Insider's guide to Auckland Art Gallery
A recent rainy day was well spent on a guided tour of the Auckland Art Gallery or Toi O Tamaki which means ‘our treasure house’.
The Auckland Art Gallery is regarded as the world home or wharenui of New Zealand art. This superbly designed gallery views itself as custodians or kaitiaki of the art in their care. Works of famous New Zealand artists like Charles Goldie, Ralph Hotere and Colin McCahon are on public display instead of hidden away in private homes or personal vaults. The 100-strong staff at the Gallery also include highly-skilled conservators who care for precious collections and undertake pain-staking repairs to valuable artwork and papers.
The Gallery runs one hour tours daily (except Xmas Day) at 11.30am and 1.30pm at a very reasonable charge of $10. After checking in bags and brollies, we met our knowledgeable guide Catherine who showcased the Gallery from top to bottom to our small party of six. After the tour we did some snooping of our own to expand on Catherine's fascinating facts. Here's seven gems which stole our interest:
- The Gallery is home to around 20,000 pieces of art going back around 700 years but only 800 pieces are normally displayed. When we asked Catherine where the bulk of the art is stored, she couldn’t tell us. It’s housed offsite in secure storage, the location of which is a closely guarded secret. Even most of the staff don’t know.
- One of only two Picassos in New Zealand resides on the walls of the Auckland Art Gallery. The other Picasso is in Dunedin. Painted during the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1944, ‘Verre et Pichet’, a still-life of a table setting (sans food) isn’t regarded as one of Picasso’s best works but it does symbolize the dark years of deprivation experienced during the Second World War.
- Outreach workshops in the community like ‘Art in a Suitcase’ are just some of the services the Gallery provides. So it’s not only a display gallery but an activation of arts in the suburbs of Auckland. This makes art accessible to everyone. The Gallery conservators are also available to undertake restoration or consultations on private collections.
- The Gallery has a members-only lounge which looks flashier than the Koru Club! For just $50 annually, you get access to this plus a whole range of benefits like unlimited entry to paid exhibitions, invitations to behind-the-scenes tours and Rialto movie ticket discounts.(For city meetings, the Art Gallery members’ lounge sure beats a noisy cafe.)
- The stunning addition of the new wing in 2011 with its Nikau-canopied roof doubled the size of the gallery and was recognized with a world-architecture design award.
- The recent ‘Nudes’ exhibition on loan from the Tate London featured 100 revealing masterpieces from the likes of Rodin, Picasso and Bonnard’s ‘the bath’. ‘Nudes’ had to be renamed for New Zealand audiences because focus-group research prior to its Auckland launch revealed Kiwi’s still have a prudish streak. So the exhibition was rebranded as ‘The Body Laid Bare’ to hopefully appeal to a broader audience.
- The Corsini Collection on display until January 2018 features renaissance paintings by Botticelli, Caravaggio and a painting of a Pope with a Nazi bullet hole through his head (you’ll have to visit the exhibition to find out why). This is the first time that the collection has been allowed out of Italy by the Florence-based family. Such is the high regard that the Corsinis hold for the New Zealand Maori Battalion who protected their family estate during World War Two. (Quite proud to hear that!)
The hour we spent with our friendly guide Catherine flew by and we parted ways in the gracious high-vaulted MacKenzie Gallery with a greater appreciation for the diversity and range of art on display.
But the absolute best thing about the Auckland Art Gallery? This small but world-class arthouse has FREE entry for both locals and visitors. Plus it's wheelchair-friendly too. There are not many cities around the world which can boast this.
Find out more about the Auckland Art Gallery here