Creative New Zealand is trying to encourage philanthropy as a way of keeping the arts industry vibrant. The government agency has set up Creative Giving, a three-year, $1 million programme helping arts and cultural organisations find and increase funding from private donors.Hmm; another way of putting this might be "Creative New Zealand is trying to encourage private donations as a way of keeping the arts alive, since more Government money looks increasingly unlikely." But then again, Creative New Zealand is no stranger to philanthropy, being a major supporter of arts industry businesses at home and abroad. The extent of CNZ support in the visual arts was revealed by Over the Net recently:
14 the number of visual arts grants
25 the percentage of the total funding given to the visual arts
43 the percentage of visual arts grants given to offshore venturesStop right there. Visual arts account for a quarter of CNZ grants and almost half those are for offshore ventures. What, you be well be asking, is an offshore venture; who ventures offshore; baby, baby, where did our cash go? Now read on.
$15,153 Hopkinson Cundy towards the presentation of a solo exhibition by Ruth Buchanan at Liste 17, Basel
$23,347 Michael Lett Gallery towards a solo presentation by Simon Denny at Art Statements, Art Basel.Basel?
Yes, Sibyl, Basel - so far offshore it is landlocked; Basel in Switzerland where people have huge amounts of money and only cuckoo clocks on which to spend it. And the lucky winners of an all-expenses paid trip to this land of cheese and bankers are... Hopkinson Cundy and Michael Lett. The lucky winners are art dealers.
Yes, that's right art lovers. Our money is being given to art businesses, members of trade that is not traditionally known for being short of a bob or two, to take their artists to Switzerland.
What is going on? What is this Art Basel? Well, it is a bit like this:
Founded by gallerists in 1970, Art Basel stages the world's premier art shows for modern and contemporary works, sited in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Defined by its host city and region, each show is unique, which is reflected in its participating galleries, the artworks on display and the parallel content programming produced in collaboration with the local institutions. In addition to ambitious stands featuring leading galleries from around the globe, each show's singular exhibition sectors and artistic events spotlight the latest developments in the visual arts, offering visitors new ideas, new inspiration and new contacts in the artworld.Art Basel is what - in any other business but the art business - is called a trade fair. Galleries from all over the world go to Basel to sell their wares. Most of these galleries, I suspect, have to pay their own air fares. In New Zealand, however, Michael Lett Gallery receives a government subsidy to represent one of its artists.
And what is Liste 17? It is all about the zeitgeist, Sibyl:
Since its inception in 1996, LISTE has set about the task of introducing exclusively galleries of a new generation that are involved in the zeitgeist and represent important young artists. In this way, LISTE has made a consequential and important contribution to the promotion of emerging artists and young galleries.At Liste 17 Hopkinson Cundy exhibited three works by Buchanan, "a new curved curtain, a vitrine, and a large-scale photograph."
And where, you may ask, can I find these artists, Buchanan and Denny? Well, it is funny you should mention that; Berlin, that's where you'll find them. Both Ruth Buchanan and Simon Denny live and work in Berlin.
Berlin and Basel are about 688 kilometers apart. A couple of return flights from Berlin to Basel can be had for less than $NZ800. But instead we spent $38,500, so that Hopkinson, Cundy and Lett could leave Auckland and fly across the world to a trade fair, for a reunion with their artists and the opportunity to sell their work.
Buchanan and Denny live overseas, doubtless for professional reasons; they are artists from New Zealand rather than New Zealand artists. Hopkinson Cundy and Michael Lett are businesses: they sell artworks. Yet CNZ pays substantial sums so that these businesses can go to trade fairs in Switzerland to represent their Europe-based artists.
What, you may we wondering, is in it for us? Buggered if I know. I think we should be told.
Meanwhile, there are a whole bunch of artists in New Zealand who could do with some of that funding, who might use it to bring art to local audiences. Funny old world, isn't it?
And what does this tell us about Creative New Zealand? Perhaps this: the worst characteristic of contemporary art bureaucrats in New Zealand is their desperate need to be international, to prove to foreign people that we are global players like them, to hang out in New York, London, Paris, Munich. Few attitudes could be more pitiful and more provincial.