Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The idea being floated by the chair and board members of Te Papa that they should spend $100 million of our money to build a new National Art Gallery, next door to the one that they already spent $300 million on and got wrong, would be a grand joke if it were not outrageous. The Dominion Post floats the argument that since they [Te Papa] have struggled to make their museum fit the "role of a national art gallery" they have had to stick the art the attic and should now be allowed to build a real national art gallery.
This is breathtakingly wrong.
Te Papa was to be built as the national museum and the national art gallery.
The board and the government got it wrong.
They were told they were going to get it wrong.
They went ahead any way.
The original concept of the Museum of New New Zealand was for a family of four museums sharing some common facilities but each with its own separate museum function.
One of those was the national art gallery.
That idea was dumped in favour of some all-purpose, iconic building in which the art had to find a place in the attic because nobody had thought better where it might go.
Nobody made the Te Papa board do that.
It did it to itself.
It did not listen to any criticism or accept any professional input.
In fact it sacked from its staff and from its board anyone who said the idea would fail.
Te Papa has failed the nation's art.
And we are now asked to cough up $100 million to solve the problems Te Papa built.
Think again.
There are much better ways of delivering the nation's art collections to the nation that owns them than building yet another monument to the Wellington brand.
For $100 million we could build fine exhibition halls in Auckland and Christchurch and show the nation's art to most of the country's population.
We should build around those exhibition halls a genuinely national museum service which could show works from those collections every where else galleries exist - which is in almost ever population centre.
The wretched thing about all this is that Te Papa has not only failed as an art museum it has failed as a museum per se.
It is a mall not a museum.
New Zealanders deserves more than that.


  1. Agree. I'm all for touring bits of our national collection. Payoff: More of us get to see it, our regional galleries get more traffic, art becomes a bigger part of our national consciousness. Or we could build another tourist mall for it in Wellington.

  2. Te Papa locks away their prints of paintings from our national art collection as well as the actual paintings themselves. Our company (NZ Fine Prints - NZ's largest art print store established in 1966) had been a large wholesale customer of Te Papa Store since it opened. Two years ago Te Papa suddenly stopped the wholesale supply of prints by NZ artists to art stores & galleries like NZ Fine Prints (we were ordering 20-30 prints at a time). Prints (from eg the Rita Angus retrospective) sit unsold in Wellington while art retailers like us can't supply prints of some of NZ's most popular paintings to customers. Commercial madness that significantly affects part of the NZ art industry and Te Papa management won't respond except to say the person who used to deal with wholesale customers has left!

  3. I'm all for the idea of having exhibition halls in Christchurch and Auckland. Wellington had their chance to build a significant space for our artwork and blew it by morphing our 'national gallery' into the cultural supermarket which is Te Papa.
    The collection belongs to the people - so let us see more than a fraction of it outside of Welly, please!