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b. 1957, New Zealand

Mary-Louise Browne Biography

Mary-Louise Browne is a New Zealand artist known for her use of text on traditional sculptural forms, in particular, presenting meticulously chosen words on stone blocks to make single units that are presented sequentially. Usually, in these transmutations, the number of letters in each word is consistent, with a single letter changing each time to reveal, in their progression, a witty aphorism.

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Early Years

Mary-Louise Browne lives and works in Auckland as an art administrator. She graduated from Elam in Auckland in 1982 with an MFA, majoring in sculpture that explored printing, as in works such as Black And/Or White (1982), installation and performance. Early on she used marble plaques to state installation titles and came to realise that words were sufficiently interesting as an experience and a subject matter in themselves.

Exhibiting with the Wellington collective, 100m2, in 1980, and in ANZART in Hobart in 1983, her early projects were performance-based installations and wall drawings, involving repeated actions, as in Beyond the Pale (1980) and Working Conditions (1983), that looked at women's labour. These then became installations using a few words as wall-based images or ground-based works such as Truly Rural (1984).

Use of Language

Browne's early text works eventually became simple phrases or single words on sensual materials like granite, marble, neon lights, paper, onyx and gold leaf, copper, satin or leather. They heightened her interest in conceptual artists like Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, and later, Martin Creed, showing how language can become ambiguous or elastic in its meaning. Font shape and thickness became crucial components, used to influence interpretations of the works, as was the texture of the surface and the thickness of the written-on material.


Her later creation of inscribed seats or steps (with very considered fonts) reflected her interest in the movement of the body and how it affects the eye and subsequent thought processes. Painted leather panels in the early 2000s describing women's 'ideal' body parts continued her interest in feminism and how traditional gender roles can affect art production.

Sometimes she has appropriated phrases, like the 2010 neon Don't let it get you, its title taken from the 1966 Pacific Film that starred Howard Morrison. Ten years later the work gained national publicity when the then Director-General of Health for New Zealand, Ashley Bloomfield was interviewed on television giving a Covid report in front of the artwork on Wellington's Taranaki St where it was being exhibited by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

Her positions working in galleries include working at the Dowse under James Mack in the early 1980s, inaugural director of Artspace (1983—9), and later running Snowwhite Gallery at Unitec. She is currently working with gallery-owner Jenny Todd at Two Rooms, Auckland.

Seminal Mary-Louise Browne artworks include:Black Sash (1986); Truly Rural (1984); Ouroborus (1990); Untitled (Deaf/Mute) (1990); Long Legs (2002); Tiny Feet (2002); and Oval Face (2005).


Mary-Louise Browne has been the subject of many solo and group exhibitions.

Recent solo exhibitions include: Grand, The Dowse (2022); Strange Loop, Bartley & Company Art (2022);Out of Character, City Gallery Wellington (2000);Seeing is Believing, Objectspace (2000); White Satin, Bartley & Company Art (2018); Picturing, Bartley & Company Art (2016).

Recent group exhibitions include: SCAPE Public Art Seasons, Christchurch (2019); All Lines Converge, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (2016); Partner Dance, Auckland Art Gallery (2013); Just the Right White, Bartley & Company Art (2011); Language Matters, Adam Art Gallery (2000); Word: International Language Artists, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney (1999).

Public Commissions

Font, St Patrick's Square, 2009; Byword, Lorne St, Auckland (2007); Meteorol, Brick Bay Sculpture Trail (2006); Seven Steps to Heaven, Civic Square, Wellington (2000); Body to Soul, Wellington Botanical Gardens (1996).

Awards and Accolades

Artist residency / exhibition, Taipei Artists Village, Taiwan (2010).

Mary-Louise Browne's work is included in the collections of several galleries and institutions.

Selected collections include Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, The Chartwell Collection, The National Library, Wellington, The Suter, Nelson, The Dowse Museum, Lower Hutt.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2023

Mary-Louise Browne
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