Private collection offers sneak peak at artist’s career

This week we’ve been preparing for the arrival of Nigel Brown: I AM / WE ARE, an exhibition of paintings and prints by Nigel Brown that will open at MTG Hawke’s Bay on Saturday 12 March. The show is being toured by the Aigantighe Art Gallery in Timaru and has been on display there over the summer months. I curated this show in my prior role at the Aigantighe, developing it through conversations with Brown and his partner Susan McLaughlin, which culminated in the final selection of artworks from their extensive private collection.

Artists’ own collections are formed in a unique way, built up over the decades from all the artworks that the artist wanted to keep rather than sell or give away. As a result most of the artworks in Brown’s collection are there because he feels an attachment and sense of loyalty to them. They’re significant paintings from his long and prolific career: the exemplary works that he likes to have around and use as reference points in his current art practice. This exhibition is made up of 27 of those and we’re looking forward to having them here at MTG.

Several of the paintings have also stayed in Brown’s collection partly due to practical reasons. For instance quite a few in this exhibition are magnificent paintings that would have been simply too big for most prospective buyers’ homes, including two works on loose canvas (Will to Meaning and Sea Rising) each measuring over four metres in length. These have not been seen by the public since their initial showing in an Auckland dealer gallery in 2007, while another very large and striking work of a playground at Thames has been rolled up in storage since 1982.

Other paintings were perhaps too outspoken for art-buyers’ tastes, such as Indigenous Propaganda with its group of protesters holding signs with slogans like “REPUBLIC AOTEAROA” and “TAX THE RICH”. One painting that envisions a New Zealand named Organic Aotearoa (with a political system of environmental socialism) might be in the same boat. Seen afresh in the public art gallery context, these wonderfully bold artworks can be appreciated for their social commentary value rather than for their commercial appeal.

Spread over 35 years of Brown’s career to date, the exhibition covers a wide range of diverse themes. These are all drawn together by Brown’s unmistakeable painterly style along with his iconic symbolism and use of text within his artworks. The installation of this show marks the closure of both the Dick Frizzell exhibition ‘Artist’s Proof’ and also ‘Among Sunny Southern Isles’, which showcases photographs from Russell Duncan’s travels through the Pacific. Tomorrow is their last day up and these are two very interesting exhibitions so do come in to see them if you haven’t already (or if you’d like another look). The spaces they’re in will then be closed for two weeks while we paint the walls and install the new exhibition.

Nigel with Thames Boat Park Painting, New Vision Gallery, Early

Nigel Brown with ‘The Boat Park (Thames)’ at New Vision Gallery, 1982

Jessica Mio – Art Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 27 February 2016


Plenty on offer for visitors to get involved in Art Deco

This week has, of course, been focused around the build-up and launch of the 2016 Art Deco Festival and a celebration of all things Art Deco. Close working relationships with key groups in the community are a vital part of a thriving museum and we have enjoyed developing a strong relationship with our neighbours, the Art Deco Trust, over the last twelve months. There’s also been a focus on ensuring a stronger presence and engagement with the Festival. As you may already be aware, our main feature for Art Deco this year is the exhibition of René Lalique vases currently on display.

We’re also engaging in more light-hearted and interactive ways. Our visitor hosts are dressed in Deco style and many other staff are getting into the spirit as well. A children’s activity based around the Lalique vases is on offer (although we’re finding adults are enjoying it too and they’re most welcome to engage).There’s also a photo opportunity with our Art Deco beach cut-out, as well as some bather’s caps to try on.

We are trialling tables and chairs on the forecourt and are pleased that these are being well used by the community and visitors, some of whom are also enjoying an ice-cream or cold drink that can be purchased in the front foyer. We have two soap box derby carts in our front foyer, and on evenings when the foyer is not in use for a function we’ve changed the lighting so that only the Lalique gallery is lit up. We’re also projecting details images of Lalique vases to inject a bit of colour onto the building. These changes create a very different feel in the evening that we hope you enjoy.

Naturally, being a museum, we like to bring authenticity to any conversation and this year is the 80th anniversary of the opening of the original Louis Hay designed building. This first part of the museum was officially opened in February 1936 by Bishop Herbert Williams with a further addition opening the following year. The beautiful entranceway off Herschell Street is widely recognised as a gem of the Art Deco built heritage in Hawke’s Bay, featuring ornamental arches and lintels decorated in a wide variety of eclectic styles. It’s a popular photography spot for tourists and Deco enthusiasts alike.

Last night we were proud to be the venue for the Opening Soiree of the Festival and to have MTG centre stage for the celebrations and festivities. The Art Deco period was one of freedom and optimism, which is captured in our unique architecture and the way in which the people of Hawke’s Bay embrace the Art Deco festival. Whatever you choose to do over this weekend we hope you have fun and immerse yourself in the atmosphere.

Louis Hay Entranceway

Louis Hay Entranceway

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 20 February 2016


Exhibition of Lalique vases enough to make you cry

Making people cry is not normally something we aim to achieve but when it’s because they found an exhibition so beautiful, that’s something to be proud of. On Thursday evening we had the official opening for our René Lalique exhibition, which inspired the tears. This stunning array of vases from the Jack C Richards collection sits in the Nelson Gallery on the mezzanine floor of the museum. Being a gallery flooded with light and with an open airy feel, it’s the perfect place to display glass to the best possible advantage.

René Lalique was initially a famed Parisian jewellery maker in the late 19th Century. He was renowned for his innovative use of non-precious materials alongside the usual gold and diamonds. He began experimenting with glass after becoming frustrated with the constraints of conventional jewellery making, where the size and shape of gems dictated the design. After incorporating glass into his jewellery with great success, he began making small vessels and statuettes in glass and metal. In collaboration with perfumier François Coty he made the first ever bespoke perfume bottle design.

From there Lalique expanded into other glass items including car mascots, light fittings, paperweights, tableware, and even fountains. However his most successful creations were his vases, which made their way into homes all around the world. This exhibition showcases examples of Lalique vases made throughout the entire Art Deco period, from as early as 1913 through until 1935. Showcasing a variety of different design styles you can see Japanese influences, Classical forms, the influence of Aztec and African art – and running through it all is Lalique’s enduring love of the natural world.

The Lalique factory continues to this day and, although no longer owned by the family, it continues to produce items from the original designs by René Lalique. The company, Lalique SA, were very helpful in the development of the exhibition and provided images, information and even video footage to enhance our display. The video of the glass production process is very compelling viewing and was a hit on the night of the opening.

We’re grateful for the continuing support and generosity of the MTG Foundation who have provided funding for new cases used in the exhibition. Most museum visitors probably don’t notice display cases and, ideally, they shouldn’t grab your attention. Over the years I’ve seen many cases that are heavy and dominant in a gallery space. Much like display mounts the very best cases are unobtrusive, letting the objects shine and be the focus. We wanted cases that were light with simple lines and we’re very pleased with the final results.

My greatest thanks go to Jack C Richards for so kindly making his extraordinary collection available. Jack is not only an extensive collector but also an incredibly generous benefactor and patron of the arts: supporting museums, musicians, emerging artists, opera singers and more. He has a strong desire not just to collect but also to share – and how lucky we all are that he has decided to share with us.

Our new(ish) Art Curator, Jessica Mio, has done a great job of distilling an enormous amount of information into intelligent and easy to read labels. This is an exhibition of stunning material presented in a perfect setting and we sincerely hope you will enjoy the experience of visiting the exhibition.

photorapher David Frost

Guests enjoying exhibition opening. Photographer David Frost.


Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 13 February 2016

Community’s contribution to collection significant

Today marks 176 years since te Tiriti o Waitangi the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Māori and the Crown. It wasn’t until several months after the initial February signing that a version of the Treaty, known as the ‘Herald-Bunbury copy’, passed fleetingly through Hawke’s Bay. This was signed in June 1840, near the mouth of the Tukituki River by three local rangatira chiefs including Te Hāpuku, (Te Ikanui-o-te-moana) who had signed the Declaration of Independence in 1835, Hoani Waikato and Mahikai Harawira.

Over the last century and a half, the Hawke’s Bay community have gifted several Treaty-related items to the museum collection. There are early facsimiles of the 1835 Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi, along with books discussing the Treaty that date from the late 1800s. There are mementoes of trips made to Waitangi including Hawke’s Bay businessman Russell Duncan’s 1880s photograph of the Treaty Monument, and an entry ticket and pamphlet from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. In 1973, a Mr Buckley gifted some hand-forged copper nails “from the roof of the Treaty House at Waitangi”. One of the most significant items in the collection is missionary William Colenso’s journal containing the entry he made at Waitangi in 1840. This has been reproduced for exhibition in the new Museum of Waitangi which opens to the public today.

Last year, the network of Māori staff working in museums and galleries, Kāhui Kaitiaki, met at Waitangi. During this symposium, we stayed at Te Tii Marae and were able to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, James Busby’s house, and see the construction of New Zealand’s newest museum underway. We heard about Ngā TohuTreaty Signatories, a research project to collate biographical information about those who signed the Treaty and also about the Archive Exhibition Project – to relocate the fragile Treaty manuscripts from Archives New Zealand to the National Library.

As a sector, New Zealand museums and art galleries have developed a Code of Ethics and Professional Practice which acknowledges the importance of the relationship between Māori and non-Māori established by the Treaty of Waitangi. The Code of Ethics accepts that the principles of tino rangatiratanga, laid out in Article 2 of the Treaty, apply to many aspects of the work museums and art galleries do.

One of the aspects of this work, and an approach unique to New Zealand museums is in regard to kōiwi tangata human remains, which commonly entered museum collections throughout the mid to late 1800s. During David Butts’ tenure, Hawke’s Bay museum staff worked closely with local and national iwi to remove these from the collection. Many museums in New Zealand are currently involved in similar work. In 2003, the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme was set up at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand by a government mandate. This programme actively seeks the return of ancestral kōiwi from museums all over the world and now leads international practice in the removal of human remains from museum collections.

As part of exhibition research and development MTG staff work with our local Māori community by developing informal relationships, but also maintain a more formal relationship with iwi through Te Rōpū Kaiāwhina Taonga. This group supports and advises the Director and museum staff regarding the significant collection of taonga Māori in the Hawke’s Bay collection. Members represent different areas within the Ngāti Kahungunu boundaries, and most have been involved with the museum for many years.


William Colenso’s journal, 1834-1840


Tryphena Cracknell – Curator Taonga Māori, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 6 February 2016

Artefacts can evoke feelings as well as memories

As momentum builds up for the Art Deco Festival in Napier it’s also appropriate to take time to remember the 85th Anniversary of the earthquake this week. Since taking up my role at MTG Hawke’s Bay I have, naturally, learnt much more about the earthquake that had such a devastating effect on this region. With 256 lives lost (although there is some debate about the final number), buildings destroyed, families turned upside down and the landscape forever altered – it’s not an event that the region could, or should, forget.

Those who have visited the museum over the last six months will have noticed that many of the galleries in the building have been changed and updated. And the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake gallery has not been forgotten. The film Survivors’ Stories is now set up in a dedicated theatre space next to the gallery so that everyone can have the opportunity to listen to this fascinating collection of personal recollections of the earthquake. We are currently undertaking research to ensure that Maori experiences are better represented and that the gallery tells the story of the entire Hawke’s Bay Region. Research takes time and making changes to permanent galleries requires planning and resourcing so it will be a while before these changes take effect but they will come.

Whilst our visitors love this gallery and the Survivors’ Stories film has been incredibly popular we have also received feedback from some visitors that the gallery is too dark and the labels are hard to read. So, revisiting the exhibition will give us the opportunity to rectify these matters as well. It is such a big story and such an important one that we want to ensure we get it right.

One of the cases in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake gallery which I find particularly touching is the case of jewellery that was never claimed from bank vaults. Jewellery is so personal that it is hard to image they would be abandoned and we can only wonder what happened to their owner(s). Of course different stories in the gallery affect different people in different ways.

Museums hold the collective memories and treasures of a community. We are lucky, and grateful, that so many give their objects to us and other museums around the country and the world. These items then allow us to tell the stories of the region to locals and visitors and to showcase the rich history of Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand. Some of these are sombre stories such as the earthquake and the First World War, others are happier such as the rebirthing of a city and region. Some are challenging and thought-provoking, while others are inspiring or uplifting. The objects and artworks we hold along with these their stories provide a cultural and social glue for any society.

Laura Vodanovich – Director at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 30 January 2016.