Reopening, Redesigning and Returning

A few words from Director Jenny Harper

When I wrote my foreword for B.182, we were edging closer and closer to reopening; still anticipating this major milestone after almost five years. Having made the vaguely reckless decision to open our doors, come what may, at 10am on 19 December 2015 – a mere week after project completion – we stuck to that deadline.

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.