Clock ticking on popular exhibition, don’t miss out

Time seems to fly by incredibly quickly and it’s hard to believe our very popular exhibition ‘Out of the Box’ closes in two weeks’ time. If you haven’t yet been in to see it, or want a last look around, then you need to be quick as the exhibition finishes on 5 June.

This gallery, featuring approximately ten percent of our framed artworks, is a complete floor to ceiling hang. Breaking away from chronological order, this display allows new interactions between artworks; for example showing 19th century paintings next to contemporary works, which enables the viewer to see differences and make connections that might otherwise go unnoticed. It also shows the rich diversity of the region’s collection, while bringing to our attention some gaps that we’ll try to fill over time.

Feedback on this gallery from the public has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s proven to be one of our more popular recent displays. Much like the 2008 exhibition ‘Open Home,’ which was equally popular, it provided an opportunity to put more on display than usual and create a particularly rich art experience. There’s sure to be at least one artwork in this gallery to appeal to each person’s taste.

Replacing this exhibition in June, is a touring show from Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki titled ‘Freedom and Structure: Cubism and New Zealand Art 1930-1960’. This exhibition looks at New Zealand’s response to the revolutionary new cubist style – which is possibly not a well-known period in our national art identity.

Cubism as an artistic style emerged in the early 20th century, with Pablo Picasso often cited as the creator – but more accurately developed in conjunction with French artist Georges Braque. Challenging representational style, this new form experimented with showing objects from multiple perspectives all at the same time. Braque and Picasso emphasised the flat surface of the picture canvas, rather than giving the illusion of depth. They reduced complex forms to basic geometric shapes. Early in the cubism period, the original subject matter could still be determined, but as the style developed, works were fragmented further into pure shapes, lines and planes without any reference to the physical world.

New Zealand was slow to adopt this radical shift in European art. Our isolation meant new developments were slow to reach our shores and, at that time, we continued leaning towards British, rather than continental European, influences. New Zealand audiences also tended to be very conservative and critical of artists who departed from the familiar style of clearly identifiable subjects and traditional perspectives.

Cubist art did emerge in New Zealand, albeit several decades later than overseas – but remains a lesser-known style in our national art history. This exhibition brings together artists Colin McCahon, Louise Henderson, Melvin Day, Charles Tole, John Weeks, and Wilfred Stanley Wallis to show a uniquely New Zealand expression of cubism.

Credit line: French Bay, Colin McCahon, 1957, courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Credit line: French Bay, Colin McCahon, 1957, courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 20 May 2017

Nyree Dawn Porter (1936–2001), dancer and actor extraordinaire

Now that the Two Sisters exhibition is installed and open to the public, Jess and I are focusing our attentions on another iconic Hawke’s Bay woman: Nyree Dawn Porter (1936–2001), dancer and actor extraordinaire.

The initial impetus for the idea of an exhibition on Nyree came from six paintings, discovered in the Porters’ family home on Shakespeare Road in 2004. The young Nyree painted these directly on the walls of the living room, in which she taught dance during her teenage years. The paintings depict dancers in an array of poses with exaggerated long limbs. Her sister Merle Ayling recalled that Nyree painted them in this way to encourage her pupils to have long necks and elegant arms.

Melanie Oliver, the current owner of the paintings, offered to lend them to the Museum for exhibition. From this point, we began researching Nyree’s life and achievements. Her first love was dancing, and in 1954 the 18-year-old was the youngest dancer from Hawke’s Bay ever to receive the Solo Seal and Advanced Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dancing. She continued teaching dance up until joining a travelling acting troupe, ‘The New Zealand Players,’ in 1956. The major turning point in her life came two years later when she won the Miss Cinema contest, and moved to London to take up the prize of a screen test and follow her dream of becoming a star. The screen test turned out to be little more than a publicity stunt, but Nyree persisted and eventually embarked on an acting and dancing career in London’s theatres.

Nyree was catapulted into fame after landing the role of Irene in the Forsyte Saga: the first television literary soap opera. Broadcast in 1967, the show attracted a worldwide audience of over 160 million viewers in 26 countries. Her portrayal of the heroine captivated the public imagination, to the extent that when Neil Armstrong was asked who he would like to meet after he returned from the moon, he answered – Nyree Dawn Porter. Her performance also won Nyree a Bafta award and in 1970, she was appointed an OBE for services to television.

Nyree’s extraordinary fame in Britain and Europe did not translate back to her own country to the same extent. Ships were named after her, she received sack loads of fan mail, and even featured on British stamps but the BBC episode of ‘This is Your Life: Nyree Dawn Porter’ was never even shown on New Zealand television.

Through this exhibition, Jess and I hope to shed light on this remarkable performer and Hawke’s Bay woman. We would be very interested to hear from anyone who knew Nyree or who has related objects, photographs or information. The exhibition opens in September.

Gail Pope – Social History Curator, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 13 May 2017