Mathew Norman is like a kid in a candy store. Only instead of sweet treats, the objects of his desire can be found in Auckland Art Gallery’s collection of historic works on paper.
Mathew joined the Gallery in July as assistant curator. It’s not his first
time on staff – in 2008 he was awarded a Marylyn
Mayo internship and spent nine weeks researching a staggering 1,500
Prior to joining the Gallery, Mathew worked in the print collection at the
British Museum in London, where he received two prestigious scholarships. He’s
also worked at Te Papa, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and at the
National Gallery of Ireland… and in a dairy factory.
Mathew is responsible for the international print collection, supporting
Mary Kisler in her role as Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International
Art. He also facilitates visits to the Gallery’s print room and supervises
students and visitors as they examine the artworks.
One of the biggest drawcards of the role for Mathew was access to the
Gallery’s collection. “This is one of the three finest collections in New
Zealand from an historical perspective – and we have a superb print collection
with real depth, which makes it possible to produce exhibitions and scholarship
The Gallery’s collection of more than 15,000 artworks contains a large
number of objects by unknown artists. Mathew is undertaking research to help
‘fill in the gaps’, and has already had some success in identifying artists. At
the end of October he’ll be presenting
a talk about a seventeenth-century oil painting titled Battle Scene,
which he believes he’s been able to attribute to a specific artist. “I’m
awaiting the opinion of an expert in the Netherlands, but the evidence points to
the artist I have identified,” he says.
On top of this, Mathew’s busy planning an exhibition called Travels with
Mr Hollar which will open in early 2013. It will be the Gallery’s first
large-scale exhibition of work by 17th century Bohemian artist Wenceslaus
So how do curators put together an exhibition? “I get the impression people
think we just dream up a list of objects and throw them up on the wall or onto
plinths – of course it’s not that easy. There’s a huge amount of teasing out of
the relationships between the works that has to be done. There has to be a
rationale and it has to be obvious to visitors.”
Mathew says the best part of his job is the hands-on access to artworks.
“I’m not a theoretician. I’m about the objects themselves,” he says. “I consider
myself very lucky to be able to work with objects of real international
When he’s not poring over prints, Mathew enjoys cheese and baroque music,
and is currently dreaming of setting up his own vegetable garden.