City Gallery

Flashback Wall Text

This exhibition, a survey of the short history of the Wellington City Art Gallery, has been organised to herald the shift of the gallery from its current location. As part of the Civic Centre Development it is planned that the gallery be shifted this year to an interim and temporary structure on the corner of Chews Lane and Victoria Street. The intention being that a new library be built on the old gallery site and that in the medium term the gallery be permanently housed in a refurbished old Public Library building.

The gallery has always had a strong association with the library and in fact the library led Wellington City Council involvement in the exhibition and communication of the visual arts The library opened in 1940 and until 1947 held a series of displays in the corridor on the first floor.

From 1947-49, larger one person exhibitions were held in the magazine room on the ground floor. Exhibitions held there included solo exhibitions by senior figures in New Zealand art, figures such as Colin McCahon, Sir Tosswell Woollaston and Gordon Walters. The exhibition programme finished in 1949.

The library too has a tradition of having original New Zealand artworks available for loan. This ban collection has recently been bolstered by a group of contemporary New Zealand prints selected in association with the gallery.

During the 1960’s, calls began to mount for the establishment of a civic art gallery with a specific commitment to the people of Wellington. As far back as the late 1960’s there was informal discussion on the building of a new library with a suggestion that the old library be converted into a civic art gallery.

In the mid-1970’s the City Council began discussing the establishment of a City Gallery and in 1978 the Council announced the refurbishing of the premises at 65 Victoria Street, with the gallery officially opening in 1980. Up until 1987 the gallery was run as a section of the public library, and is now administered through the administration department of council along with the Michael Fowler Centre and Public Relations Office.

This small exhibition looks at the gallery’s history since the exhibition Opening in 1980. Through this history we can see that the gallery, which does not manage a collection of art works, has maintained a vigorous and diverse programme of exhibitions and events consistent with its policy.

As we plan for our move into our permanent home it is intended to address, in a more substantial way, certain areas of the policy that to date have been limited. During the course of the exhibition, we will announce the date of shift to the Chews Lane gallery and will launch a publication that will state our policy and outline fully our plans for the future.


Wellington City Art Gallery Timeline 1980-1988

April Fools Day 1980

Seddon Bennington, former Director of the Otago Early Settlers Museum starts as Director of the Wellington City Art Gallery. Two months later, the Cultural Committee recommends:

That the general policy of the Wellington City Art Gallery be as follows:

‘The general policy of the City Art Gallery is to reflect the aspirations of artists working in the Wellington area, and to represent and promote an appreciation of the various aspects of contemporary activity in the arts in New Zealand and overseas. This will be achieved by a programme of temporary, non-commercial exhibitions arranged by the Gallery in collaboration with artists, and private and public collections,’ and that space should not initially be devoted to a permanent display of art works due to a lack of space to store an art collection, funds to purchase works, as well as there being several significant collections already established in the Wellington region. (From a recommendation to the Cultural Committee from the City Librarian; approved 4th July, 1979).

The gallery is administered through the Library Department of the Wellington City Council. The budget for 1980 is $40,000 from the Wellington City Council, including $3,000 from the Art Galleries and Museum Scheme (Internal Affairs) for capital works and $15,000 for refurbishing.

August, an artist-in-residency scheme is proposed, whereby money is made available for an artist to work with the Wellington City Art Gallery. It is being investigated as a possibility in lieu of a collection.

September 23, the Wellington City Art… Gallery opens to calls for trumpets and drums and cries of ‘at last it’s open!’ and ‘at last Wellington has a City Art Gallery!’ The Mayor, Michael Fowler cuts the tape on the Makower-McBeath building at 65 Victoria Street. The building is now 82 years old, with an exhibition floor space of 265 square metres. There are three full-time staff: Director, Exhibitions Officer, and Technician, assisted by PEP Scheme workers. Hours 10-4.30 weekdays, 1-4.30 weekends, with shows running approximately four to six weeks.



Attendance for the year September 1980 – September 1981, an estimated 44677.

Full-time staff reduced to three people with the graphic designer lost when the six-month term ended.

The Wellington City Council Town Planning Committee meets to discuss the old BNZ building on the corner of Customhouse and Lambnton Quays in February. Along with a recommendation that the new BNZ building under construction at this time be demolished and the old one kept, is a proposal that the old building be kept for an art gallery.

The present site at 65 Victoria Street is seen only as a very temporary space and a permanent home, such as the old Wellington Public Library building as part of the Civic Centre development, or some other temporary space in the meantime, are continually being looked into.

The Greer Twiss show A Survey 1959 – 1981 is the first major touring exhibition instituted by the gallery and the first large scale retrospective of this highly respected artists. It coincides with the gallery’s first anniversary and includes another first, the gallery’s first major catalogue.



In May Seddon Beddington resigns, saying that the gallery has a lot of support, but emphasizing the fact that it is, ‘Falling short of its responsibilities, staff were frustrated, work was not given the attention demanded and the gallery’s frontage was unsatisfactory’. (Evening Post 10.5.82).

Friends of the Wellington City Art Gallery set up in August, with goals of, ‘supporting and gallery and offering special events and experience with art for members’ (Policy statement 1984). The Friends help fund various projects including some openings which the gallery would otherwise have to apply to council for. At this stage, every individual occasion held at the gallery requires an application to council.

Barton Marine, dubbed Arctic Marine by those that work in it, situated in Harris Street behind the gallery becomes available for storage of exhibition equipment.

Also in August, Anne Philbin appointed as new director of the Wellington City Art Gallery. Along with the two permanent staff, Dave Kent, Exhibition Designer and Dave Thompson, Gallery Technician and PEP workers, Anne runs a ‘very collective effort’, all feeling very strongly that it, ‘is the Wellington City Art Gallery and it is for the people in Wellington’. (Interview with Anne Philbin 14.11.88).



The first Education Officer Andrea Robinson is appointed, so the first school holidays art programmes are implemented.

‘The Souvenir Trade: Debasing a Culture’ is the first exhibition held at an off-site location at ‘Temporary Space’ 58-60 Victoria Street, opposite the gallery building.

Exhibitions are still not scheduled upstairs due to a lack of funds to do the necessary alterations. Also, the building is an earthquake risk so Anne Philbin and the staff’s attitude is that it would be better to just get out of the building and into anywhere. Hence, the old BNZ building and other buildings are mooted. The old library buildings, ever since 1974, is seen as a viable gallery space. Anne is keen for the new library building to be built, so the gallery can shift into the old Central Library building where, interestingly, art exhibitions were held during the forties (see chronology).



The first major regional survey ‘Wellington ’84’ where Wellington artists are invited to submit work for display. The Mayor, Ian Lawrence, describes the gallery as ‘incredibly small’ and states, ‘It is certainly time for the Wellington City Council to look for a new home for its own gallery and to provide adequate space and resources for this purpose. Hopefully, good and reasoned decisions will be made in the not too distant future which will ensure a permanent home for the City Art Gallery….’ (Wellington ’84 catalogue, April 1984).

September, Vivian Manthel is employed as the first guest curator, separate from the gallery, in organising the ‘Water/Clay’ exhibition. In this show pairs of watercolour painters and ceramicists in the Wellington area work together to create a joint project.



In April Anne Philbin resigns, stating one of her reasons as the low salary ($25000). She leaves for Mana College as head of the art department, ‘For which I will earn several thousand dollars extra a year…My job requires an enormous amount of expertise. When you work from a gallery that is not beautiful or grand – that does not even have a fridge or public toilets for functions – you have to sell your ideas. You have to work that much harder’. (Dominion 29.6.85).

Two months later, now June John Leuthart is named Director by the Wellington City Council Cultural Committee (responsible for all the cultural activities of the Wellington City Council). He comes from the Dowse Art Museum where he was Education Officer and says of the gallery, ‘It has a responsibility to the people of the inner city’. (Dominion 14.6.85) Both he and the Chairman of the Cultural Committee are ‘excited’ about the forthcoming move of the gallery from Victoria Street to the old BNZ building. However, by November, this proposed temporary space is replaced by the new proposal to move to the old Chews Lane Post Office site at 50-52 Victoria Street while the new Civic Centre is being built.



In February, the Print Workshop, under the umbrella of the Wellington Arts Centre Trust since 1982 moves to 57 Victoria Street, adjacent to the gallery and opens as the Print Studio. It aims to be a printmaking studio of international standards with educational courses and a maintenance of the artist-in-residence programme.

March sees the first artist-in-residency established with the American artist, Robert Shay. The artist-in-residency scheme means that money is provided for an artist to be paid to work with the Wellington City Art Gallery. The earliest policy statements allowed for this money in lieu of a permanent collection. There is no room for Robert Shay at the gallery or the studio, so he works out at Eastbourne for three months, as well as teaching throughout the country.

The upstairs space on the first floor is properly converted to exhibition space and opens with Jurgen Waibel’s sculpture in June. This is also the first of the Installation/Project Series which runs continuously upstairs for 12 projects until August next year. An Outdoor Temporary Sculpture Programme on the library’s front lawn is started. Matt Pine is the first to use the site in September. The rear lawn was used, however, in 1956, for an independent open-air art display (see chronology).



The 1987 Print Series, organised by Education Officer and printmaker Jill McIntosh, begins in March. The Print Series is a compilation of 18 exhibitions of printmakers and artists making prints which runs throughout this year.

Also this March, the ‘Wellington-Sydney Sister Cities Exhibition’ opens as the first exhibition held in the Michael Fowler Centre.

The first Curator, Gregory Burke, whose responsibilities include organising shows for the Wellington City Art Gallery and advising on the Wellington City Council’s own collection of art works, is appointed in May.

During this time, exhibition change from running four to six weeks to eight to ten weeks on average, to allow for more background to be given to exhibition.

September and the Wellington City Art Gallery is made a separate department of the Wellington City Council, instead of being a section of the library. An advisory board is set up at this time to marry various representatives of the community with the City Council, managing the ongoing work of the gallery and reporting back to the Cultural Committee.

Robyn Kahukiwa, the second artist-in-residence begins in September and the third floor of the gallery building opens for her to work in. There is a whakawatea, a clearing and blessing of the space by the Haeta (Women’s Collective).



The position of Exhibitions Manager who is responsible for the setting up and maintenance of exhibitions is established with the appointment of Mark Roach.

A new policy statement is drawn up, with objectives, ‘To provide a people orientated, professional facility, which presents a programme of art, cultural issue and event in the centre city’.

The temporary Chews Lane site goes through a few more planning stages, including the addition of two more floors to the building and a date for the move is proposed: June 1989.

The gallery hours are extended to a standard 10-6pm, 7 days a week, with a later night on Wednesdays. This is the ‘Every Wednesday Night’ programme when the gallery stays open until 8pm with live acts, lectures, seminars and bands.

During the Art’s Festival this year, three artists join in a ‘City Sculpture Sites’ idea, whereby they exhibit in Manners Mall; Frank Kitts Park, Jervois Quay; and the airport. The gallery space is changed to a wharewhakairo for the exhibition ‘Whakamamae’, altering the exhibition space to create one that is essentially Maori.

At the end of 1988, there are nine full-time staff and several part-time staff working on the desk, security and with exhibitions. Chews Lane is still to be the next temporary site and the Wellington Public Library, the first permanent space for the Wellington City Art Gallery.


Wellington City Art Gallery Chronology

1974 Civic Centre Report and Development Plan by Professor R T Kennedy provides for the conversion of the library building into a gallery.

1975 Discussion about a city art gallery first comes to the floor in council.

1978 Announced that the ground floor of 65 Victoria Street be converted to a city art gallery under departmental control of the Wellington Public Library.

1979 Report from the City Librarian, Brian McKeon on the “Civic Art Gallery”. In November Seddon Bennington appointed Director of the Wellington City Art Gallery.

1980 Seddon Bennington takes up the position of Director. Gallery opens to the public, 24 September 1980, situated at 65 Victoria Street.

1981 Greer Twiss show: A major retrospective and the first touring show initiated by the gallery. First proposals that the gallery move to the old BNZ building, corner Customhouse and Lambton Quays.

1982 Seddon Bennington resigns as Director. Anne Philbin appointed as the new Director. Friends of the Wellington City Art Gallery begins.

1983 First Education Officer appointed. School holidays programmes begin. The Souvenir Trade: Debasing a Culture is the first exhibition held off-site.

1984 Wellington ’84 the first major regional survey, held. First guest curator employed for Water/Clay show.

1985 Anne Philbin resigns, John Leuthart appointed Director. BNZ temporary space proposal dropped. Other possibilities include a move into the Chews Lane Post Office on Victoria Street while the Civic Centre is being built and before the gallery moves into the Wellington Public Library building.

1986 The Print Studio, formerly Print Workshop opens at 57 Victoria Street. First artist-in-residence, Robert Shay. Outdoor Temporary Sculpture Programme begins on the front lawn of the Wellington Public Library. Start of the ‘Installation/Project Series’ in the upstairs gallery.

1987 ‘1987 Print Series’ runs throughout this year. Michael Fowler Centre used for an exhibition for the first time. First gallery Curator appointed. Gallery. the Wellington City Council, independent of the Wellington Public Library. Gallery advisory board set up. Third floor of the gallery building opens for the second artist-in-residence. Wellington City Council report that the gallery building, 65 Victoria Street, must be demolished or secured against earthquakes within eight years.

1988 City Sculpture Sites utilised during the Arts Festival. Position of Exhibitions Manager established. Gallery hours extended to 10-6 pm, six days a week and until 8pm with the Wednesday Night Series. Chews Lane proposal continuing.