Collections Matter

Since late 2006 when I started as director of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, I’ve written several times about our art collections in Bulletin forewords. Given their centrality to our daily work and our reason for being, this is unsurprising. So it’s good news that we’re focusing on collections in this edition of our quarterly journal.

 

 

For me it is another chance to write of the importance of collecting art in Christchurch in advance of the Gallery’s re-opening, and to remind ourselves of the history of our collections. It’s also a chance to focus our community of supporters and readers on the purposes of our collections—to argue strongly for the benefits an art gallery brings to a city and its people—and to recall the visual pleasure and stimulation our collections give and will continue to give.

This is also an opportunity to express some concerns I have for the future funding of this gallery’s collection. These concerns are not new and have been expressed in differing ways by my predecessors and others associated with collecting for Christchurch’s public art gallery over the last eighty years. For, while the collections are our responsibility and while their care and presentation are foundational Gallery tasks, their broader social purposes are not always grasped.

 

Petrus van der Velden The Dutch funeral 1875. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, gifted by Henry Charles Drury van Asch 1932  

Petrus van der Velden The Dutch funeral 1875. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, gifted by Henry Charles Drury van Asch 1932

 

HISTORY OF OUR COLLECTION

Christchurch citizens seem proud of—but perhaps a little complacent—about their cultural history. However it’s worth noting that this city established a public art gallery only in 1932 with the opening of our predecessor institution, the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. 1 The city’s call for financial support for a new facility at this time was prompted most immediately by the Jamieson bequest 2 in 1927 and initially, 160 British and New Zealand paintings and sculptures were displayed. Apart from the Jamieson bequest, these were largely from the Canterbury Society of Arts (now the Centre of Contemporary Art or CoCA) which, in its early incarnation, had amassed works by living British and New Zealand artists.

The city’s collections have been strengthened regularly by donors of diverse origin, with a range of historical works in the collection relating to where people (or their forebears) came from and where they travelled. Works of British origin are certainly more numerous, but the Dutch gain ascendancy in terms of quality. In 1932 the Van Asch family, who invited Petrus van der Velden to New Zealand, gave Christchurch his much-loved Dutch funeral (1872), and in 1964 Heathcote Helmore bequeathed perhaps our most important historical work, Gerrit Dou’s The physician (1653). In 2010 Gabrielle Tasman, a Christchurch Art Gallery Foundation board member, was a major contributor to The Leuvehaven, Rotterdam (1867), an early van der Velden painting purchased in the memory of her late husband, immigrant businessman Adriaan. This work was completely unknown when former gallery director T.L.R. Wilson compiled a comprehensive catalogue of the artist’s work; now it greatly enhances our knowledge of the world from which this artist came and provides an extraordinary contrast to the romanticism of his locally better-known paintings made in Otira.

Our Dutch works are a tangible example of how a collection builds on its strengths and over time is enabled to show more of the back story of a given artist and more of our shared history. I loved standing in a particular spot in Brought to Light, our upstairs collections exhibition from 2009, after we’d bought The Leuvehaven with matched funding from the recently established Challenge Grant, and seeing the progression of van der Velden’s interests in three key works, all visible at the same time.

In 1938 the family of expatriate Raymond McIntyre donated paintings from England, the same year that McDougall also gave Ernest Gillick’s Ex tenebris lux (1937). Apart from occasional gifts, however, the collection remained fairly static until 1949 when the City Council established a collecting fund and began to allow for the more pro-active collecting associated with lively art galleries fulfilling a public remit world-wide. 3

In the years following World War II, collecting activity focussed primarily on historical works by European artists, with notable exceptions including Rita Angus’s Cass (c.1936), acquired in 1955; and Colin McCahon’s Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is (1958–59), presented in 1962. 4 And thinking of the 1950s, each time I look at an image or the online label for our painting by L.S. Lowry, Factory at Widnes (1957) and note that it was acquired for Christchurch the year after it was painted, I wonder at how it would be if our budget stretched to purchasing equivalent works by contemporary British artists now?

The 1970s was a decade of artists’ gifts, with works for the collection donated by several including Ria Bancroft, Don Peebles, Barry Cleavin and Bill Sutton.5 Artists continue to be generous to us, with recent gifts of work by Philip Trusttum, Max Gimblett, Shane Cotton, and Sarah Lucas being added to the collection in recent years. And since the Gallery has been closed following the Canterbury earthquakes, we’ve continued collecting quietly, only able to imagine visitor responses and possible contexts for these works, as yet unseen in Christchurch. 6 Christchurch’s collection now numbers 6,500 works of art: paintings, sculptures, and works on paper (paintings, prints, drawings and photographs) as well as smaller collections of ceramics, glass and works in new and mixed-media. This may sound a lot, but it’s important to recognise that ours remains the smallest collection of the four main centres in New Zealand, both numerically and in terms of overall value. It has some wonderful gems, which engender considerable civic pride and which we celebrate in many ways, while being realistic about its overall value relative to other places.

On average, prior to closing, this gallery showed around twelve percent of its collections, a slightly better than average percentage. For while some contemporary works such as Bill Culbert’s Pacific Flotsam (2007), and et al.’s That’s obvious! That’s right! That’s true! (2009), may take up a whole room, many are diminutive and fragile. A large proportion of Christchurch’s collection (more than sixty percent) is works on paper. While curators devise rotational displays within the long-term collections, and while appointments may be made to see these when we re-open, they cannot be shown for extended periods because of the risk of damage from exposure to light.

 

Gerrit Dou The physician 1653. Oil on copper. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Heathcote Helmore Bequest 1965  

Gerrit Dou The physician 1653. Oil on copper. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Heathcote Helmore Bequest 1965

 

COLLECTING—PRIVATE AND PUBLIC

Of course, individuals collect—whether family letters or photographs, books, wine, Matchbox toys, or art. Occasionally collections become unwieldy and eccentric, gaining a sort of fame or notability in their neighbourhood. But we can’t all collect everything; it’s not practical, nor do most of us have the available time, connections or space.

A city’s institutions must take over, preserving memories on behalf of the community, revealing the multiple strands of our pasts and present. Collections matter because works of art hold stories. Our storerooms—and soon our exhibition spaces—are full of stories: about places, people, artists, ideas, and about us. These stories overlap and interlock. They give us perspectives on the times and places we’ve lived and explored—from the suburbs of Christchurch, to Canterbury’s high country, to other parts of New Zealand and beyond to the Pacific, Asia, and the rest of the world.

Christchurch Art Gallery is this city’s treasury of visual culture; a pātaka of our history; a rich armoury of images, memories and ideas. Without a collection, single works come and go. The lines connecting them to each other and to us are seldom drawn. The Gallery’s collection is part of us, but with more continuity than any one of us and it gets more interesting over time.

The Gallery doesn’t stand alone in its collecting for Christchurch. It is part of a tapestry of institutions (including museums and libraries) which collect examples of what we broadly term culture. Along with spaces with a contemporary remit, such as the Physics Room and the shortly re-opening Centre for Contemporary Art in Christchurch, this Gallery shows and promotes the understanding of current art and supports the creativity of artists. However, unlike the other contemporary spaces, and always within a limited budget, we collect.

Collecting is a continuous process. You can’t turn it on and off like a light bulb. It’s proactive and it takes knowledge, commitment to developing relationships with artists, their dealers and auction houses, as well as the experience and judgement we develop on the job. We cannot rely on gifts of works of art alone. For the generosity of individuals cannot be expected to stand in for the duty of governments and locally-elected councils to protect an independent and democratic stake in arts and culture.

This Gallery is not restricted to collecting on a domestic scale; and we don’t collect only what’s easy to live with. We collect works which are relevant and which enhance our collections and our ability to understand them. We recognise Ngāi Tūāhuriri as mana whenua, and we’re mindful of the increasing cultural diversity of Christchurch and New Zealand in developing our collection. We are building a collection of its time, worth seeing now and in the future.

Let’s not forget the important fact that people come here to see our collections. In 2010–11, the financial year in which we closed, when we were confidently predicting more than 700,000 visitors to Christchurch Art Gallery, a number more than twice the population of this city, we showed the hugely successful Ron Mueck exhibition 7, neatly sandwiched between the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes. Throughout the time of this exhibition, forty-seven percent of all gallery visitors saw Ron Mueck, with fifty-three percent choosing to visit the collections.

The more important our collections, the more we can form genuinely reciprocal relationships with other art galleries and exchange loans for specific exhibitions. Imagine Te Papa’s 2008–09 exhibition Rita Angus: Life & Vision without our Cass (c.1936). And imagine how much stronger our bid to be part of this tour became when Christchurch lent Cass and eight other works by Angus for the exhibition and national tour.

 

Barry Cleavin, The hungry sheep look up– the final solution (2) 1996. Etching. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu 1999. Reproduced courtesy of Barry Cleavin  

Barry Cleavin, The hungry sheep look up– the final solution (2) 1996. Etching. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu 1999. Reproduced courtesy of Barry Cleavin

 

ROLE OF THE GALLERY IN A NEW CITY

Because of this city’s collections and the way we interpret, present and expand on them with shorter-term and borrowed exhibitions, we can confidently describe our Gallery as the cornerstone of art in Christchurch. We see ourselves as the pulse of a new city, the centre of which needs continuing intensive care. The reopening of Christchurch’s Art Gallery is crucial to this city’s recovery.

Over more than four long years, a productive core team has remained, now with increasingly tangible plans for re-opening keeping us buoyant. Our focus will be people, people, people. To adapt the great German artist Joseph Beuys’s axiomatic statement, ‘Everyone is an artist’; I want Christchurch Art Gallery to demonstrate how much ‘Art is for everyone’.

During our closure, we’ve organised more than ninety Outer Spaces projects and temporary exhibitions in different, sometimes make-shift, city locations and we’ve maintained our relationships with artists (for their creativity inspires ours) and our audiences as well as we could. Our gallery without walls has led to recognition for our Gallery’s staff here and internationally. Speaking for myself, however, more than anything during this time, I’ve missed seeing people engaging with our collections and programmes every day.

When Christchurch Art Gallery re-opens, our visitors will enjoy the presence of old favourites back on view and be excited by a range of works they’d forgotten. We hope they will also be moved and surprised by what has been acquired since we closed for renovations. Many will experience great delight in spaces that have been absent so long. Sometimes we take comfort in art, sometimes it tosses a conundrum our way and we’re challenged.

Auckland collector, Rob Gardiner, one of New Zealand’s few really committed art philanthropists, who has enriched Auckland Art Gallery’s collection immensely with the extended loan of his Chartwell Trust collection, sometimes describes art as a ‘gymnasium for the mind’. And, just like getting fit, sometimes it takes time and energy to engage with art. Furthermore, we simply don’t have to like everything the Gallery buys or shows; our visitors are completely free to leave a bewildering work behind and come back to it another time (or not).

 

Max Gimblett, Center Turning 1977. Pencil and acrylic polymer on watercolour paper. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu 1999, the Max Gimblett and Barbara Kirshenblatt–Gimblett Gift  

Max Gimblett, Center Turning 1977. Pencil and acrylic polymer on watercolour paper. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu 1999, the Max Gimblett and Barbara Kirshenblatt–Gimblett Gift

 

COLLECTIONS SUPPORT

This Gallery was among the top three city facilities people wanted restored to them when The Press polled Christchurch residents in May 2012. 8 It will be the first city-operated cultural building in the city’s centre to be brought back into full use following the disruptions which changed our city forever. Hallelujah.

When we re-open, the Gallery will once more be a social, educational and, I think, a spiritually uplifting place to learn and enjoy. We will build a community around the Gallery and its collections—a community which wants to think, get together, discuss art, and see collections strengthened. We will mount a range of exhibitions, current in their intellectual basis and occasionally contentious. We want to be thought leaders and acknowledge that—like university academics—one of the key roles artists (and by extension we) play is to be critic and conscience of society.

We recognise that the city in which we re-open will be different from the Christchurch in which we were closed. It will be more diverse, thriving in some areas, eerily empty in others—especially in parts of its centre. It’s a place distorted by coming to terms with its need for transformation, at the same time as struggling with debt. For now, Christchurch is unusually focussed on the necessities of life, rather than what some of our decision-makers, elected and employed, judge as ‘nice to haves’. As we know, it’s rare for shorter-term gains not to dominate politicians’ collective thinking within their inevitably limited tenures.

But let's remember that, whether we’re well-off or relatively poor, each of us is acculturated within whānau and wider families and within cities, their social settings and institutions. A range of art spaces is crucial for the wellbeing and the broader economy of a rounded community. As studies elsewhere show, there is nothing ‘nice to have’ about art, nothing tangential, nothing ‘soft’. 9 The arts are central to our economy, our public life and our cultural health and wellbeing. People will want to live here if art and culture is supported openly and integrated strongly into this city’s recovery. Visitors will stay longer with a range of freely accessible, reliably good quality things to do and see.

There’s been talk within the arts sector and during the city’s 2015–24 long term planning process of how an updated city arts strategy is needed. Equally crucial for the arts, however, is the need for us to be seen as a pillar of the city’s visitor strategy, an essential pivot of its wellbeing. Art galleries, museums and contemporary art spaces must research and articulate our value to the local economy and to the community’s maturity and wellbeing. Imagine London, Paris, New York or any Australian state capital without their galleries and museums. Consider the transformation of Brisbane that began in the 1970s with the development of the South Bank precinct, now with two sizeable state-funded art galleries under one umbrella.

Everyone who travels knows how important public art galleries and museums are in forming one’s view of another place, in grappling with its identity, in summarising what’s special about it. Collections reflect and enhance a city’s reputation. Christchurch’s art collections provide a sample of cultural DNA you can find nowhere else on the planet, as well as numerous examples of generosity—individual and collective.

Now is the time for the arts and the Gallery to ensure our funding is firmly integrated into the city’s plan, so that we can enhance longer-term cultural wellbeing. Imagine if Christchurch became an essential destination for cultural tourists as well as the gateway to the South Island’s great outdoors. Let’s build this into our recovery plans. Let’s invest dollars to ensure people stay extra nights in Christchurch to experience the rich diversity of its arts. The alternative is that artists become increasingly detached from the city’s concerns, and that visitors pass through instead of staying and talking about Christchurch in a positive and compelling way.

We cannot politely retreat or stagnate in adversity. We must collect and show art being made now, and grasp opportunities to enhance the historical fabric of our collection where we can. I believe, increasingly throughout the world, but perhaps especially in this part of the world, contemporary art has moved from the margins to the mainstream. Cities are judged by their alertness and responsiveness to art’s questions and provocations.

I am disappointed at the recent effective halving of public funding for building core collections and some of the views expressed publicly to justify this. Clearly there is a broadly informative role we need to play and play well when we re-open. Christchurch’s collections need public as well as private support. 10

In the wake of this news, Christchurch Art Gallery Foundation’s TOGETHER endowment campaign is even more necessary now than when it was established—and will in the future be able to provide a buffer for us in this very situation. The Friends of Christchurch Art Gallery have helped to enhance the collection over the years. The Foundation’s new endowment fund provides a framework for more individuals and small businesses to make a tangible long-term impact on our collections. If you would like to be involved, our Foundation insert in this edition has more information. Help us continue with our core task of collecting, and help us mark this extraordinary time with the presence of important art.

 

Philip Trusttum Heavy going 1989–2000. Acrylic on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, presented by the artist 2009  

Philip Trusttum Heavy going 1989–2000. Acrylic on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, presented by the artist 2009

 

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Dust, Smoke and Rainbows
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Typo
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Works of art aren’t as well behaved as they used to be. Once upon a time, they stayed where they were put, hanging obediently off picture rails or perching politely on pedestals. Since the arrival of the Duchampian readymade, however, many require a second glance to distinguish them from the world around them, as everyday objects are pressed into service in new, perspective-tilting contexts. There’s another kind of work too, the type Glen Hayward is known for: the readymade’s stealthier cousin. Meticulously, even obsessively, crafted to resemble objects you wouldn’t give another glance, these unobtrusive double agents aim to blend in, adding a subversive frisson to the gallery experience.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

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NDE
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(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

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Works of art aren’t as well behaved as they used to be. Once upon a time, they stayed where they were put, hanging obediently off picture rails or perching politely on pedestals. Since the arrival of the Duchampian readymade, however, many require a second glance to distinguish them from the world around them, as everyday objects are pressed into service in new, perspective-tilting contexts. There’s another kind of work too, the type Glen Hayward is known for: the readymade’s stealthier cousin. Meticulously, even obsessively, crafted to resemble objects you wouldn’t give another glance, these unobtrusive double agents aim to blend in, adding a subversive frisson to the gallery experience.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

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Drawing from Life

Drawing from Life

In the beginning art was drawing.

Collection
Untitled
Brenda Nightingale Untitled

In 2012, a suite of Christchurch artist Brenda Nightingale’s delicate, brooding ‘Christchurch Hills’ watercolours were reproduced in a limited edition publication, which was given away for free as part of Christchurch Art Gallery’s post-quake Outer Spaces programme. Focusing on the Port Hills that dominate the city’s southern skyline, Nightingale’s paintings subvert the picturesque conventions of the watercolour tradition; privileging, instead of idealised vistas, the often-ordinary objects that complicate our readings of them – lamp-posts, rubbish bins and walking track signs. Here, the trigonometric station at Godley Head offers an unexpected interruption to the view out across the Banks Peninsula headlands. (Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
The Saviour
Wayne Youle The Saviour

In the weeks and months that followed the devastating earthquake on 22 February 2011, many Christchurch people looked in vain for a ‘hero on a white horse’ to lead the city out of crisis. Galloping creakily to nowhere, Wayne Youle’s riderless Saviour punctures the notion of a knight in shining armour. Instead, it emphasises his belief that this city’s salvation lies in the hands of ordinary people: all those who stayed – through choice or necessity – and contributed to the recovery in countless, unsung ways.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Notes
There is only one direction by Colin McCahon

There is only one direction by Colin McCahon

This article appeared as 'Divine Innovation' in the The Press on 31 August 2012.

Collection
Walt's Wet Dream
Jason Greig Walt's Wet Dream

Back in the 1990s, Jason Greig famously said that heavy metal band Black Sabbath was the thing that got him up and going and wanting to draw. It’s a line that’s often been quoted in relation to his work, probably because it seems to be at odds with the refinement and virtuosity of his printmaking technique, or the venerable tradition of artists in which he works—Redon, Goya, Piranesi. Greig said that Black Sabbath’s music was fuel: “the imagery and the weight of it […] I do heavy, laden drawings, dense. When I hear some really loud guitars it gives me the same sort of feeling.”

The images collected here span nearly two decades and reveal a remarkably consistent imagination, forged in Greig’s reading of nineteenth-century gothic novelists such as Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, and what he describes as the “battle of good and evil” in mid-twentieth century movies. Light falls across blasted volcanic landscapes; isolated figures clutch books or brandish scythes; sinister deals of one sort or another appear to be in the process of playing out. The corners of most of the images are dark, vignetted like an early photograph. For Greig, the past is full of unfinished business. “I guess it’s about wearing your lineage on your sleeve. I reckon that images of last century are catching up with this.”

Greig’s figures are versions of himself, “but I try to disguise it a bit”. They evoke psychological states of alienation and estrangement, and depict life as a long strange journey into the unknown. “My art is about love, lost and found. It’s about dark lonely places, imagined and real. And it’s about the constant naggin’ thought that the end is always nearer. I have dealt with my demons, in life and on pieces of pummelled paper. The road I have travelled has been paved with gold that shines, and with bile that fumes.”

(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)

Collection
Latimer Square, Christchurch, 2012, from Adaptation, 2011 - 2012
Tim J. Veling Latimer Square, Christchurch, 2012, from Adaptation, 2011 - 2012

Tim J. Veling's photographs of post-quake Christchurch are studies in memory and transformation. From a body of work titled Adaptation, this nocturnal image reveals the strangeness of the transitional city, not least its moments of surprising, eerie beauty.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
River Pool, Somerset
Frances Hodgkins River Pool, Somerset

This work belongs to a small group of related compositions from the same viewpoint, thought to have been painted by Frances Hodgkins while she stayed at The Croft, a cottage in Somerset owned by the writer Geoffrey Gorer. Completed in Hodgkins’ distinctive style, in which form and colour are blended to create an intense and lyrical impression of place, it rewards sustained viewing with a gradual unfolding of content – trees, reflective water, a model boat. Considered one of New Zealand’s greatest painters, Hodgkins pursued her practice with originality and tenacity, noting: “[I]t is so easy to paint like your master & to think other people’s thoughts, the difficulty is to be yourself, assimilate all that is helpful but keep your own individuality, as your most precious possession – it is one’s only chance.”

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
Red house
Stephen Bambury Red house

Stephen Bambury has said of the titles he gives his works: “I like to put down a scent that can be followed.” In this case, that trail leads us towards the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935), who in 1932 painted a work he named Red House. Malevich’s suprematism – geometric forms painted in a limited palette to represent the supremacy of ‘pure feeling’ – sought to reset the ‘givens’ of painting and perception, recognising how the relationship between two-dimensional objects on a pictorial plane could suggest movement, volume and symbolic meaning. On longer looking, the initial flatness of Bambury’s simplified house motif – which recurs frequently throughout his practice – gives way to a sense of perspectival depth, opening the image up to considerations of shelter and containment.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Article
Christchurch Art Gallery is ten: highs and lows

Christchurch Art Gallery is ten: highs and lows

In recognition of the anniversary of the move of Christchurch's public art gallery from its former existence as the Robert McDougall in the Botanic Gardens to its new more central city location (now eerily empty), I've been asked by Bulletin's editor to recall some highs and lows of the last ten years. So here goes — and stay with me during this reflection, which takes the place of my usual foreword.

Notes
Populate! update #8 (face up)

Populate! update #8 (face up)

The waning sun and lowering weather have one nice side-effect, which is to create the perfect conditions for viewing Peter Stichbury's backlit billboard NDE, newly installed on Worcester Boulevard.

Notes
A major boon to the Gallery in the direct aftermath of the earthquake

A major boon to the Gallery in the direct aftermath of the earthquake

English artist Sarah Lucas was installing her show in Two Rooms, Auckland, when the 22 February earthquake struck.

Notes
Max's gift

Max's gift

In early 2010 Max Gimblett announced his intention to give the Gallery a substantial gift of works on paper. The only complication was that someone had to go and select them...

Notes
Subtly engaging security

Subtly engaging security

We've all heard the stories about confusions occurring on the edge where art meets life. The London cleaning lady, for instance, who threw out hundreds of cigarette butts that turned out to be a Damien Hirst. Naturally, no self-respecting gallery professional wants to see their favourite artworks confused with mere stuff.

Collection
Sydney Harbour
Don Peebles Sydney Harbour

In 1951, Don Peebles took leave from his Wellington Post Office job and headed to Sydney to undertake full-time study at the Julian Ashton School of Art under the painter John Passmore, returning to New Zealand in 1953. This shift provided an opportunity for the young painter to connect with early European Modernism – and particularly the work of Paul Cézanne. Later, Peebles described his realisation of the importance of structure:

It wasn’t simply a matter of copying the thing in front of you. We had a multitudinous array of information in front of us as we looked at nature, or looked at a model – we had to select, to build our own structures through colour, form and scale. […] My job is to recognise the information that bombards us – my job is to find those things, and find the inner harmony within them.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
rainwob ii
Francis Upritchard rainwob ii

The work on the three tables at the centre of this room is part of a series of sculptures artist Francis Upritchard has described as “an attempt at an unsuccessful utopia”. Like the flipped-back word in its title, it seems to set off in one direction – towards a kind of visionary, psychedelic paradise – but overturns our expectations to arrive somewhere much less certain. Locked away in intensely private reveries, the delicate, marionette-like figures that inhabit it are curiously enigmatic: part-primeval bog people, part-countercultural prophets, they live out their radiant existences somewhere between the ancient unknowable past and the distant unknowable future.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
NUD CYCLADIC 1
Sarah Lucas NUD CYCLADIC 1

Classical sensuality or in-your-face eroticism? As with many works by renowned British artist Sarah Lucas, NUD CYCLADIC 1 has it both ways. Combining humour and provocative imagery to challenge expectations about gender and sexuality, Lucas also references the stylised and strangely modern female figurines of Cycladic culture, which flourished during the Early Bronze Age on the islands of the central Aegean.

NUD CYCLADIC 1 entered the collection via multiple, compounded acts of generosity. On 22 February 2011, Lucas was in Auckland, installing an end-of-residency exhibition. On hearing of the devastating earthquake in Christchurch, she insisted that her share of the proceeds from exhibition sales go towards supporting the recovery of the arts in the city. Her Auckland and London gallerists agreed to donate their commissions to the same cause. Soon afterwards, in a third gesture of solidarity, Auckland collectors Andrew and Jenny Smith offered to purchase one of Lucas’s works for Christchurch Art Gallery – and we couldn't go past this one, with its cheeky nod to the sinuous sculptures of Auguste Rodin (1840–1917).

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
Shrink wrap
Glen Hayward Shrink wrap

Works of art aren’t as well behaved as they used to be. Once upon a time, they stayed where they were put, hanging obediently off picture rails or perching politely on pedestals. Since the arrival of the Duchampian readymade, however, many require a second glance to distinguish them from the world around them, as everyday objects are pressed into service in new, perspective-tilting contexts. There’s another kind of work too, the type Glen Hayward is known for: the readymade’s stealthier cousin. Meticulously, even obsessively, crafted to resemble objects you wouldn’t give another glance, these unobtrusive double agents aim to blend in, adding a subversive frisson to the gallery experience.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
Crouches with moths
Peter Madden Crouches with moths

In classical times, a gold coin was inserted into a dead person's mouth as a ‘Charon’s obol’, a ritualistic payment for the ferry ride across the river Acheron to the underworld. With its blackened skeleton, crawling flies and shroud-like canopy of moths (cut free from the pages of National Geographic magazines), this work evokes an atmosphere of death and decay – but a closer look also reveals small signs of regeneration.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
Springing Fern
Eileen Mayo Springing Fern

English-born Eileen Mayo excelled across a remarkable range of media, including drawing, linocuts, wood engraving, lithography, tapestry and silk screening. She also became a sought-after commercial designer, known for exquisitely detailed and balanced images that appeared on stamps and coins in Australia and New Zealand. Mayo had lived in New Zealand for twenty years when she made this screenprint of young fern fronds in the lush native bush. One of her last prints, it combines an enduring appreciation of the natural world with extraordinary technical ability, conveying not only the beauty of the plants she depicts, but a sense of their place within a complex and interconnected ecosystem.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
Depot
Philip Trusttum Depot

In 2009, renowned Christchurch painter Philip Trusttum surprised us with an exceptionally generous offer: a gift of twenty paintings, selected by the Gallery and with no limitation on scale or value. The first ten works entered the collection the following year, and rumbling in amongst them was Depot, this colossal gas-guzzler of a painting that hums with Trusttum’s trademark physical energy. The audacious scale belies the work’s diminutive origins; the artist found his inspiration in the toy trucks his young grandson William played with in his studio.

Collection
Untitled [Quentin (Kin) Woollaston Shearing]
Sir Toss Woollaston Untitled [Quentin (Kin) Woollaston Shearing]

Mountford Tosswill (Toss) Woollaston was the eldest of five sons of share-milking dairy farmers in Taranaki. His working life started divided between rural manual labour – mainly seasonal fruit and tobacco picking – and artistic pursuits, initially poetry before he found his vocation as a painter. Early study included two terms each at the Canterbury College School of Art in 1931 and the Dunedin School of Art in 1932. Woollaston held his first solo exhibition in Dunedin in 1936; his commitment to modernism at this time marked him out as singular. By the early 1960s, when he made this vigorous drawing of his youngest brother shearing, the by-then Greymouth- based artist was gaining increased recognition. In 1966 he began to work on his art full-time.

(Beneath the ranges, 18 February – 23 October 2017)

Artist interview
A Dark and Empty Interior

A Dark and Empty Interior

In B.167 senior curator Justin Paton documented his walk around the perimeter of Christchurch's red zone, and we featured the empty Rolleston plinth outside Canterbury Museum at the end of Worcester Boulevard. In this edition, director Jenny Harper interviews English sculptor Antony Gormley, who successfully animated another vacant central-city plinth—the so-called Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Gormley filled the plinth with 2,400 people, who occupied it for one hour each, night and day, for 100 days. Here, Jenny asks him about his practice, the value of the figurative tradition and whether he has any advice for Christchurch.

Article
Laying out Foundations

Laying out Foundations

Looking broadly at the topic of local architectural heritage, Reconstruction: conversations on a city had been scheduled to open at the Gallery but will now instead show on outdoor exhibition panels along Worcester Boulevard from 23 June. Supplementing works from the collection with digital images from other collections, curator Ken Hall brings together an arresting art historical tour of the city and its environs.

Collection
Christ in Majesty - after Fra Angelico
Max Gimblett Christ in Majesty - after Fra Angelico

At its simplest, a quatrefoil is constructed from four perfect, intersecting circles. Found in both Eastern and Western religious art, it has also been used to order and understand the physical world, most familiarly through the quartered segments of the clock and compass. Once described as a secular artist with a great respect for religious traditions, Max Gimblett has frequently opted for this shape over the more usual – but no less arbitrary – rectangular canvas. Here he combines it with gleaming gold leaf that has been finely scored to create a painting that seems to rush out towards us while simultaneously drawing us into its centre. Though his work is abstract, Gimblett’s title summons up the view of an enthroned Christ as depicted by the early Renaissance painter and friar Fra Angelico; surrounded by a shimmering aureole of golden light, radiating knowledge, power and glory.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Collection
Grandparents at Okains
Jeffrey Harris Grandparents at Okains

This icon-like work is one of twenty-four extraordinary, jewel-like paintings Jeffrey Harris made between 1974 and 1977, in which he channeled the luminous colours and spatial clarity of the fifteenth-century Italian artist known as Il Sasetta to recast his own life, and that of his family, as a kind of monumental narrative cycle. On a strangely weathered surface, the artist’s grandparents project what art critic Peter Ireland called “an oppressive solitude”. With their grimly pursed mouths and aged hands gnarled like monstrous tree roots, there’s as much holding them apart as bringing them, momentarily, together.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)

Notes
Hiding in plain sight

Hiding in plain sight

We've all heard the stories about confusions occurring on the edge where art meets life.

Notes
Max's Gift

Max's Gift

Having the opportunity to spend over a week in New York recently to work closely with the artist Max Gimblett and his studio assistants in making a selection from Max's extensive collection of works on paper for a gift to Christchurch Art Gallery rates as one of the highlights of my job as a curator.

Notes
New York

New York

Curator Peter Vangioni and I have been in New York City since last Wednesday, selecting a gift of works on paper from New Zealand artist Max Gimblett, who has been resident in New York for some 35 years.

Article
Wunderbox

Wunderbox

A collection of collections from the collection.

Being an exhibition of bell jars, boxes, cabinets, dolls, display cases, tabletop universes, several bees, two monkeys, hundreds of hooks and one miniature coffin.

Article
Brought to Light

Brought to Light

Finally, it's finished! It is now four months since we closed the doors on the previous incarnation of Christchurch Art Gallery's collection exhibition, and the intervening period has been a very busy time for all our staff. When Christchurch Art Gallery opened in 2003, the plan, reiterated in the Paradigm Shift document of 2006, was to refresh the hang of the collection galleries after five years. Since then the display has of course not remained entirely static, and visitors will have noticed regular changes as new works entered the collection, light-sensitive works were changed and small focus exhibitions created. But Brought to Light: A New View of the Collection is something altogether more-a refreshment of our entire collection display (not just what, but why) and a re-evaluation of the physical space of the galleries themselves.

Collection
Wanton Eye
Barbara Tuck Wanton Eye

Shifting fluidly between abstraction and representation, Barbara Tuck’s intricate, interwoven paintings trace an imaginative path through real landscapes – the ancient mountains, rivers and valleys of New Zealand’s South Island. With multiple horizon-lines, oscillating viewpoints and lyrical juxtapositions, she reinvents this much-painted terrain, inviting us into a startling and enthralling dreamworld.

(Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)