17 Mar 2018

Te Papa's Toi Art 'a huge milestone'

10:07 am on 17 March 2018

New Zealand's national museum wanted to put New Zealand art first in its five-year renewal programme, and now has 35 percent more space to showcase it, board chair Evan Williams says.

The first iteration of Te Papa's biggest shake up in 20 years, Toi Art, is a new two-storey gallery that opened to the public yesterday after 18 months' work.

Te Papa's Board chair Evan Williams said the gallery was the first stage of the revamp of the museum, to take place over the next five years.

"We prioritised art as the first step of our renewal programme, natural history comes next year, but we wanted to put art first and build a gallery that was larger and more flexible and would truly work as a home for New Zealand's national collections," he said.

The gallery is include five exhibitions: the Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists collection which pays homage to New Zealand's Pacific Island connections and its female artists, a retrospective collection of jeweller Lisa Walker, two exhibitions showcasing the national art collection, and a large contemporary installation called Détour from Michael Parekowhai challenging art conventions.

Equivalent in size to 15 tennis courts, Toi Art gives the museum 35 percent more space to house some more of the roughly 40,000 works of art in the national collection.

It is estimated the full collection would require 74km of wall space to display, the equivalent of a direct flight from Wellington to Blenheim.

The prime minister attended the gallery opening last night.

The prime minister attended the gallery opening last night. Photo: © Te Papa

The gallery features work from prominent New Zealand artists including C.F. Goldie, Rita Angus and Ralph Hotere, as well as more contemporary work from Janet Lilo, Tiffany Singh and Ngataihauru Taepa.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was at the opening ceremony and said that as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage she wanted to make art more accessible.

"So taking art out of its usual places and into our communities as well, making sure we can do all we can to help Te Papa to be a national collection that tours.

"That means Wellington might be one physical space, but shouldn't be the walls that confine that collection," she said.

As part of the gallery's opening weekend there are a number of free events and performances, including a gig tonight headlined by LA-based Musician Chelsea Jade and Auckland electronic artists, SoccarPractise.

Charlotte Davy, Te Papa Head of Art, said Toi Art, which includes five exhibitions, offers new opportunities.

"Toi Art is a game changer for art in New Zealand, with the huge new spaces offering incredible opportunities to showcase art from Aotearoa, from the Pacific, and from the world," she said.

Te Papa's Pacific Art curator Nina Tonga said last night's opening ceremony was extremely moving.

"This is such an important moment that we're celebrating, we're celebrating a collective that we're really reflecting and creating a place for Pacific people in Aotearoa.

"This is a an acknowledgement for them and all the artists and this is a huge milestone," she said.