Felicity Milburn: Jenny, why is London such an important connection for Christchurch?
Jenny Harper: There are historic connections – our collection was very English from the beginning, and many artists looked that way in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries; I also think back to the time when Jonathan Mane-Wheoki selected works for it from British dealers in the early 1970s. But more than that, it’s a very important part of the art world. It’s also somewhere we know a range of interesting people, and where many New Zealanders, including former Christchurch residents, live.
Jo Blair: We first went to London because of the fourth work in the Foundation’s five great work series, Bridget Riley’s Cosmos. We decided to take special donors who contributed to the fundraising there to meet Bridget. But it’s an intriguing coincidence that four of our five great works seem to have English connections.
JH: That’s right. Our interest in a London community has emerged off the back of the five great works. And it’s been made possible by an amazing relationship with Singapore Airlines who help us get there. The series emerged out of a rather unfortunate cut in our acquisitions budget. That gave us the idea of developing an endowment to act as a buffer against the unpredictability of council funding and a changing city climate after the earthquakes. I felt so strongly about collections development and collections funding that I thought it was important to mark this pivotal time (the five years the Gallery spent closed for repairs) by setting out to buy five great works for the city and building a $5m endowment.
JB: In 2016 we offered ten women donor spots to help buy the Bridget Riley work (we ended up with nine women, one family of women and one group of women). In return, they were offered the chance to go with Jenny to meet Bridget in her London studio last year. Some of the donors couldn’t get there because, you know, some of us can’t always drop everything and go to London without planning it for a couple of years... So they offered the tour to their children who were living there, which was really nice. We saw some of our group fall in love with Bridget’s art after a seven-hour day with her. It was beautiful. People think you have to be into art and know a lot to be involved, but it’s not about that. It’s actually about…
JH: …coming along and being open to it and learning together.
JB: There was quite a phenomenal London-based fundraising campaign for Christchurch straight after the earthquakes led by some amazing Kiwis who had been there for a long time, which raised $18 million.
JH: And it seemed their contribution to Christchurch had been acknowledged generally, but perhaps not personally.
JB: So we wondered if there was still a pulse there, a need to connect? Would they still care, and could we engage with them better now through art? So we gathered a few people at New Zealand House, just friends and family really as a starter, and it seemed that what we were doing in Christchurch with the Gallery really moved them. We didn’t ask for any money, we were just there to test the relationship out. What was amazing, however, was that we came home with donations from very generous souls when we hadn’t even made an ‘ask’. And that gave us confidence to go back.
FM: So what’s the long game for London?
JH: This year the Foundation committed to investing in London – we’ve been twice in a year and made a range of friends over there and we want to keep them.
JB: Well, we’re just really getting to know them. We’re on the ‘second date’ so to speak. We’ve managed to meet some quite exceptional people who are heartened by what we’re doing. It seems like people appreciated this bridge, this connection through art, that we are offering to the city.
JH: So, we launched the Mueck campaign in April this year. We had a party at Quo Vadis restaurant and another one at Hauser & Wirth gallery. Sir Nick Serota popped in, and Ron Mueck’s Still Life (the dead chicken) was on show, which was amazing. Anthony d’Offay, who is Ron Mueck’s agent (even though he doesn’t have a gallery anymore) helped us launch it. Mueck now lives on the Isle of Wight most of the time, but he’s from Melbourne originally. He was chosen to create our fifth great work as Christchurch had an already established connection with his work through the extraordinary response to his exhibition in the summer of 2010/11. Mueck was so impressed with the space that we gave the exhibition, and with the public response that he, I think, has a real soft spot for the city and what we’ve gone through. He and Charlie Clark, his technician, came over here at the end of November last year and we gave them time to walk around, talk to people and to see the Christchurch that they’d visited before but which was so altered. So he’s become, in a sense, one of us.
FM: It’s about the art and the audience, the connection between them.
JH: Yes. The everyday person. We had amazing numbers of people going to see an exhibition by an artist they’d never heard of; paying to see contemporary art. I think we were unsettled after the 4 September earthquakes and somehow the humanity of those works spoke to us in a remarkable way.
JB: So! We were on a mission to raise $1 million to buy a Ron Mueck and part of the proposition was to offer seven spots of major gifts of $100,000. We offered those donors the opportunity to meet Ron at his studio on the Isle of Wight in September this year.
JH: It was an amazing day.
JB: We also took Felicity with us…
FM: Very willingly…
JB: The advice we’d had from our earlier visit was that people really want to connect with Christchurch, but they also want to connect with what’s happening in the contemporary art scene throughout New Zealand. This time we put on a lecture about that at the ICA, delivered by Felicity.
JH: People really, really appreciated it. It was a great overview of the work of six artists, all with some connection to Christchurch; it wasn’t directly about responses to the earthquakes. It was just a nice introduction to some of the work here and by then people had met others and it was all pretty convivial. It’s important to keep up people’s interest, so we organised a number of other events that were pretty special. We had a private tour of the Bruce Nauman Artist Room at Tate Modern with Anthony d’Offay and a tour of the Serpentine.
JB: We would never have got those without Jenny’s relationships. Felicity also took our group to see six of her favourite works at the Tate and Jenny showed us her favourites at the Courtauld Galleries.
JH: So it’s access to experiences people wouldn’t ordinarily have, but there’s also a sense of relationship, of giving and return. It’s not just a one-way channel.
JB: It does feel quite mutual. Great friendships come out of these trips too, and when we go to London, people are grateful for the chance to talk about what’s happening here. Long may it last!
The Christchurch Art Gallery Foundation would like to thank the first givers to its London Club, who collectively made a $100,000 gift to the Our Own Ron campaign.
Leading the way…
Tania and Anton Beardsly
Sandy and Michael Fisher
Gaye and Kent Gardener
Anna Bond Gunning
Trevor and Louisa Hall
Sigrid Wilkinson and Stephen Kirk
NZ Womens’ Network
With special thanks to Singapore Airlines, Margot and Fergus Henderson, Jeremy Lee and Caravan Restaurants.
Astounding in their realism and emotional power, Ron Mueck's works have made him one of the most renowned sculptors of our time. See them exclusively at Christchurch Art Gallery from 2 October.
Blair Jackson has been appointed the new director of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.
London's hottest chefs are coming to town – and you're invited to dinner!
This article first appeared as 'Painting offers a multiverse of symbols' in The Press on 21 June 2017.
The new 6pm timeslot for the Friends Speaker of the Month series is proving popular, and it has been great to see so many of you coming out to hear from our fantastic speakers.
Anticipation and Reflection
This is a time of considerable anticipation at the Gallery: Bridget Riley’s new work for Christchurch is due for completion in late May 2017. A wall painting, it’s the fourth of five significant works chosen to mark the long years of our closure for seismic strengthening following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010–11. It has been paid for, sight unseen, by a group of wonderful women donors, with further support for costs associated with its installation secured by auction at our Foundation’s 2016 gala dinner.
The new year started with the Friends’ fantastic summer trip, visiting exhibitions at two of Canterbury’s regional art galleries.
As we approach the first anniversary of the reopening of the Gallery, it seems like a good time to celebrate a year’s progress in the life of the city.
Meet Kylie Hansen from Christchurch. She's the lucky winner of our Art Makes Me selfie competion.
This quarter the Gallery will reopen. It has been a long time coming by anyone’s standard. Although we have maintained connections through the award-winning Outer Spaces programme and nomadic, trailed around temporary gallery spaces; being able to once more step into the Gallery’s own space is an exciting prospect. I am not alone in looking forward to having the Gallery back in its rightful setting and reacquainting ourselves with the fabulous art we collectively own.
Peter Stichbury's NDE
Anna Worthington chooses her favourite work from the Gallery collection.
Volunteer guide Rod McKay talks about his life, being an art tourist, and guiding Gallery tours.
On Saturday a gala dinner for Christchurch Art Gallery TOGETHER Foundation marked the illumination of Martin Creed's Work No. 2314, the latest artwork funded by the Foundation. Multi-coloured neon letters, over a metre tall, spell out EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT on the Gallery's south wall.
Christchurch Art Gallery volunteer guide Bella Boyd talks about her love of guiding, her favourite works in the Gallery collection and interpreting art with poetry.
On Saturday night artist Bill Culbert and chefs Margot and Fergus Henderson helped raise the bar for another extraordinary fundraiser from the Gallery and its Foundation
When 'Chapman’s Homer' was exhibited at the edge of the devastated central city in 2012, it was positioned between ruin and rebuild just outside the cordon in an empty lot on Madras Street. Our bull stood beside his seated brother while a red carved Steinway piano was played upstairs in an adjacent building. Over thirty days, Parekowhai’s work caught the public imagination as a symbol of the resilience of local people. At once strong and refined, a brutal force of nature and a dynamic work of culture, Chapman’s Homer resonated with local audiences. Subsequently, a public fundraising campaign kept the bull in Christchurch.
Chapman’s Homer was first exhibited in Venice, where Parekowhai represented New Zealand at the 2011 Venice Biennale. It travelled to Christchurch after being shown at the Musée de quai Branly in Paris. Over the past year, we’ve shown it at a number of sites around the city as part of the Gallery's Outer Spaces programme, including Worcester Boulevard, Placemakers Riccarton, New Regent Street, and most recently at Christchurch International Airport. And now the bull is back – standing strong in its permanent home at Te Puna o Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery, welcoming visitors to our reopening exhibitions.