I’m so glad we did. It was one of the best moments of my time here in Christchurch when, following a happy group photograph of staff and their families in the foyer, we gathered to welcome our first visitors on the dot of 10am. We clapped them and they clapped us back!
During our first weekend just over 10,000 joyful citizens returned to their art gallery; during our first month, we have had a total of 65,800 visitors.1 No one seems to mind that they can’t yet enter through some doors, nor that our shop is a ‘pop-up’, nor that the car park and café are not yet operational. This is Christchurch; we’re used to making do and enjoying what we can.
There have been smiles and even tears as people enter the Gallery, and as they recognise favourite works of art (even if The Dutch Funeral has been unframed for this outing). There has been surprise and pleasure – and perhaps also some puzzlement – as new friends are greeted. (Is that Glen Hayward work made from paint tins or carved wood?)2
This last couple of months has been a source of heady delight for us and for this community as this key cultural facility has been returned to its primary use. Several celebratory events marked our reopening, with the final one on 5 February 2016, when we opened the last of our exhibition spaces.
I would like to thank the amazing team of Gallery staff, long-standing and new, as well as our committed project support group and contractors, who’ve worked long and hard to open as much as we could when we did. At times it has seemed chaotic and impossible, but we humans have an amazing ability to look forward with positivity. Our teams have learned to focus on what we could do, not what we couldn’t. As an Alice in Wonderland postcard I was given over the break categorically states: ‘Everybody has won and all must have prizes’.3
So here we are, the first edition of Bulletin in a new world, or so it seems; it’s in a new format – a handy size which will be easier to shelve, but best of all, there are more pages for art. Many thanks to all who have created this: editors Lizzie Davidson and David Simpson, art director Aaron Beehre and his team of designers at the Ilam School of Fine Arts, PMP Print for their generous sponsorship, and all our contributors, staff, commissioned writers and our wonderful photographer, John Collie. (It also comes with a few apologies for those who’ve worked out how to stack the large floppy-covered Bulletin we introduced at the end of 2008. Plus ça change!)
Our newly redesigned website is also worth many visits. It’s full of content connected to our exhibitions and this publication. I’m proud of it and thank the team at Sons & Co. who’ve helped create this rich resource.
Our pocket-sized handbook documenting the reopening exhibitions has already sold out. We’ve reordered, but while we wait for the boxes to arrive, I recommend our new publication 101 Works of Art, a sumptuous presentation of treasures from our collection, full of personal takes on works from the collection and interviews with artists and curators.
An important component of our reopening exhibition is titled Unseen. It’s downstairs and brings to public light for the first time in Christchurch a range of new acquisitions for the city’s art collection; gifts and bequests we’ve received with gratitude or newly purchased items we’ve sought and negotiated. We’re thrilled to at last be able to show this selection, including portions of two major gifts from artists: among my favourites are a massive and brightly coloured Philip Trusttum and a beautiful gold quatrefoil painting by Max Gimblett, which Peter Vangioni and I last saw on a brick wall in his New York studio when we visited in 2010. Two new paintings by Colin McCahon, both made when he lived in Phillipstown, Christchurch, have been bought: one from the estate of Jacquie Sturm, the widow of James K. Baxter, had been a gift to their daughter, Hilary; the other is a Canterbury landscape and is shown as part of In The Vast Emptiness. While we were closed, we certainly weren’t idle; and there are many more new works to see in Unseen as well as elsewhere in the galleries.
The notion of the unseen has also provided a general theme for this Bulletin, with features like ‘Trove’, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, and ‘Exquisite Treasure Revealed’. Guest writer Tom Goulter considers Christchurch as a city of shadow and stories; his creative contribution evokes a sense of unease beneath the ground and is illustrated with images from the collection. Erin Harrington explores notions of (in)decent exposure, reminding us of how much is revealed and how much is not at a given time in our culture as she recalls the consternation that greeted Christine Webster’s image of queer Māori cabaret artist Mika when this Gallery opened in 2003 and explores other similar incidents elsewhere. And Stephanie Oberg reminds us of the presence of a new generation of Pasifika artists, writers and musicians in Christchurch. Before our closure in 2011, we featured regularly changing sound art within the car park Bunker; and in this edition Malcolm Riddoch, Bruce Russell and Peter Vangioni discuss sonic art in Christchurch, New Zealand and Australia. We also celebrate the dazzling new camouflage of the Bunker with a work by local artist Tony de Lautour.
This magazine is as varied and rich as our reopening exhibitions. And just as new and different art sometimes takes time and positive energy to convey its meanings, some offerings may take more than one reading. But to paraphrase Alice, ‘Everybody wins …’
We hope you enjoy the first Bulletin of 2016 and that you make a practice of returning often to the now fully open spaces of Te Puna o Waiwhetū Christchurch Art Gallery to see what we’re up to during the year.
The hungry gap
We invited artists, academics, city makers, curators, health specialists and gallerists to comment on the challenges and opportunities for the arts in our city and what art can contribute to the future of Christchurch.
Aaron Kreisler is Head of the School of Fine Art at the University of Canterbury. He talked to Bulletin about challenges and opportunities for the arts in our city and what art can contribute to the future of Christchurch.
Everything is going to be alright
The cover of Bulletin 181 in September 2015 featured a miscellany of crates in storage, several marked fragile, one weighing 156kg, some with arrows indicating which way up they should be, others instructing the reopener to lay it flat first. Some bear an image of what’s inside. Ralph Hotere’s Malady Panels and Julia Morison’s Tootoo are there, one with a label, the other with an image of the installed piece. As I write this our collections remain in storage. A few new works and some which have been on loan are awaiting return from storage within other institutions.
Dancing on shifting ground
Sophie McKinnon explores art, resilience, change and urban regeneration in China.
In the winter of 2006 I found myself traipsing around the 798 art district in Beijing, in search of someone to talk to about factories morphing into gallery spaces. I was fascinated by the story of a defunct industrial district turned rapidly expanding contemporary art zone. 798 had been the unofficial site of regeneration for Beijing’s art community since 2001. This community had spent over two deca+des plagued by isolation and displacement but seemed finally to be finding a home.
Regional revitalization with art
Rei Maeda, coordinator of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, writes on art’s contribution to the regeneration of a remote rural area of Japan.
Martin Trusttum, project manager for Ōtākaro Art by the River, and founder of temporary gallery space ArtBox, writes on the role of art in Christchurch.
Since late 2006 when I started as director of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, 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.
Stakes in the ground
Last, Loneliest, Loveliest is New Zealand's first official presence at the International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, and takes its alliterative title from Rudyard Kipling's poem, 'The Song of the Cities', which gives four lines each to various cities from the British Empire, including Auckland:
Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart–
On us, on us the unswerving season smiles,
Who wonder 'mid our fern why men depart
To seek the Happy Isles!
Curator Ken Hall writes about his experience of working with artists Chris Heaphy and Sara Hughes, as part of a small team with other city council staff and Ngāi Tahu arts advisors, on the Transitional Cathedral Square artist project.
Street urchins, blue moons and rare visions
Even in a city where surreal scenes have become somewhat routine, the sight of the Isaac Theatre Royal's eight-tonne dome, suspended like a great alien craft, had the power to turn heads and drop jaws. Preserved inside a strange white shroud while the theatre was slowly deconstructed around it was a jewel of Christchurch's decorative arts heritage – a 105 year-old Italianate plaster ceiling featuring a circular painted reverie on the theme of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The dome, along with the rest of the theatre, is currently being restored as part of an ambitious rebuild that is expected to be completed in 2015 at a cost of over $30 million.
The fault is ours: Joseph Becker on Lebbeus Woods
There was a packed auditorium at CPIT in Christchurch this August when visiting San Francisco Museum of Modern Art curator Joseph Becker delivered a lecture on architect Lebbeus Woods. And it wasn't hard to guess why. In addition to many other achievements, Woods is renowned for his highly speculative project, Inhabiting the Quake. Senior curator Justin Paton spoke to Becker about Lebbeus Woods, and what Christchurch might learn from him.
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.
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.
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.