Heading along to the stunning Rita Angus: Life & Vision survey exhibition at the Gallery in 2009 I always had this nagging feeling that one work was missing from the walls – Angus’s Gasworks from 1933. This painting was one that I knew only through the black and white image that appeared first in a volume of Art in New Zealand in 1933; the same reproduction that was later used in Jill Trevelyan’s excellent biography of Angus and also in the catalogue for the National Art Gallery’s 1982 retrospective, Rita Angus. For the New Zealand art historian, Gasworks was a kind of legend – painted by one of the country’s best artists yet seen in person by only a very few. In 1975, when Gordon H. Brown curated New Zealand Painting 1920–1940: Adaption and Nationalism, Gasworks was listed as ‘location unknown’ in the accompanying catalogue. Amazingly the painting was also not included in the retrospective exhibition of 1982. We had grown to know this painting purely through a grainy black and white illustration from 1933. But the painting was never lost – Gasworks is a painting that has been cherished, protected and loved by the same Christchurch family since the early 1940s. And now, having been placed on loan to Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, it is available for the public to view for the first time since 1933, when it was shown at the Canterbury Society of Arts.
When you think about it, The Dutch Funeral is a peculiar title for a work painted in the Netherlands, by a Dutch artist. You could imagine such a work being titled The Funeral, or A Funeral; or even more likely, A Funeral at a Specified Place or possibly At a Specified Time. Even Of a Certain Person. But The Dutch Funeral? Most unlikely. It was while we were researching works for the Closer exhibition that its strangeness suddenly became evident to me. I was surprised that I’d never questioned the title before. But then, like many people who grew up in Christchurch, I was used to The Dutch Funeral as a fixture of local culture, a work so large it could never be taken off the wall at the McDougall; a magnificently gloomy painting which van der Velden scholar Rodney Wilson once described as “a sort of Christchurch version of the Night Watch with an immense public following”.
What if you could know exactly what your visitors thought about the art on view in your museum? And what if you knew what questions they had about it? What might you do with that information? At the Brooklyn Museum, we do know what (at least some) visitors are thinking and what questions they have. And we aim to use that information to improve our visitor experience. Thanks to our award-winning chat app, ASK Brooklyn Museum, we have collected anonymous data on what our visitors want to know about art, which artworks get the most attention, how much users explore the galleries and more. ASK connects users to a team of art historians and educators who answer their questions in real time during their visit. Since the soft launch of the app in 2015, we have held over 14,000 conversations with users. That’s a lot of data.
One hundred and twenty five years ago, after years of political struggle, Aotearoa New Zealand granted all adults the right to vote by extending suffrage to women. To mark this anniversary, for this issue of Bulletin our curators have written about some of the Gallery’s significant – yet lesser-known – nineteenth and mid-twentieth-century works by women. Our intention is to make these paintings, and the cultural contribution of the artists, more visible in 2018.
The New Zealand art world is an intimate place but my connection to Jenny Harper runs deeper than the usual bonds of a small community. Admitting this is a necessary disclaimer. I’m not an objective commentator; Jenny is family, literally. And professionally, I owe her plenty. What follows are some personal recollections about the Jenny I know through the associations we share, on the occasion of her imminent departure from the Christchurch Art Gallery, where she has been director since October 2006, making this the longest role in her distinguished career.
On the opening of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū Jenny Harper, then at Victoria University Wellington, wrote that the challenge for the newly opened Gallery was ‘to raise the stakes by acknowledging it is no longer the McDougall but is poised to become the force in the New Zealand art scene that Christchurch deserves.’ When, three years later, she became director of the Gallery, that’s exactly what she set out to achieve on several fronts. One of those was developing the collection.
When does history start? What is the time span of the present? When do the margins of the contemporary begin to dissolve into the past? Our collection-based exhibition, Your Hotel Brain, looks at a group of New Zealand artists who came to prominence in the 1990s. Collectively their work explores ideas that have been critical to art-making in Aotearoa New Zealand over the past twenty years. Identity politics, unreliable autobiographies and references to a broad spectrum of visual culture – including Black Sabbath’s music, prison tattoos, automotive burn-outs and our no-smoking legislation – traverse the contested ground of recent New Zealand art, linking the just-past with the emerging present. A selection of works from the exhibition are reproduced here.
What is ‘dark matter’? For theoretical physicists it is matter that cannot be directly observed but whose existence is nevertheless scientifically calculable – productively present yet simultaneously invisible. In a similar vein, the everyday phrase ‘dark matter’ describes objects, conditions and situations that harbour unease or trauma. Trauma that is often concealed, repressed, or buried. Both definitions are active in Ann Shelton’s mid-career review exhibition Dark Matter, and they provide a rich point of entry into this compelling collection of her photographic work. These are photographs that bristle with intensity and refuse to let their subjects die a quiet archival death.