Friday, October 30, 2015

Toi o Tāmaki: Auckland Art Gallery

image courtesy eventfinda
The Maori words Toi o Tāmaki are a literal translation of the English: Auckland Art Gallery. In backlit steel they run together across the polished stone exterior of the museum. I love that the two languages are given equal footing. From the permanent signage affixed to the building, to museum publications, website and even to the T-shirts worn by gallery staff, the institution is consistently identified in both languages.

As striking as that is to someone like me who is visiting New Zealand from the U.S. for the first time, it is hardly the most distinctive thing about the museum. The main entrance is a soaring atrium space with tall timber columns that flare outwards overhead like the canopy of the forested park into which the building is nestled. I found it exceptionally beautiful when I was there but I’ve since learned that it’s also internationally renowned.

The World Architecture Festival (“the world’s largest architectural event,” according to its website) named the Auckland Art Gallery as the Building of the Year for 2013. If I hadn’t had the good fortune to visit New Zealand I would never have known.

The collection was as interesting as the architecture and includes what seemed to me a healthy mix of Maori and European-oriented artists. I’ve always enjoyed visiting places like this where you get to see outstanding work that falls outside the canons of Western art historical convention. I didn’t take any photos inside the galleries but I enjoyed seeing the site-specific work of New Zealand artist John Ward Knox that was installed around the outside of the building.

Hardly Held Lightly, John Ward Knox
Clearly referencing natural, delicate and ephemeral spider webs, these not only are enormous and made of industrial-strength steel chain link. They also, literally as well as metaphorically, connect the architectural structure with the surrounding trees, thus reinforcing the architect’s vision of the gallery as a haven within the protective environment of the forest.

To see a slide show of the award-winning gallery, click here

To see a series of photos from Australia and New Zealand, go to my flickr album.