Tuesday, June 22, 2010
  Poster boy for art road trips
John Lyall reaches out with his left hand to shake, a light clasp. A series of strokes four years ago means some of the big installations he used to do are no longer as feasible to achieve, but for an artist whose work has always been concerned with process and ideas, there's still a lot of art he can make.

Lyall has had 37 shows since the strokes. He still does performances, including one in the window of a Queen St bookstore eight days after getting out of rehab, even before he could walk again.

"Obviously I'm not as fast as I used to be. That is a two-edged sword. It means sometimes I can't do what I would like to do, but sometimes it means I have to think about the stuff I do rather more.

"So it isn't always worse. It isn't always better, but it isn't always worse. There's this enforced restraint, and also the work becomes tinged with not quite sadness, but ..." Lyall trails off, looking at the works on the wall.

His new show is a performance, a process, a way to recapitulate a life in art, and a road trip.

It records Lyall and partner Claudia Bell's tour of the South and Stewart Islands last December, making stops at specific sites where Lyall would be videoed tacking up a poster, noting the date and place with his new left-handed writing, then walking away.

Some of the places were familiar from the pair's 1995 book on local claims to fame, Putting Our Town on the Map. Others were new tothem.

The one-off posters were recovered for the show, sometimes battered and stained by wind and rain. A unique larger version of each PDF file, printed on good-quality watercolour paper, is what is offered for sale.

The images are collaged from work Lyall has done around the world, manipulated in Photoshop and Illustrator.

"I was collapsing the world into the South Island and then collapsing the South Island into the Jane Sanders Gallery," Lyall says.

A photo of a moa in a bakery in Korea was taken to Moa Flat in Otago for installation. Beach litter from Busan; an equation drawn in mussel shell pearls on a bed in a Korean love hotel; a mathematical equation walked into the snow at Sarajevo; Lyall in the Queen St window - all these fragments turn up in announcements of apocryphal shows.

A Southland beach became briefly festooned with a scan of a Meccano motorcycle in honour of Burt Munro.

In Cass, Lyall was videoed putting a poster on the railway station featured in the Rita Angus painting. His installation also includes a Des Helmore painting of Cass which does not include the shed. It adds more layers of reference to the palimpsest of New Zealand art.

Lyall says the road trip continues the ethic that he has pursued since his early art-making with Sydney School of Architecture colleagues in a collective calling itself the Bhutanese School of Environmental Sculpture.

"In all my work I tend to take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints," he says, paraphrasing a line from the historic Chief Seattle letter which has been adopted as a green creed.

The prosaic act of tacking a piece of paper to a shed wall can become an elegant rhetorical question through process, intent, image and text.

The coarseness generated by the poster production process was deliberate. "I don't want them to be beautiful because that would upstage the project, because the image would become too important," Lyall says.

"Art's ugly. Art's ephemeral. It always has been, or it has since Marcel Duchamp. Work like this is imbued with the realities of process art ... these works become your way into that process, but have their own artefactual nature, which is as residue."

Lyall says the mainland is a great canvas for a conceptual artist.

"These places in the South Island, which, particularly for North Islanders who don't go to the South Island, they are mythical, they are more spoken about than visited, places like Jackson's Bay, Doubtful Sound, Stewart Island. The point is I went there - this is a road trip."


What: Poster Boy by John Lyall.
Where and when: Jane Sanders Art Agent, cnr Shortland-Queen Sts (open Wed-Sat), to July 10
  Up to speed and on the move
With the iPad still a month away from New Zealand release, it may be a time to consider where some of this technology is taking us.

Fortunately, Morgan Stanley managing director Mary Meeker has been doing some of the thinking for us and made a presentation on internet trends at the CM digital marketing summit in New York, which has sparked considerable interest.

The immediate message was that early-stage growth of the mobile internet was unprecedented. It's ramping up faster than desktop internet did, with Apple leading the charge with its iPhone and iTouch devices.

Meeker, who was one of the early Wall Street analysts to cover companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Nescape, eBay and Google, believed smartphone sales would outstrip PC shipments within two years.

Within a year, more smartphones will be sold in North America than feature phones, as the industry calls non-smartphones.

The mobile internet also involves iPads and Kindles, tablets, car electronics, home entertainment, gamers and wireless home appliances.

Every device is looking for a connection, and increasingly it's able to find one.
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Meeker says this year the number of 3G users passed 20 per cent, which meant technologies such as WCDMA, LTE and WiMax are now considered mainstream. The number of mobile-application users and mobile-browser users both doubled over the past year, with searching the most common activity on mobile browsers, followed closely by social networking and checking the news.

Some 20 per cent of users have looked up sports or movie information on their phones, and only slightly fewer have done banking on their smartphone.

On average, iPhone owners have downloaded 47 of the 200,000 applications available.

Phones with the Android operating system now have on average 22 downloaded apps, and in the few weeks they have had them iPad users have installed a dozen of the 3000 applications available.

Shipments of Android units are growing fast, with Google reporting that 100,000 such units were activated or shipped each day in May.

It took Apple 28 days to sell one million iPads, compared with the 74 days it took to sell that many iPhones and the 180 days it took netbooks to crack seven figures.

The change can be seen in the change in Apple's revenue sources over the past three years.

This time in 2007, the company was getting 47 per cent of revenue from traditional Mac sales, 29 per cent from iPods and 11 per cent from the iTunes music store.

Now the Mac accounts for just 28 per cent of the dollars flowing into Steve Jobs' pockets, the iPod 14 per cent, and the iPhone is now the biggest earner at 40 per cent, or US$5.4 billion in the first quarter of this year - equal to the total revenue for a quarter back in 2007.

Its operating margin now sits at 30 per cent, compared with 19 per cent, a sign it is getting a premium for innovation.

That premium is driving not only the incumbents - such as Apple, Google and Amazon - to innovate furiously, but there is also innovation coming from new attackers such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Zynga, the company behind Texas Hold'em Poker and Mafia Wars.

Meeker believes one result could be that online advertising may finally be entering the long-predicted golden age. The internet accounts for 28 per cent of time used consuming media, compared with 31 per cent for television, but only 13 per cent of total advertising budget is spent online.

Meeker says that represents a US$50 billion ($72 billion) global opportunity.

She says Japan is pointing the way, with mobile advertising revenue growing 11-fold in the past six years.

Social networking now outstrips email use, with more than 200 billion global minutes a month spent on social networking sites compared with 100 billion reading or writing emails.

Meeker predicts people will expect, and get, real-time connectivity any time in the palm of their hands.

Wi-Fi will be nearly ubiquitous in many developed markets, with new pricing models encouraging take-up.

We still prefer to view internet pages on desktop machines or tablets, but user expectations are changing.

Wireless consumers expect super-fast boot time, fast access to information and day-long plus battery life.

Peter McCaulay from research firm IDC New Zealand says this country has all the building blocks in place for similar growth in mobile internet, including the backhaul capacity needed to underpin wireless.

What may be needed, though, is more competition from new entrants to break the telecommunications companies out of the old-style ways of thinking that has so blighted the mobile phone and ISP markets.

"Everyone is prepared to pay to be connected, but the concept of payment based on volume of data is nonsense," McCaulay says.

The key is that connectivity will become ubiquitous, so the only thing that matters is the size of the screen.
  Kiwi marketers call blind shots
An army of lone New Zealanders roam the world, going door to door selling Kiwi technology, mainly to Australians and Americans.

That's the picture that emerges from a new study of how New Zealand technology companies do sales and marketing.

Owen Scott from Christchurch-based tech marketing consultancy Concentrate, which did the Market Measures study with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, says it's a clumsy and expensive way to do the job.

He says the more successful companies are those that try to "move the herd" by researching target markets, building brand awareness and demand generation, and working with resellers and other partners in their target market.

Some 144 companies were surveyed, including exporters of electronics, software, telecommunications and associated services.

Despite the recession, the firms were performing well. Turnover growth at 39 per cent was down on the 58 per cent recorded a year earlier, but it was still positive. Software and service companies were relatively unaffected, but electronics companies averaged an 82 per cent drop in turnover growth.

But alarm bells rang because while New Zealand companies typically position their technology as superior in quality to the competition, they only get market or below-market prices.

"Clearly something is just not right," Scott says. The typical approach is to load a salesperson up with collateral and send them to the other side of the world to sell direct to customers.

This door-to-door approach results in a high cost of sales, which stays relatively constant despite growth and depends very much on the quality of the sales people. Growth is restricted by the size of the sales team, and it's hard to achieve any scale.

Scott says the more successful companies are those that invest heavily in advertising, promotion and social media so prospects become aware of the product before a salesperson arrives.

"If there are 500 companies in the market, you can only visit 20, but with a more strategic approach you can move the target market en masse through the sales cycle."

He cites Christchurch firm SLI Systems, which makes tools for searching and navigating websites, online stores and search engines.

"It has a whole programme of blogs, newsletters, e-books and other media, which is touching people all over the US regardless of where they are in the sales cycle," Scott says.

He says Kiwi tech companies continue to have an "aggressive but misdirected" approach to marketing.

They spend 40 per cent of their turnover in sales and marketing, with a lot of that going into attending trade shows, websites and developing collateral like brochures. They see less transaction-oriented activities such as sponsorship, social media and advertising as less effective.

"High-growth companies tended to be those who were using social media and advertising ... many companies were not measuring brand awareness." When asked to rank their sales and marketing activity, companies believed they were good at developing value propositions, gaining leads and closing sales.

They knew they stank at researching and understanding markets, analysing competitors and promotional activity.

More than two thirds of companies have a marketing staff of one or none. It looks like luck and a sunny disposition is the strategy.

The survey threw up regional variations. Auckland is the home to entrepreneurs selling business to business products typically priced between $1000 and $100,000, with an average lead time of four months.

Wellington, which is home to software-as-a-service firms such as Xero, has more firms selling to consumers and government, with many companies selling products in the $1000 to $10,000 range.

The big deals are down in Christchurch, with typical sales in the $10,000 to $100,000 range and the average lead time out to eight months. Christchurch is the only centre that reported $1 million-plus deals.

Scott says that given the official focus on fostering innovation, New Zealand firms don't have a great record of finding people to sell their inventions to at a profit.

"That New Zealand hasn't yet built a lot of large-scale technology-based businesses, with a few outstanding exceptions, is evidence of this commercial weakness," Scott says.

Concentrate and PricewaterhouseCoopers are running seminars on the survey results' implications for technology companies. Seminars are in Wellington on June 22, Christchurch no June 23 and Auckland on July 5.
  Broadband panic sets in
There are signs of panic in the broadband arena.

It's now more than halfway through the term of this Government and the model brought in by Communications Minister Steven Joyce to roll out fibre to businesses, schools, hospitals and 75 per cent of New Zealanders over the next 10 years still hasn't delivered.

These things take time, especially when so much money is involved - not only the $1.5 billion the Government says it will pony up, but the matching investment from the private sector.

That's why it's important to get things right, especially since one of the reasons for the current lack of suitable broadband is regulatory failure, which has made investing in the New Zealand telecommunications sector so fraught.

Crown Fibre Holdings now has $400 million in the kitty to start signing contracts with private sector companies.

That should allow the new network to start rolling out on schedule, says Minister Joyce.

CFH intends to pick its preferred partners next month, and there is a lot of jostling for all that cash.

Power lines companies, especially Auckland's Vector, have been positioning themselves as the ideal network builders - power lines, fibre optic lines, what's the difference?

Canadian company Axia Net Media, whose presence in the race had many observers perplexed, has this month revealed itself as the front for Vodafone's bid for direct involvement.

And now Telecom New Zealand is offering to twist itself into whatever shape is necessary for its Chorus network division to grab a chunk of the cash.

This week's announcement that it was making a "thorough assessment of structural separation" was accompanied by speculation the real game was a sale back to the Government - 20 years and $20 billion in extracted dividends after privatisation. So long suckers, thanks for the cash.

There are people in the industry who think New Zealand has been waiting long enough for broadband, it won't hurt to wait a bit longer and make sure all the elements are understood and accounted for - or regulated for.

But the Key Government promised ultra-fast broadband, so it will want something to show in time for the next election.

That means its Crown investment company picking winners and losers, rather than letting the market do its work. Oh well, who ever expected ideological consistency from politicians?

Last week, internet New Zealand convened a summit under Chatham House rules under which industry and officials discussed some of the issues, particularly whether the layering rules made sense.

Should the regional fibre companies be restricted to providing layer one or dark fibre, as under current rules, or should they also be allowed to sell lit fibre two retailers, known as layer two services?

The lines companies want to diversify into a business where they can get higher margins than their current regulated space, Telecom wants part of whatever it is that will eventually replace its copper network, and Vodafone also wants a chunk of what is the major threat to its business.

Don't forget that Vodafone bought Ihug's internet business, and its massively profitable New Zealand operation gives it a huge war chest for subscriber acquisition.

Also understand that fibre everywhere will lead to an explosion in wifi, and smartphones will increasingly move off the mobile phone networks and onto the internet.

The other major player is Sky Television. Ultrafast broadband will replace the set-top box, but the pay TV model will remain. Network providers may struggle to earn back their investment, but content providers will rake it in.

The dominant position Sky has built up here (in large part because of poor regulation) means Rupert Murdoch will probably be the largest user and the largest earner from New Zealand's ultrafast broadband.

That makes the Government's decision to scrap the digital broadcasting review started by Labour look shortsighted.

Content is what will eventually sell fibre into every home and business.

So far there has been little appetite even where it is available, whether because of price, lack of compelling applications or just disinterest.

So will the Government buy back Telecom? I'm picking no.

It doesn't need to, because Telecom, with its existing capacity, probably needs to be part of the ultra-fast broadband network as much as Crown Fibre Holdings needs Chorus' existing network and army of trucks and technicians. Both sides will compromise.

It will also send a terrible political signal for the next wave of privatisations Joyce, John Key and Bill English have planned. Or a great one for investors.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for that fibre to come snaking up the front path.
  Green computing adds up
On current trends, in just over 10 years from now the amount of power spent running and connecting to the world's communications networks will equal the total 2010 global energy supply.

That's if current technology is used.

Fortunately, as Rod Tucker, emeritus professor of engineering at Melbourne University, pointed out in a seminar on green computing in Auckland earlier this month, it can be largely offset by steady improvements in the power consumption of computers, servers, routers and all the other bits of silicon and metal that move bits around.

Replacing equipment when the depreciation schedule demands it, rather than sweating extra months or years out of that server or PC, is better for the planet.

Green computing isn't high on the priority list for most New Zealand firms surveyed by technology research firm IDC, but saving cost is - and that could make them look green sooner rather than later.

Vernon Turner, IDC's Boston-based senior vice-president for research on sustainability, says the information and communications technology sector can play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

He says that will mean talking to policymakers - but since many governments around the world seem to be avoiding leadership on the issue, industry may have to step up.

Challenges to green IT include the fact business and operational requirements will take priority over environmental concerns, and it can be hard to find benchmarking data to show any progress - just look at the resistance to accepting data that shows that climate change even exists.

There is not enough renewable energy currently available to drive all of the initiatives people may want to do, and there aren't that many people around who can give good advice on what to do.

Turner says it's rare for organisations to have dedicated staff responsible for sustainability, but it is possible to argue such staff could pay for themselves in future savings.

There is a tendency in New Zealand to feel our total carbon production is too low to mean savings will make any significant difference to climate change, but Turner says there's no room for smugness, especially if our trading partners start demanding action.

New Zealand's record on carbon emissions doesn't look so flash either. While it only amounts to 9 tonnes per person, when you compound annual growth between 1990, the benchmark for the Kyoto Accord, and 2006, the last year with figures useful for comparison, the growth rate stood at 72 per cent.

That probably reflects population growth through migration and the dairy boom.

In contrast, Australia's compound growth rate was 51 per cent - its reliance on coal-fired power stations meant twice the volume of carbon was produced per person.

The United States also produces about 17 tonnes of carbon per person, but its compound growth rate was a mere 17 per cent.

The current IT infrastructure contains a massive carbon footprint, but shifting to something greener can't be done overnight.

It will require energy-efficient devices with lower power consumption and high performance, as well as energy-efficient networks.

Turner says waste management, recycling and re-manufacturing of infrastructure need to be measurable and accountable - it's not good enough just to ship scrap off to China or India.

IT can contribute to savings through smarter energy generation and distribution, smarter buildings and reduction in transportation.

Smart grids and smart meters can lower power use and allow the orderly integration of renewable sources such as wind and solar power into the grid.

Energy management systems, smarter building design and more teleworking can reduce the drain of our workplaces on the environment.

IT can also cut energy use in industry through things such as intelligent motor controllers and automation of industrial processes.

Turner says it's not pie-in-the-sky stuff. There are technologies with the potential to reduce emissions in energy, transport, buildings and industry that are mature enough now that given reasonable investment, they could be implemented in three years.

Broadband is especially important, as it has the potential to decentralise business and make physical daily travel much less necessary.

Turner says further investment in telecommunications and network services will enhance New Zealand's ability to improve to move up the sustainability index.

He estimated New Zealand could save more than 10 million tonnes of carbon by 2020 through IT, including 24 per cent from power savings, 22 per cent from smarter buildings, 10 per cent from industry and 44 per cent in the transport sector.

Turner says an area in which IT will make a big impact is the shift to cloud computing and the efficiencies that can be driven through virtualisation and consolidation.

Every watt saved in the data centre means four less watts that need to be generated at the power station, because of reductions in cooling, lighting, networks and other infrastucture.

Every server removed from the data centre through virtualisation saves 10 tonnes of carbon emissions through its lifecycle.

Data has an energy cost. It may be far more energy efficient to send data by airmail than over the internet, but the difference between flying someone from Australia to New Zealand for a business meeting has 200 times the greenhouse impact as conducting the meeting by videoconference.
  The end of the enlightenment
Louise Bourgeois died this week at the age of 98. If you want to see why the work produced by this tiny Frenchwoman living in New York became increasingly relevant as the century rolled over, you can go to Sydney, where her psychosexually charged sculptures and gouaches steam away in the 17th Biennale.

Or go to the Jensen Gallery in Newmarket, where one small etching shows the emotional power she could pack into a line.

Don't go to the Auckland City Art Gallery, though - it's off somewhere in a hot-air balloon.

The congruence of the Sydney Biennale and the Auckland Triennial, as will happen every six years, raises questions about why institutions do such shows and whether Auckland needs one, or needs one in the current format.

Chris Saines, director of the Auckland Art Gallery, says the triennial was started 12 years ago because the gallery thought it needed to put a recurrent show of international and New Zealand contemporary art in its calendar.

It has had a different curator each time, alternating between staff and outsiders. This time it's the gallery's contemporary curator, Natasha Conland, who ostensibly has put together a show exploring "the ongoing possibilities for adventure and risk in art".

Saines believes it is the best triennial yet. He says visitor numbers are up, and their comments are very positive. "This is a triennial in which a curatorial premise which is metaphorical and poetic is translated into a meaningful collection of work."

I'm wondering if he's describing a different show from the one which leaves everyone I talk to distinctly underwhelmed. Not that many people know it's on. Apart from an extremely ugly poster pasted around the city, Auckland seems to be putting no effort into telling people it's on. There's no buzz, no snap.

In the line-up of people you have never heard of and will never hear of again, there are no Maori or Pacific artists (apart from an opening-night performance by the ever-risky Shigeyuki Kihara), so the evolution of those unique streams in New Zealand contemporary art will go officially unremarked for six years.

The budget is a fraction of what Sydney has to spend - Saines believes the bill for the 4th Triennial will come in at about $700,000.

But Conland's contrived rubric can't hide the fact that there's no spectacle, nothing much to look at, no "wow" factor.

In Sydney, Cai Guo-Qiang suspends nine cars from the ceiling in what looks like the animated sequence of an explosion.

In Auckland, Robert Hood lays all the shredded components of a Toyota in a neat array, art too lazy to get off the floor.

There are reasons for bringing in outside curators for such contemporary shows - contacts, vision, mana.

Sydney hired David Elliott, who had a two-decade career as director of the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, England, before setting off on an international career which has included heading the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Tokyo's Mori Art Museum and Istanbul Modern.

His curated exhibitions have included big themes like the relationship of art with totalitarian regimes, and art and culture in post-communist Europe.

Before the Sydney Biennale opened, I had the opportunity to ask Elliott how a biennale is different from any other big exhibition of contemporary art.

"Biennales take place every two years so they really have to be current, they need to look at what's happening now," he says. "Now, because I happen to think, and I'm not alone in this, that we are going through a period, a very long period, of being at the end of the European Enlightenment and facing a very different kind of world in which power and knowledge are dispersed in different ways, so the theme of the biennale is about that and also about how it is now.

"These are not amazingly new things but they are becoming increasingly critical as the previous political and geopolitical structures break down."

The twin threats of nuclear Armageddon and climate change cast a shadow over the times.

Works like the 360-degree video panorama The Feast of Trimalchio by Russian collective AES+F, or Isaac Julien's nine-screen film Ten Thousand Waves, tackle such global issues, or issues of globalisation, in a spectacular way.

Elliott says there should be an element of spectacle in a biennale, as well as smaller moments, like the three beautiful paintings by Iranian Shirazeh Houshiary in an alcove at the MCA.

"No doubt a lot of people will go past those quite quickly. They're abstract. That's okay. They might go back and have another look. Other people will get it. You've got to balance these things in a big show like this to make Towards the end of the Enlightenment

WORTH IT: David Elliott says the expense of the Sydney Biennale is part of being a world-class city.PICTURE / WILKsome sense. Sydney is a big brash city and it really needs something to slap it across the face so it will take some notice." That's the logic for putting the huge welded stainless steel Neuron by American Roxy Paine out front of the MCA where it can be seen from ferries coming into Circular Quay.

"If you want the big audience, the big audience actually has to know it is going on. Because they are not going to read what you write or what I write," Elliott says. "What they will do is look at the telly and maybe prick up and say, 'What's that?'

The biennale is free, including the ferry to Cockatoo Island - set aside a day just for that alone. Auckland charges $7 - and you should be out of there in time to beat the parking warden.

In illustrating his theme, The Beauty of Distance: Songs of survival in a precarious age, Elliott felt compelled to include work by Australian Aboriginal and other indigenous artists.

"All that work is there on grounds of quality. It's not the same quality but it's good art. It's complex, it's sophisticated, it's well done, it's total."

Being so close, biennale curators will grab New Zealand artists. Elliott was familiar with Colin McCahon's work (and includes a stunning painting in his side-exhibition drawn from the works in the MCA collection), but took a couple of weeks across the Tasman to scout out the territory.

He seems pleased with the piece Brett Graham made for the show, a Russian scout car covered in whakairo in the way Maori used to carve the stocks of their muskets.

"It's that ambivalence about his work and this sort of reflection on minorities and terrorism, the way these people are looked at from outside and the particular history that Maori have against the British that I find very interesting," Elliott says.

He was also looking forward to meeting photographer Yvonne Todd.

"She's very good. This kind of New Zealand gothic fascinates me. It's the most gothic place I've ever been, really Twin Peaks, the whole country. They all look normal, but what they are doing behind locked doors, God."

Elliott steered clear of the history lessons which have become part of other contemporary art shows, apart from including the late American maverick Harry Smith.

"He's a kind of patron saint or regimental goat. He's there for metaphorical reasons," Elliott says. "People ask, 'When did contemporary art become a level playing field?' He's one of the people who were thinking about, writing about, making work about the idea of a modern vernacular, of being within modernity but also aware of the vernacular from the 1940s, so that is really why - someone who could make avant garde movies, be aware of eastern religion, of shamanism, drugs everything, and folk music, he was one of the people who changed the culture."

Elliott talks of turning ideas on their head, of the end of colonial distance through mass travel and communications. "We're all a long way from somewhere or close to somewhere.

"The other thing is looking at the Enlightenment. There's the light side of the Enlightenment but there's the dark side of the Enlightenment and for every encyclopaedia you have a prison or a panopticon, both based on the ridiculous premise that one culture, one person, can know, see, possess everything, control everything.

"The other thing is the museum, the encyclopaedia, and looking back to the cabinet of curiosities, which I'm not seriously suggesting as a model, but things which come in for delight and wonder and interest and horror, just to have a more open view. You can't know everything but just enjoy it on its own terms and what you don't like, don't bother with.

"There's no shortage of good stuff. That's not an issue. This is a kind of story or series of stories put together in different places and the work is both reacting to the actual site it is in and the theme of the exhibition and first and foremost it is itself, and all these different elements come together."

Elliott concedes the biennale costs a lot to stage, but it's part of the cost of being a world-class city.

He says Australia "needs to get the message that Sydney is its biennale". Perhaps New Zealand, less flying time away than Adelaide or Perth, should start thinking the same way.

The Sydney Biennale continues until August 1; the Auckland Triennial ends on June 20.
  The Challenge of the Flesh
Among the representations of nakedness in Andrew Jensen's Newmarket galley is a large, smooth panel painted in tempera to a fleshy alabaster sheen. The work by American minimalist Winston Roeth is more the sort of severe abstraction that Jensen's gallery is associated with than the bodies adorning the other walls. "I'm a sensualist," says Jensen, explaining his liking of Roeth and some of his reasons for curating an international show on such an unfashionable theme.

In an essay on Philip Pearlstein's nudes, New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman noted there was "something of minimalism's dedication to just plain facts in Pearlstein's approach, a commitment to an underlying abstract geometry that gave a contemporary edge to the work."

Jensen hasn't got Pearlstein, but he has got another heavyweight, American figurative painter and sculptor Eric Fischl. He says seeing Fischl's Tumbling Woman at last year's Basel art fair in Miami galvanised his thoughts about doing a show of nudes.

The work was Fischl's monument for the victims of the destruction of the World Trade Centre. It was first shown at the Rockefeller Centre on the first anniversary of 9/11, but was removed after a week because of the strong reactions it engendered.

New exhibition shows art doesn't have to be modern to be radical
Loss: American artist Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman is a monument for the victims of 9/11 in New York. Photo / Michael Benedikt
Loss: American artist Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman is a monument for the victims of 9/11 in New York. Photo / Michael Benedikt

Among the representations of nakedness in Andrew Jensen's Newmarket galley is a large, smooth panel painted in tempera to a fleshy alabaster sheen. The work by American minimalist Winston Roeth is more the sort of severe abstraction that Jensen's gallery is associated with than the bodies adorning the other walls. "I'm a sensualist," says Jensen, explaining his liking of Roeth and some of his reasons for curating an international show on such an unfashionable theme.

In an essay on Philip Pearlstein's nudes, New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman noted there was "something of minimalism's dedication to just plain facts in Pearlstein's approach, a commitment to an underlying abstract geometry that gave a contemporary edge to the work."

Jensen hasn't got Pearlstein, but he has got another heavyweight, American figurative painter and sculptor Eric Fischl. He says seeing Fischl's Tumbling Woman at last year's Basel art fair in Miami galvanised his thoughts about doing a show of nudes.

The work was Fischl's monument for the victims of the destruction of the World Trade Centre. It was first shown at the Rockefeller Centre on the first anniversary of 9/11, but was removed after a week because of the strong reactions it engendered.

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"Because so many bodies were unaccounted for, for many people 9/11 has been about the loss of the building, not the people. Fischl felt there was undue attention to what the building represented," Jensen says.

Fischl was intrigued enough by Jensen's idea for a show that he allowed him to pick three works, including a maquette for Tumbling Woman, a woman squatting with Rodinesque power and a standing figure harking back to Degas.

Leaving aside the emotional heat of 9/11, nudity remains one of the few areas where art still has the power to shock.

Naked includes Those Who Suffer Love, a 20-minute stop-gap animation by British artist Tracy Emin featuring the splayed legs of a woman. "That's pretty overwhelming at full roar," says Jensen.

In contrast, a video of Marina Abramovic overwhelms with its reserve and erotic beauty. For just over 12 minutes the Serbian performance artist lies spooned underneath a skeleton, her breathing gently raising and lowering the bones, until it ends in tears.

The third film work came from a chance wander into a side room at the Whitney Museum in New York, where Carolee Schneemann's 1968 work Body Collage was screening. It's identifiably a product of 1960s feminism meeting Fluxus performance art, with a dig at the macho rites of action painting. Schneemann immerses herself in a bath of glue, and then rolls round her studio floor, her body picking up bits of paper tissue in a Fellini-esque frenzy.

The nude is not passive. Lack of clothes isn't what makes someone vulnerable. Nakedness can be a challenge. In evidence: two backsides.

In one, contemporary German photographer Thomas Ruff reworks a fetish image, the woman bent over, looking back at the viewer so the vulnerability of the pose is outweighed by the contempt. "The most obscene image is the least sexy," says Jensen.

The other backside is from 1930, Man Ray capturing the roundness of Lee Miller's perfect derriere. Again, is it invitation or exclusion? That is the image Jensen has chosen for his poster.

The Surrealist lineage continues with a rare photograph by German Hans Bellmer, who created life-size female dolls in the mid-1930s in protest of the Nazi Fascists' aim to create perfect Aryan physiques, and Louise Bourgeois' small etching of a headless woman on a meathook, the body pendulous like the Venus of Willendorf from 30,000 years ago.

Not so old, only 4000 years or so, is a small Cycladic terracotta woman from Syria. Then there's a Greek vase and an Indian Tantric miniature.

"The idea is the naked figure is a perpetual thing the culture keeps going back to," says Jensen. "The inclusion of the Syrian and Greek items is about crossing time lines. I'm sick of the idea of contemporary, radical, now. Man Ray is more radical than any of the contemporary pieces."


What: Naked
Where and when: Jensen Gallery, cnr McColl-Roxborough Sts, Newmarket, May 4 until early July
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