Pacific Sisters, Lisa Walker, Tiffany Singh feature in Te Papa’s new art gallery – opens March 2018.
Fierce Pacific fashion, jewellery made out of skateboards and cellphones, a flood of colour, and a place to stand – Te Papa has revealed four exhibitions to feature in its new art gallery, Toi Art, opening March 2018. With free entry and spanning two floors, the new gallery will feature two major retrospective shows by influential New Zealand artists: the Pacific Sisters, an artist collective working across fashion, performance, music, and film; and Lisa Walker, world-renowned contemporary jeweller. Also opening will be abstract art exhibition, Kaleidoscope: Abstract Aotearoa, an exploration of colour, shape and pattern in the Pacific, with a must-see immersive new artwork by Auckland-based contemporary artist Tiffany Singh. The fourth exhibition, drawn from Te Papa’s extensive art collection, Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand, questions ideas of belonging in Aotearoa, and offers different visions of how art might help us find a place to stand.
Charlotte Davy, Head of Art at Te Papa, says the new gallery will be a celebration of New Zealand identities, explored through both new art works and the lens of the national art collection. “We’re balancing an in-depth examination of influential artists and new art, with the diversity of the national art collection,” says Ms Davy. “The exhibitions together give a sense of what New Zealand art is, and how it fits within the Pacific. There’ll be performance, dance, fashion, film, music, large-scale and new immersive works on show, which is now made possible by the size of the new gallery spaces. We’ve been working with artists and using the opportunity to create new art commissions and site-specific works for the gallery, which is really exciting.” The new gallery is an $8.4 million investment in art at Te Papa, which includes a grant from the Lottery Environment and Heritage Fund.
Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists is a celebration of mana wāhine, indigenous identities, and the role this influential collective has played over the past 26 years in giving voice and visibility to Māori and Pacific peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand. Working collaboratively across fashion, performance, music and film, the Pacific Sisters include ground-breaking artists Lisa Reihana, Rosanna Raymond, Ani O’Neill, Suzanne Tamaki, Selina Haami, Niwhai Tupaea, Henzart @ Henry Ah-Foo Taripo, Feeonaa Wall, and Jaunnie ‘Ilolahia.
Nina Tonga, Curator of Pacific Art at Te Papa, says that it’s not a story everyone will know, even though the artists themselves have significant national profiles. “The Pacific Sisters once described themselves as being like the Polynesian version of Andy Warhol’s factory – an ever-evolving collective of artists coming together to create art, music, fashion and film. For the Sisters, this has been a long time coming. This is their first big retrospective, and it’s a show of Pacific proportions for sure,” says Ms Tonga.
Ani O’Neill, Pacific Sister and celebrated artist, says the retrospective is a chance to share their story with the world. “We went from city streets to catwalks, fashion shows to art galleries,” says Ms O’Neill. “Our work is a reflection of the ‘spark’ we have had as Pacific Sisters – finding our connections to our Pacific stories, peoples, lands, each other. For me, Pacific Sisters is a safe space to push boundaries. We might seem a bit hardcore and serious to some, but we have a lot of fun – we like to laugh and play with words as well as frocks. This is just a reminder to the world not to forget about your cool poly-fabulous aunties!”
I want to go to my bedroom but I can’t be bothered charts the 30-year evolution of world-renowned New Zealand jeweller, Lisa Walker. From the 1980s to today, Walker has challenged conventional expectations of what jewellery is: “Just because it’s jewellery doesn’t mean we have to clam up and be well-behaved,” says Ms Walker. “Contemporary jewellery still isn’t really that well understood. Many people still think of wedding rings and what their grandmother wore – but it can also be about ideas and expression and art, and a whole other planet really.”
Justin Olsen, Curator of Decorative Art and Design at Te Papa, says an extraordinary range of Lisa Walker’s works will be on display – made from materials including copper, pearls, and pounamu, to found objects like lego, cell phones, and egg beaters. “Her work is constantly surprising,” says Ms Olsen. “Lisa Walker mines contemporary culture, fashion, art and politics. I think of her as a contemporary archaeologist – you can see the concerns of each moment in time in her work. It’s the first time the full scope of her work has been shown, right from the beginning studying in Dunedin until today, and we’re really excited to show people her progression as an artist.”
Abstract art is often presented as a 20th-century European invention, but Kaleidoscope turns that on its head and celebrates how the exploration of shape, colour, and pattern have captured our imaginations in the Pacific. With toi whakairo (carving) by Anaha Te Rahui and an enormous Fijian masi (tapa cloth), alongside works by contemporary artists like Reuben Paterson and Richard Killeen, the exhibition offers four ways to think about and experience abstract art in New Zealand.
Sarah Farrar, Senior Art Curator at Te Papa says the exhibition focuses on leading New Zealand and Pacific artists and the ways they navigate and use abstraction for their own means in their work. “We’re exploring what abstract art means here and now,” she says. “We live in a world of images – with the rise of Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube – images are part of how we make sense of the world. Abstract art helps us learn to decode, understand and analyse these images. These are artworks that reward the act of simply looking and thinking, which is what art is about at its essence.”
At the heart of Kaleidoscope is a must-see new commission by contemporary artist Tiffany Singh. “It’s an exciting opportunity to make a work of this nature at this scale,” says Ms Singh. “It will be an immersive sensory experience, where people can interact with and inform the artwork. It will become reflective of our wellbeing at a particular moment in time. Expect colour, lots of colour!” she says. “But not in the way you might be used to experiencing colour in my work.”
Tūrangawaewae are the places, communities, and ideas that give us a sense of belonging. Drawn from Te Papa’s extensive collection of New Zealand painting, sculpture, and photography, Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand explores questions of art, identity, and cross-cultural exchange.
With works by Rita Angus, Colin McCahon, Shane Cotton, Gottfried Lindauer, Len Lye, and Robyn Kahukiwa and many other iconic New Zealand artists, Ms Farrar says the exhibition explores markers of identity in Aotearoa.
“It’s about who we are, and where we’ve come from – as individuals, as New Zealanders, and as a nation. Tūrangawaewae spans historical portraiture to contemporary practice, with art works that inspire and provoke, question and console,” she says. “When they’re displayed together, they offer different visions of what art is in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
The new art gallery is the first of a series of changes to the national museum, as Te Papa transforms its permanent exhibits over the coming years. Te Papa will remain open throughout the changes.
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