Greetings from Christchurch, New Zealand! We spent today exploring the city and visiting both the International Antarctic Centre and the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. I am most excited to write about the Gallery. It is not only a spectacular building, but has an incredible array of works on display with the majority by New Zealand artists. Before sharing my favourite works, here are a few other highlights worth mentioning.
1. Artwork Labels
Finally, yes finally, an art gallery with easy to read labels that do not contain pretentious language. Apart from one exhibition, the labels are black font on a light-coloured background. Honestly, this was way too refreshing.
Also, the labels are in English and Māori. It never ceases to amaze me how effortlessly galleries and museums in New Zealand integrate Māori language into their labels and exhibitions. It is so great to see and also presents a wonderful opportunity to learn some Māori words and phrases.
2. Space to Relax
Just off the side of the main gallery, on the upper level, is a relaxation area. Equipped with art books, lounge chairs and a couple of installations, this room overlooks the Christchurch City Council building. Although a lot of galleries have similar spaces, I just found this one to be particularly relaxing. I also enjoyed the sign next to the art books (see below).
3. Cloakroom Set-up
It’s a strange one, but the Gallery’s cloakroom has a great system in place. When you leave your bag/umbrella/jacket/etc, you get a silicone wristband to wear throughout your visit. Usually, when I get a token or something similar, I spend my entire visit double and triple checking it’s still with me. The wristband basically cancelled any concerns I had and means if you cloak your bag and don’t have pockets, you don’t have something annoying to carry around.
I have been unbelievably impressed with the places to eat here in Christchurch. There are so many options you are absolutely spoilt for choice. If you are visiting the Gallery, I highly recommend their restaurant, Universo. It has a good vibe and a great selection of food available.
5. Gift Shop
I love a gallery gift shop that contains lots of quirky little things to buy. I strongly recommend spending some time in this one. There is everything from interesting children’s picture books to beer from a local brewery.
6. Entrance Space
When you first enter the Gallery you are met by a very impressive entrance foyer with a grand staircase leading to the upper floor galleries. Suspended above the staircase is a colourful sculpture of chairs and tables lighting the way. It is a memorable way to introduce visitors to the space.
There are so many artworks to choose from. I have managed to whittle my list down to eight from a potential twenty. There is obviously so much more to explore – all practical details (opening hours etc) will be included at the end of my post.
1. Eileen Mayo – A Garden Enclosed
This screen print by Eileen Mayo is so beautiful and balanced in its composition. What resonates with me most is the juxtaposition of a thriving greenhouse and what looks like a dead forest. I think of summer/spring shining through in a winter setting.
2. Cerith Wyn Evans – Things are conspicuous in their absence
The hanging neon sign reminds visitors that absence and silence can be a strong ever-present force. Inspiration for this artwork came from watching subtitled films. The artist soon realised that there was a gap between text and picture. This led to thoughts on loss and how the memory of loss is always in the present. In other words, when something is no longer, memory can grow stronger.
3. Anila Quayyum Agha – Shimmering Mirage
I love large-scale installations where an artwork completely surrounds you or you feel as though you’ve been transported to somewhere completely different. This artwork achieves that goal as you step inside a huge light installation in the exhibition Wheriko – Brilliant! The large steel cube was carved by Agha who was motivated by dispossessed people and welcoming spaces. During her son’s wedding, Agha received a phone call to say her mother had died and was buried within the day, in accordance with Islamic custom. The grief felt by Agha sparked thoughts on how dispossessed people must deal with trauma when they cannot be physically present for something, such as the death of a parent. This has been combined with Agha’s childhood memory of wanting to see sacred rooms in mosques that were reserved for men. The carvings she made of steel reflect the Islamic screens in these mosques and how light and dark play off each other. By creating this space that transcends all boundaries, Agha hopes to make all visitors feel they are welcome.
4. Ronnie van Hout – The Thing
If you haven’t seen the 1982 cult classic, The Thing, please now take the opportunity. Inspired by the film, Hout created this sculpture of a solitary man sitting in the dark. Is he ‘The Thing’? Visitors are asked to turn on the light to properly see the man inside and view him in a state of contemplation.
5. Hannah Beehre – The Hedge
Projected onto the wall is a hedge with leaves falling down to the ground in response to sound. If you stamp your feet or talk in front of the work, more leaves fall. During the night, when no one is in the Gallery, the leaves return to where they started to fall again the next day.
6. Sophie Bannan – Untitled
This piece has so many layers. Bannan’s grandfather, Maurice Mahoney, designed many buildings in Christchurch during the 1960s. After the 2011 earthquakes, Bannan visited sites of devastation that had connections to her grandfather. Here, she collected clay and created the sculptures on display.
7. Ron Mueck – chicken/man
This artwork is entertaining and bizarre. It is a man staring at a chicken and the chicken is staring right back. I was just as confused seeing it as the old man is seeing the chicken.
8. Andrew Drummond – Device for Shadows and Reflection
Combining science and art in his work, Drummond explores how light can react with moving objects. The constant moving cylinder throws light against the wall in different patterns depending on where it is in its rotation.
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū is open daily from 10am to 5pm. On Wednesdays, it stays open until 9pm. Entry is free and the entire Gallery is accessible. It is located in central Christchurch.