The Art Scene in New Zealand
Talk about New Zealand and you think of the natural beauty of the country, the pure food and wine produced there, their ability on the sporting field.
Yet there is an emerging art scene. One that has its roots in the early Maori culture but is growing in recognition for its diverse and vibrant contemporary art.
Speaking with artist Trish Northey at the Pah Homestead, one of Auckland’s premier cultural destinations, she tells me there is a huge amount of art here – and in all sorts of places.
Wellington is perhaps the centre of art in New Zealand yet Auckland has a real energy about it.
Art Week in October sees more than 100 public and private galleries open, artist-run spaces and pop-up sites encouraging people to view, discuss and engage in the art on show.
“Auckland is known for recognising a trend, a real awareness of people wanting to connect to roots of their heritage, their history,’’ Trish says.
“Instead of trying to separate themselves from family and be an individual, they are recognising the bloodlines … who their family is.
“They are saying ‘This is where I come from.’
“They are finding a personal and community identity.
“A lot of traditions are being lost as we become mixed up and move with technology. They are standing up and saying: ‘This is who we are.’
“Creativity gives you something to do, an awareness.’’
Here at the Pah Homestead, there is an exhibition of the finalists in the Annual Wallace Art Awards on show.
Sir James Wallace started collecting New Zealand art in the mid-1960s, with a particular focus on emerging artists.
In 1992 he transferred his collection to a newly-formed charitable trust, that he proceeded to fund so it could add to the collection and provide support for artists.
Nothing is ever sold so that the body of works, now numbering more than 8500, will remain in its entirety as a cultural resource.
The Annual Wallace Art Awards were established in 1992 and are both the longest surviving and richest annual awards in the country.
The historic Pah Homestead is set in Monte Cecilia Park, on a high-point of Auckland.
It is a beautiful place. It was someone’s homestead so it has an inviting appeal to it.
Not the white walls and quiet of many galleries. It’s a space to be enjoyed.
And in the most gorgeous grounds.
The site was a fortified Maori pa during the 17th and 18th centuries, the word can refer to any Māori village or defensive settlement, but often refers to hill forts – fortified settlements with palisades and defensive terraces – and also to fortified villages.
It may have been occupied by the early Maori kings but in 1844 William Hart was able to purchase the property and build a Regency styled villa on the site.
He had been intrigued by reports that the hill had been a fortified Maori pa and excavations for the house did uncover evidence of totara wood palisades which may have dated from the mid 18th century.
While it was never regarded as a fortress it may have stored food there because it was so high above the surrounding area.
In 1877 businessman and politician James Williamson had the Pah Homestead built.
In 1913 it was purchased by the Sisters of Mercy and the Auckland Catholic Diocese and renamed Monte Cecilia.
For almost 90 years it served as an orphanage, boarding school and emergency housing.
In 1998 the Auckland City Council, the Pah Homestead and the grounds have been fully restored and adapted as the new home of the James Wallace Arts Trust and its collection.
Since opening in August 2010, the gallery has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors.
They also take advantage of the walk through the park, with historic trees, wide expanses of lawn and panoramic views that include Manukau Harbour, One Tree Hill and the Waitakere Ranges.
“It was to encourage people to view the arts in Auckland,’’ Trish tells me.
“There are also music events to support young artists and musicians.
“There are not many who make full-time living from art.’’
As a volunteer at the Pah Homestead and involved in her local art community centre, Trish says that by speaking about art she is able to promote it more and more.
Art Week in Auckland runs for nine days and sees corporate businesses and the university open up their buildings for art tours of their collections.
There is a lot of public art and performance art.
The Art Week map is such a good idea … to have in your hands something showing where the dealer art galleries are.
Mostly, they are not on the street-front as while you need a good-sized space to show art effectively they cannot afford the rent. Instead, they are down lanes, alleys or upstairs.
In February, there is a White Night when all the galleries open til late into the evening.
Described as ‘a treasure hunt where you don’t know what you’re looking for, but you find it all’, White Night events include dance, theatre, exhibitions, art installations, street performers, puppetry and circus.
The arts scene centres on Auckland City Art Gallery, Pah Homestead, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, based in scenic Titirangi and purpose-built for a gallery so the art works can be hung in suitable spaces.
Te Tuhi in east Auckland is an award-winning gallery as part of a vibrant art community that presents socially minded and experimental contemporary art projects from both New Zealand and international artists.