We sometimes forget how much New Zealand’s art has changed since the 1950s. In 1955 there were no dealer art galleries in Auckland. The Ikon and Argus galleries had yet to open. Auckland Art Gallery Director Peter Tomory described New Zealand’s art scene as being in a watertight situation. When he wrote that he was thinking about the beginning of the twentieth century, not mid-century. Put it this way, the 50s were not generous to modernist art. In 1993, Gordon Walters was invited by Landfall to write a short essay about his early life as an artist (Landfall, April 1993, number 185, pages 21-23). It is a fascinating and notable piece as Gordon is tells a tale that is not complimentary to the 1950s art scene.
Here is a short quote from Gordon’s memoir: “…at about this time the Auckland City Art Gallery had begun its series of annual travelling shows of contemporary New Zealand art. Unfortunately, though, Stewart McLennan, the Director of the National Art Gallery, saw to it that these did not come to Wellington. He boasted that the one thing that he had achieved as Director was to have kept McCahon out. And still at the end of the Fifties he was saying to Woollaston, ‘We are watching your work’.”
Image credit: Theo Schoon, Gordon Walters, circa 1947
Black and white photograph, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Theo Schoon, 1983