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March 2, 2009 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Look Closer

The calibre of art displayed on university premises is generally accepted as a prime indicator of the cultural sensitivity of that institution. Victoria University of Wellington follows such a mindset, with a collection of predominantly New Zealand art, with a growing focus on pacific art. There are works by key artists, including Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere and Frances Hodgkins.

The collection has three main sources; art that is gifted or bequeathed, art purchased by the university and art that is on temporary and/or permanent loan. The sums of money required to support these avenues are considerable. The net value of works of art and antiques in 2005 was valued at over $6 million.

Diplomacy is also tricky. In April 1999, VUW announced that it intended to sell Colin McCahon’s Storm Warning, causing outrage, both within the university and publicly. Ironically, the funds from the sale have helped fund the construction of the Adam Art Gallery, as well as purchase art works.

It seems a pity for these artworks to go unobserved. It’s possible that the placement of these paintings in such common areas—without the focus of lighting and white walls provided by galleries—mitigates their impact.

A stroll around campus, however, identifies many artworks on display specifically for university students. In the Maclaurin building by the entrance of Galleria is George Johnson’s Supported blue triangle No. 1 (1984), an abstract geometrical composition. For representations of a figure there is Water into Wine, from the New Myths series (1987-1988) by Christine Webster, located in the foyer of the Kelburn campus library. Whilst paintings dominate the collection, there are also the odd sculptures scattered around, such as Fred Graham’s elegant Tane and Tupai (1975), currently also in the library foyer.

For those less inclined to peruse art in the flesh, the Adam Art Gallery website offers an online tour of certain works in the collection.

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