Treasures of the Underworld

25 July – 10 September 1995

This is an amazing collection of 48 works comprising 399 individual pieces in clay and glass that overwhelmed half a million visitors to the New Zealand Pavilion at the 1992 Expo in Seville. The excitement and interest they generated came as a surprise - Ian Fraser the Commissioner at the NZ Expo said "We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the response. We aimed to display our leading edge position in the field of ceramics to reinforce that the NZ Brand values are built on a concern for total quality, freshness, excitement and a special sort of energy. The experience has convinced me that one of the wheels on the vehicle of this country's export-led recovery could well be a potter's wheel."

In Treasures of the Underworld we will get the opportunity to make our own assessment. Fourteen leading artists Christine Boswijk, Barry Brickell, Len Castle, Paerau Corneal, Steve Fullmer, Brian Gartside, Julia van Helden, Christine Hellyer, Chester Nealie, Richard Parker, Darryl Robertson, Ann Robinson, Robyn Stewart and Ann Verdcourt were commissioned to make pieces around the theme of the Seville Expo which was celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's first voyage to America.

Voyage and discovery was their central theme and with it they explored their homeland and the familiar world of the South Pacific. Thus the rock pools, eels, Nikau palms, thermal mud and volcanic rock all found their way into unique and exciting statements in clay or glass. Ann Robinson made a giant 50 kg blue glass pacific bowl. Barry Brickell produced a series of giant terracotta vessels paying homage to the Lapita pottery made from sandy clay by the Melanesian voyagers who piloted their double-hulled canoes to the South Pacific more than 200 years before Columbus. The Nelson potter Steve Fullmer made large black eels which swim suspended above a floor of fine sand. James Mack who conceived and co-ordinated the project, urged each commissioned artist to stretch the materials and techniques beyond the Eurocentric influences which can be seen over the past to have dominated other New Zealand art forms. That they succeeded in this you can see for yourself, and how well they expanded our normal concepts of ceramics and glass is displayed in this fascinating touring exhibition. When the tour ends the 48 works will find a permanent home in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Treasures of the Underworld is toured by Exhibitour on behalf of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa with the support of the QEII Arts Council of New Zealand, and as Jenny Patrick, Chair of the QEII Arts Council says it is "an exciting statement on the world stage of New Zealand's unique cultural identity and achievements". It would be a pity to miss this one.

('Treasures of the Underworld', Bulletin, No.96, June/July 1995, p.2)