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February 24, 2014 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Something Big and Something Little

Well, here we are, New Zealand’s self-proclaimed cultural capital and what do we have to show for it? Quite a bit, as it happens. Whether you’re in need of shade, shelter or an education in pretending to be sophisticated, Wellington has art space for you.


Ngā Toi | Te Papa

Level 5, 55 Cable St, open 10 am – 6 pm daily

Right on the waterfront, inside a hulking concrete mass, lives our national art collection. Granted, only a tiny, tiny fraction of it is ever on display, but the team at Te Papa do a pretty good job considering their limitations. There’s tepid discussion, every year or so, of building a more adequate home for our goodies, but it’s invariably hushed by insistence on the financial impracticalities of such a project. In the meantime, you can catch a pretty exciting rolling exhibition programme across 11 galleries. All your canonical faves are there, as well as a pretty solid collection of British modernist paintings. Among the displays right now: Michael Stevenson’s 2003 Venice Biennale entry, This is the Trekka, and a spotlight on painter Petrus van der Velden.

City Gallery

Civic Square, open 10 am – 5 pm daily

Located in Wellington’s former public library, City Gallery is a gauche mix of neoclassical grandeur and Spartan steel and glass. As New Zealand’s largest non-collection gallery, there’s plenty of room for an exhibition programme that’s compelling and broad. Right now: catch Turner Prize winner Simon Starling’s retrospective In Speculum (until 18 May) and South of no North featuring William Eggleston, Laurence Aberhart and Noel McKenna (until 9 March). While you’re there, head along to the adjoining Nikau Cafe. It’s the best. Apparently. I can’t personally endorse the kedgeree, but I can, without hesitation, tell you I’m sick of hearing people telling me how great it is.

Adam Art Gallery

Kelburn Campus (between Student Union and Old Kirk), open 11 am – 5 pm, Tues–Sun

So you have an hour or so between lectures; the Hub is overstimulating, the Overbridge smells weird: what do you do with yourself? Well, you could take a stroll around Adam Art Gallery.  Featuring a regularly changing programme of works from leading international and local artists, as well as frequent film screenings, lectures, and artist talks, Adam provides a means to withdraw from the cacophony of campus life and to engage with world-class contemporary and historical art. Or you could do something else; I don’t know, I’m not your mother.

On right now: Cinema and Painting, art from the intersection of the moving and static image, featuring work from Len Lye, Jim Davis and Judy Millar.

The Dowse Art Museum

45 Laings Rd, Lower Hutt, open 10 am – 5 pm daily   

Take a 20-minute bus ride out of the city and you’ll find yourself among one of the most innovative and engaging spaces in the country. As a work of architecture, the building is stunning. The Dowse was completely remodelled in 2013, and features a façade by artist Simon Morris. The museum has a particularly strong ceramics and textiles collection, and displays large-scale exhibitions from local, provincial and international artists. On now: Slip Cast, recent work by New Zealand ceramicists, Peter Robinson: Tribe Subtribe.



Enjoy has one of the most consistently articulate, challenging and thrilling exhibition programmes in the city. It’s a pretty tiny space, and kind of difficult to find (Level 1, 147 Cuba St), but I promise you won’t be disappointed. (Or maybe you will be; I don’t know you.) Wellington’s home of outsider art, ROAR! (189 Vivian St), presents work from artists, many of whom are self-trained, operating creatively outside of institutional frameworks. How kooky. Thistle Hall (293 Cuba St) is a community art space which hosts a regularly changing programme of work from emerging local artists and groups. Matchbox Studios (166 Cuba St) may be the cutest little gallery in town; they welcome all sorts. With a two-week exhibition schedule and a relatively open brief, there’s always something worth seeing. 30 Upstairs is a collector-run gallery on Courtenay Place. The space is not-for-profit run, and therefore isn’t restricted to presenting work for a market. Rather, their interest lies in showcasing exciting work from emerging artists with shows that are expansive, ambitious and intriguing.

Dealer galleries are a little trickier. You see, unlike public institutions, they don’t really rely on you to justify their existence (unless of course you recently won a couple of Grammy Awards, or your parents own three homes). They’re hardly welcoming places, but they’re worth a look if you can summon the courage. The big five – Bartley + Co, Hamish McKay, Bowen GalleriesPeter McLeavey and {Suite} – are all located near the Cuba/Ghuznee intersection, and between them represent some pretty big names, including Ans Westra, Fiona Pardington, Robin White, Julian Dashper and Peter Trevelyan. My suggestions to make the experience sufferable: drape yourself in your finest black linens; scowl a lot; if anyone tries making eye contact, release a banshee wail from the deepest part of your lungs.

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