Friday, 31 October 2014

On the Mend

The conservation of Woman with a Floral Wreath from the collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Before treatment: the discolouration of old overpaint over a large tear in the lower right of the painting is very distracting.
Probably late 18th century, Woman with a Floral Wreath is a copy of the work of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805). Scarred by an old tear in the lower right of the canvas – which had become raised and discoloured – our painting has lingered for a number of years in storage awaiting conservation treatment.

First steps

The impetus for treatment centred on that tear. The edges had begun to lift and the retouching was significantly discoloured, no longer integrated with the surrounding original paint. To improve the repair, the old retouching and fill needed to be removed.

But, to complicate matters, the painting was wax-resin lined (a second canvas is adhered to the original) some time ago, but the adhesion had begun to fail. Unfortunately the adhesive was applied unevenly which caused deformations in the original canvas. To remove these, the two needed to be separated and the glue removed. This also allows realignment of the fibres in the tear which would help ensure an almost invisible repair.

Removal of the lining

To protect the surface of the painting, a sheet of strong but flexible tissue paper was adhered to the surface.

Applying facing tissue
The stretcher and lining canvas were then removed. It was exciting to discover newsprint in French still adhered to the stretcher giving further clues to the painting’s provenance. The thick layer of wax resin adhesive was removed as far as possible. After which the painting regained much more flexibility and the deformations relaxed back into plane.

1. Removing the old stretcher  2. The lining canvas, made from cotton duck 3. The original canvas, with a layer of thick uneven wax-resin

Removal of the varnish 

To support the painting during varnish removal and while mending the tear, it was temporarily adhered to a polyester fabric around the perimeter. This was attached to a strainer, allowing safe handling, access to front and back, and air circulation during varnish removal.

The back of the painting made accessible while attached to a temporary strainer during treatment.
A film of discoloured varnish and much of the overpaint was removed, revealing the subtle tonal modelling of the painting.

Halfway through varnish removal, the left side still has a layer of yellowed varnish.

About me

A kiwi paintings conservator, fresh from training and working in Europe, I was looking to gain experience with fellow New Zealand conservators when the chance to be involved in this project arose and I have been preparing this French beauty for a return to the gallery wall.

In my next entry I hope to show the process of repairing the canvas and lining and retouching, and maybe dabble with some technical examination results. Check back soon!

– Genevieve Silvester, Paintings Conservation volunteer

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Gough Whitlam’s cultural legacy – a game-changer for the public imagination

The ‘towering patrician’ and former Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (born 1916) passed away on Tuesday 21 October 2014 at the impressive age of 98. Much has been written and more will be said about this remarkable politician and key figure in Australian politics, both about his achievements and his miscalculations. I would like to make reference here to his formative contribution to culture.

In power for three potent years from 1972 before his dramatic dismissal on 11 November 1975, Whitlam altered the cultural and social climate and helped reshape public imagination. He increased Australia’s ties with Asia, recognised the People’s Republic of China, introduced the health system which later became Medicare, replaced ‘God Save the Queen’ with ‘Advance Australia Fair’ as the national anthem, established the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, ended conscription, introduced free university tuition and expanded justice for Indigenous Australians by granting land rights. He led a new focus on women, the environment and the arts.

On the cultural front Whitlam elevated the Australia Council for the Arts to the level of a separate statutory authority with increased powers, he established the National Film and Television School in Sydney and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. In 1973 Whitlam purchased for the National Gallery, Blue poles, painted in 1952 by Jackson Pollock, at a cost of $1.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a modern painting at the time. The acquisition radically divided public opinion; Whitlam knew its significance and toured the painting across Australia. I remember my excitement seeing the work and its impact on the population, and being rather amused that in the face of outrage, Whitlam used an image of Blue poles as the official government Christmas card. Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret (who passed away in 2012) will be long remembered for their brilliant minds, enormous vitality and fearless vision.

– Rhana Devenport, Director, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Further reading:

Image credit: Gough Whitlam at Old masters – new visions : the Phillips Collection, Australian National Gallery 1987 Photograph: Whitlam Institute. Ref: Guardian Australia

Monday, 20 October 2014

Research and resources

We are Auckland’s wharenui/home for authentic and meaningful engagement with art for all... 

Over the past couple of years, we’ve started working on expanding what we can offer for secondary students and their teachers, and this statement – part of the Gallery’s new purpose/values/vision statement, really resonates with much of our thinking over this time.

We are very conscious that the Gallery and its resources have a lot of possibility for use in schools, with potential applications across a broad range of subject areas. And we know from our stats that many schools aren’t currently accessing these resources – a shame for many reasons, not least because they’re owned by the very people not accessing them!

So, how do we support meaningful and authentic engagement with this institution and its resources, by students and teachers in a diverse range of subjects? Especially when our subject speciality sits most specifically in the Visual Arts and Art History?

What we know is that you can’t have authentic, meaningful engagement if you don’t know your audience well – what’s happening for them, the challenges they face, and the needs they have. If you can understand that, you’re at a point where you can potentially respond to real needs – and ideally you’ve got a great opportunity to collaborate together, and share your varied expertise in creating the best possible resources and experiences for all.

So as part of this push we undertook a small research project earlier this year. We asked 18 teachers from nine schools, in Visual Art, Art History, English and History, to tell us about their experiences and needs. We also shared specifically the types of resources we have available (for example, the art, our physical environment, our staffing expertise, resources like our research library) and asked what they imagined we could do with these that could best benefit their needs. Lots of interesting data came out of these conversations . . . and even more questions for us to follow up in the future! I’ll share more about our findings (and further questions) in the coming months, but wanted now to share a few, and what we’re doing now to start to respond in one area.

All the teachers we talked to:
  • were enthusiastic about the possibilities of engaging with the Gallery and its resources in their subjects, and had lots of ideas about how meaningful connections could be made 
  • needed to teach students visual analysis skills 
  • said that help in doing this would be appreciated, as especially for English and History, this wasn’t something that teachers necessarily felt confident in doing 
  • identified how an important focus in the classroom is in developing students’ research skills 
  • found it difficult to locate accessible, reliable content that could be used to support students in this process; and in relation to art – a serious lack of information on New Zealand (and even international) art, artists and contexts 
In response to the last couple of points, we’ve started a process of developing some of this content, alongside support activities and resources that could be used or adapted for use by teachers both in the classroom and the Gallery.

For two upcoming collection shows on display at the Gallery during Term 4, 2014 and Term 1, 2015 (Age of Turmoil: Art in Germany 1900–1923 and The Social Life of Things) we’ve developed bibliographies of books, articles and websites students can access for further research. Alongside this, for Age of Turmoil, we’ve developed:
  • a PDF with an overview of the show, plus detailed descriptions of a good number of the key works 
  • two videos of the curator – one with him talking to a PowerPoint where he discusses the German context in the period 1900–1923, the other where he shares his curatorial process in developing the show (including photographic images of his planning process) 
  • curriculum aligned worksheets tailored specifically for students of Art History, Visual Art, History and English 
We intend to continue developing resources for future shows, and we’ve got many more ideas for how we could develop these even further, but we’d love your thoughts to help with this. Feel free to let us know any feedback you have on these resources – how they work for you, how they could be improved, plus any other ideas you might have for other resources of any kind.

We’d also love to hear your feedback on the findings shared above – do these reflect your experiences? Is there more you’d like to share, or a different perspective not represented?

Feel free to respond in the comments section below, or email us at with your thoughts.

– Christa Napier-Robertson, Schools Programme Coordinator

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Jonathan Ngarimu Mane-Wheoki (1943–2014)

It is with tremendous sorrow that Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki acknowledges the passing of Professor Jonathan Ngarimu Mane-Wheoki (Ngāpuhi/Te Aupouri/Ngāti Kuri), who died peacefully on the evening of 10 October 2014.

Jonathan will always remain a deeply respected and greatly loved curator, academic and historian in the fields of art, architecture and culture. Since 2010 he has been a pivotal member of Haerewa, Auckland Art Gallery’s Māori Advisory Group, offering invaluable advice and generously sharing his extraordinary knowledge.

Along with his exceptional ability to work effectively and elegantly across the spheres of art, academia and museums, Jonathan has been remarkable in offering both a Māori worldview and a European perspective. His specialist fields deftly spanned art and architecture from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. He has been a highly influential pioneer in the development of contemporary Māori and Pacific art and art history within university and curatorial contexts. In essence, his nuanced understanding defied the categories of academic disciplines and spanned centuries. Jonathan’s contribution is enduring and profound.

Highly respected at home in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally, Jonathan will long be remembered for his brilliant oration and his powerful intellectual support of and advocacy for contemporary Māori art practice, alongside his passionate Māori voice in the fields of art history, architecture, fine arts education, cultural exchange and critical writing.

Although his health was failing, 2014 proved to be an extraordinarily fertile year for Jonathan in his tireless and determined pursuit to advance the place of Māori and Pacific art. In March he travelled to the United Kingdom to speak at an international conference on Pacific art in Cambridge and to contribute to the advisory group for a major forthcoming exhibition, Oceania, at the Royal Academy in London. He also participated in an important colloquium with the Centre Pompidou in Paris which examined the legacy of the formative 1989 exhibition, Les Magiciens de la Terre. These projects reflect the level of esteem in which he was long been held within the international cultural community.

Earlier in 2014, Jonathan contributed a pivotal and spirited essay to the catalogue for Five Māori Painters, an exhibition organised by Auckland Art Gallery. Also this year, Jonathan was deservedly made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts. Recently, in September, he was awarded a medal as Companion of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the citation of which reads: 

‘…Jonathan has contributed significantly to academic and museum circles and has held senior positions that situate him at the forefront in ongoing dialogue about New Zealand’s history and expression in the arts. Through his work at the University of Canterbury from 1975 to 2004, as Senior Lecturer and Dean of Music and Fine Arts, Jonathan has had a major influence on a whole generation of our scholars and curators who themselves are now leaders in the field. His depth of knowledge and his willingness to foster debate and research continue to be an inspiration across our sector.’

Jonathan has published extensively; developed exhibitions, presented lectures and seminars on art, museums and cultural heritage both nationally and internationally. His expertise is widely sought and he has served on numerous advisory and governance bodies throughout his career. In recent years he has divided his time between academia and the museum profession in leadership roles at the University of Auckland and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.’

Jonathan will be greatly missed by a wide community of friends, colleagues, artists and students, all of whom benefited from his remarkable insight, generosity, encouragement, faith, passion and intellectual acumen.

Our thoughts and aroha are with his partner of 35 years, Paul Bushnell, and his sister Moea

Kei konā te aroha me te whakaaro

Hei maumaharatanga ki te tino hoa

– Rhana Devenport, Director, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki