City Gallery reopens on 3 March with the exhibition This Is New Zealand. Taking over the entire building, this expansive show explores the role art has played in asserting and questioning notions of New Zealand national identity. It takes a critical look at the stories we’ve told ourselves—and the stories we’ve told others—about who we are.
The exhibition is curated by Robert Leonard and Aaron Lister. Their thinking started with works sent to represent New Zealand at the world’s pre-eminent contemporary art show, the Venice Biennale. Although the Biennale has been running for over 100 years, New Zealand has only been going since 2001 and our participation declares our desire to be ‘international’. However, some of the artists New Zealand has sent have used the opportunity to tackle themes of national identity, playing on the Biennale’s old-school national-pavilion structure. This Is New Zealand includes Venice works by Michael Stevenson (2003), Michael Parekowhai (2011), and Simon Denny (2015).
Alongside the Venice Biennale works, the exhibition includes works New Zealand has commissioned for other international exhibitions and diplomatic contexts. These include Marcus King paintings for the 1939 New York World’s Fair; John Drawbridge’s mural for New Zealand House in London; This Is New Zealand, a three-screen film made by Hugh Macdonald at the National Film Unit for Expo ’70 in Osaka; and photographic works by Michael Parekowhai and Fiona Pardington, gifted to Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly by the New Zealand government in 2006.
There are also new projects exploring national iconography. Gavin Hipkins’s The Homely II is a frieze of eighty photos shot on touristic excursions in New Zealand and Britain. Bronwyn Holloway-Smith’s The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour is an inquiry into New Zealand telecommunications infrastructure, which evolved out of a project to restore an E Mervyn Taylor’s ceramic mural representing Maui fishing up the North Island. For The National Basement, Emil McAvoy re-presents archival photos from the National Publicity Studios that document old promotional displays. He offers a ‘behind-the-scenes view’ usually hidden in the pictorial presentation of New Zealand. Plus there are films, TV ads, and vintage New Zealand Railways posters.
‘This Is New Zealand teases out connections between images, ideology, and identity. It reflects on who we thought we were and who we think we are. It presses the question of who and what is included and excluded in our representations of national identity. Is this New Zealand?’, says Robert Leonard.
This Is New Zealand opening weekend events (3–4 March) will include artist talks, discussions, and tours. More details will be available soon.
This Is New Zealand
3 March–15 July 2018
City Gallery Wellington
This Is New Zealand is part of the New Zealand Festival.