

Art publishing online

We kicked off this Lowdown with a look at the state of things for physical art publications. Here are a few great things happening this week online.

Following a discussion in the Lowdown early in the year, Samuel Te Kani has put together this substantial piece on the discussion about LGBGTI+ representation in galleries and their archives for The Spinoff Art section. Auckland Art Gallery director Kirsten Paisley: it's “a conversation that needs to happen”.

For strong art writing online - well-illustrated, long-running criticism site eyecontactsite is recommended. Editor John Hurrell looks at some great large collages by Gretchen Albrecht at Two Rooms in March in this review. Terrific also is this piece by Scott Hamilton, musing after a pre-lockdown visit to the Firth of Thames’ Miranda Farm Gallery.

Gallery listing site doesn’t currently have exhibitions that are physically open to direct you to, but it’s a great place to link through to what our galleries show online and their Facebook page directs you to some good online exhibition archives. In a lockdown, gallery websites are treasure chests for web browsers. 

Meanwhile James Dignan is digging out lots of great global virtual gallery tours on the web for the Otago Daily Times

The Walter Prize nominees.

There were no surprises in the nominees announced on Wednesday for our most prestigious contemporary art prize, the Walters. All four nominees are art world favourites. Mata Aho Collective, Fiona Amundsen, Sonya Lacey and Sriwhana Spong. The jury members who made those decisions have now also been revealed (kept anonymous to this point lest they be bribed) and they too are established institutional figures: Allan Smith, Nathan Pohio (a previous 2016 nominee), Melanie Oliver and Charlotte Huddleston. 

Other great content online 

I’ve enjoyed listening to the excellent audio-recorded writing (also in written form with images) by theatre-maker and Basement Theatre producer Nisha Madhan. In her first recording, she explains her aversion to the rectangular digital screen in lockdown and her honest struggle with digital strategy for the Basement’s artists.  

“We’ll be wiser, weaker folk”: In this lovely, wistful piece on Newsroom, poet Sam Hunt spoke to Colin Hogg from his rural bubble in the Kaipara Harbour.

“Ironically the technology which knee-capped music sales is invaluable for musicians in isolation”: Graham Reid over on Elsewhere has written on the effect of lockdown on the mental and financial health of our musicians, within the context of the history of popular music recording.

Finally, we note the passing in Christchurch of Maurice Askew, a World War Two pilot, television, theatre and film designer, painter, author and lecturer in design and film for many years at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts - aged 99. The Press has posted this obituary.  

Written by

Mark Amery

9 Apr 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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