Art Guide

Auckland art galleries, exhibitions, news and editorial.

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Auckland City: The contemporary art scene

With an urban population of just over one and a half million, and one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, Auckland has a range of galleries and art institutions pitched to different communities. Located downtown next to Albert Park is the city's premier institution, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, a European-style art museum that opened in 1888. It has several leading collections of contemporary and historic works—local, national, and international—and presents The Walters Prize every two years, the country's main contemporary art award.

Other significant Council-funded institutions like Te Tuhi in Pakuranga, Te Uru in Titirangi, Artspace Aotearoa and Audio Foundation in Karangahape Rd, and Objectspace in Ponsonby focus more specifically on innovative contemporary art, sonic art and experimental music, design and craft. Artspace Aotearoa and Te Tuhi, in particular, have seasoned and perceptive art directors from overseas, Remco de Blaaij (Netherlands) and Gabriela Salgado (Argentina), who clearly maintain their long-distance connections.

Two university galleries of note in the inner city are the newly revamped Gus Fisher (University of Auckland) and ST Paul St (AUT). Both present national and international programmes, but ST Paul St is especially focused on Pasifika and Māori culture and art with a socially and globally transformative agenda.

There are at least two dozen commercial galleries in Auckland, a few in the inner city, and many along the Karangahape Rd 'art mile.' Two Rooms in Putiki St presents an interesting mixture of photography, works on paper, sculpture and painting. Documentary photography and domestic-sized—but innovative—painting are proprietor Jenny Todd's trademarks, her time running a gallery in London perhaps influencing her programme. Her selection of New Zealand (say, Mark Adams, Joyce Campbell, Julia Morison), Australian (John Nixon), British (Sarah Lucas, David Shrigley, Basil Beattie), Dutch (Jan van der Ploeg) and German (Joachim Bandau) artists is a distinctive combination.

Michael Lett and Andrew Thomas's converted bank in East St—with a walk-in safe turned into a basement gallery, wonderfully 'archaeological' mosaic floors, and ornate ceilings—is easily the most intriguing gallery in the city. The Lett Gallery's New Zealand and international art, mostly comprising of installation or performance, is conspicuously 'edgy'. Martin Creed, Simon Denny, Dan Arps, Jim Allen, Kate Newby and Jacqueline Fraser are good examples.

As an architectural contrast, Starkwhite on Karangahape Rd presents art in a converted strip club that has a spectacular staircase connecting an elegant large downstairs space to an array of smaller galleries upstairs. Directors John McCormack and Dominic Feuch's line up of mainly Australian and New Zealand artists include contemporary conceptualists The Estate of L. Budd and Billy Apple, photographers Fiona Pardington and Gavin Hipkins, video and performance artists Grant Stevens and Alicia Frankovich, and historic figures Gordon Walters and Len Lye, among others.

With such a diverse and complex art community overall, Auckland's art experience opportunities are abundant for those with the necessary enthusiasm and energy.

Image: Auckland City view from Mount Eden. Photo: Francisco Anzola (CC BY 2.0).

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Michael Lett contemporary art gallery in Karangahape Road, Auckland, New Zealand
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Starkwhite contemporary art gallery in Auckland, New Zealand
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Two Rooms contemporary art gallery in Auckland, New Zealand
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