Friday, 27 May 2011

Odd words – again

That wonderfully obsessive website called Wordnik -

has reminded me, again, that archaic and unused words can sometimes be more contemporary, more satisfactory for a particular moment, than one of our more frequently used words.

One just has to forget what the word sounds like to register how people react immediately to words that are foreign to them. A bit like how an expletive may be responded to with stunned alertness. On the other hand, how the way one speaks can say much more than what a word itself expresses.

An instance from the last few days is a lovingly and relaxed smudgy word: louche.

Now, have you said the word louche this week?

Wordnik says that, as an adjective, louche means squinting; not being straightforward; being sinister.

As a verb, louche connotes a moment when a substance becomes cloudy when it is mixed with water, always due to the presence of anethole (Have you come across that word recently? It is the correct term for para-methoxyphenylpropene, p-propenylanisole, and isoestragole). They say that adding water to such an aromatic unsaturated ether is known as ‘the ouzo effect’. Witness this louche effect in absinthe.

Louche was once, of course, based on the French word 'losche,' squint-eyed, which comes from the Latin 'luscus,' meaning to be blind in one eye.

The Collins Dictionary has another definition for louche and this is one I am much more familiar with – to be shifty or disrespectable. When I was a student, we called others in the Philosophy Department ‘louches’.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

International Museum Day

Jeffrey Harris, The Memory of a Journey, 1974
oil on hardboard, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Every year, museums and galleries around the world celebrate International Museum Day.

This year the theme is 'Museums and memory' - a theme which perfectly coincides with our 'If These Walls Could Talk' series on this blog. You can read all the entries in the series here.

If you have memories of the Auckland Art Gallery, we'd love to hear from you so we can expand the series to include stories from everyone in the community. Drop us a line in the comments below, or contact us via the website.

Find out about how other New Zealand museums are celebrating International Museum Day on the Museums Aotearoa website, and get a global view here.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Pacific Cities

Yesterday in the E.H. McCormick Research Library I came across a little catalogue of an exhibition held at the Gallery exactly 40 years ago. Called Pacific Cities, it was a remarkable show of artworks loaned from institutions in nine cities around the Pacific: Honolulu Academy of Arts, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, Henry Gallery in Seattle, The Vancouver Art Gallery, The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, The National Museum of the Philippines in Manila, Queensland Art Gallery and the Newcastle Art Gallery.

This international spread was put on to celebrate the opening of the Gallery’s new Edmiston Wing. Officially opened to the public by Governor General Sir Arthur Porrit on the 16th April 1971, this addition to the building had been a long time coming. Funded from a generous bequest made by prominent Auckland citizen Philip Edmiston, the building project had been the subject of planning and discussion since the details of Edmiston’s will were announced in 1946. Decision-making was complicated by calls to erect an entirely new building for the Gallery, but in 1953 the City Council resolved that the Gallery should remain on its historical site.

The Edmiston development was designed in the office of the City architect, Mr E.M. Wainscott and the project architect was Mr B.C. Robinson. The new wing took three years to build, with staff offices relocated to the Town Hall from 1968. The design of the wing was a ‘modernisation’ of the existing Victorian architecture of the building, which mimicked the rhythms of the old façade in a stripped back, modern style.

Moira McLeod, writing for the trade journal Building Progress, waxed lyrical about the new design: “Bold concrete slabs cast in situ with special boxing add to the contrasting light and shade, solid and void, design of the exterior.” She went on to detail interior furnishings of the wing, including the flooring of “manganese brown acid-resistant quarry tiles” and walls covered in “buff-painted Scandinavian jute”; noting especially that “The 65oz bronze deep velvet pile carpet used in the lower galleries and Indian red carpeting on the stairway and upstairs lobbies were special runs by Feltex NZ Ltd.”

The newly austere galleries of the Edmiston Wing provided the perfect stage for the artworks of the Pacific Cities show. This exhibition self-consciously located Auckland in an international network of galleries and museums in a way which prefigured current trends in contemporary art exhibitions. The selection of works was deliberately contemporary and international, with the vast majority of artworks dated within 10 years of the exhibition’s opening in 1971, and several works having been made as recently as 1970.

Ian Fairweather, Epiphany, 1962

Artists were selected because they were seen to represent geographic diversity. The Queensland Art Gallery lent Ian Fairweather's Epiphany, saying 'His art has its roots in that of Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Bali and India and shows particularly the influences of Chinese calligraphic painting and that of the Indian cave paintings of Ajanta.' Other galleries lent works that they felt best demonstrated the cutting-edge work of the young artists of their region, such as the Vancouver Art Gallery with works like Iain Baxter's Bagged Landscape, which is made from vinyl and contains water.

Iain Baxter, Bagged Landscape, 1966

Interestingly, given the current success of exhibitions like the Auckland Triennial and the Asia-Pacific Triennial, which are designed to bring local and international art together, Pacific Cities did not include any New Zealand art. The Gallery’s then director, Gil Docking, wrote in the exhibition catalogue “As the host city, we have allotted our galleries to our guests”, and continued on to comment, “Many of us would like to see the Pacific Cities Loan Exhibition become a triennial event on Auckland’s calendar.”

Monday, 16 May 2011

Easy Listening

Are you aware of the 'Easy Listening' series of art talks? It's a collaboration between Artspace, Elam School of Fine Arts and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.

These free talks by artists, curators and commentators happen on an irregular basis. They are advertised primarily by email - you can find out more about them and sign up for the mailing list here.

The latest Easy Listening talk has been announced and it's on tonight at 6pm. Brazilian art historian, curator and writer Paulo Venancio Filho will present his research on the artist Hélio Oiticica, whose work is currently on show at the Adam Art Gallery.

Find out all the details on our website.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The fixer-uppers

There's an article about our amazing conservation team in the latest Auckland City Harbour News. You can also view it online on - and it comes complete with a slideshow and audio! Well worth a watch to find out more about their work.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The ‘Oto’Ota Fahina Society at the University of Auckland

On 30 April, I attended the ‘Oto’Ota Fahina Society’s official presentation of the remarkable Ngatu that they created at the Fale Pasifika during their recent one month residency. The Society are the first recipients of the inaugural Pacific Heritage Residence Programme that has been co-ordinated by Taylor Taufo’ou and Nina Kinahoi Tonga.

Lolohea Tupouniua presented the Society’s report, in Tongan, and accompanied it with her written translation into English. Her account of the Society’s residency was both fascinating and moving. Lolohea outlined the start of the project, the terms of contract, the service that the Society provided, the properties and equipment that they utilised in their creation of the Ngatu (barkcloth textile), the process of production, the students and visitors that they liaised with and the two workshops that they participated in. Lolohea then summarised the outcome of the Auckland residency.

Tongan Ngatu are among the most important ceremonial textiles created in the Pacific and the ‘Oto’Ota Society are renowned as living national treasures of this ancient tradition. I congratulate Walter Fraser, Director of the Centre for Pacific Studies and everyone else who has been involved for their brilliant initiative in organising this outstanding project. It is the first Pacific Heritage Project organised at a University in Aotearoa.

I realised how significant this was while I watched the Society’s members perform an ancient seated dance after the official ceremonies had concluded. Who will be honoured with the next residency? This is one of the most impressive community outreach programmes organised by the University of Auckland.

I notice that AUT University are soon presenting a workshop with the wonderful Rosanna Raymond. These initiatives are exactly what students need to encounter.