From grand Old Masters to significant contemporary works by Ngāi Tahu artists, a very special collection of pieces from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery are now on display for the first time as part of recently opened exhibition Huikaau – where currents meet.
Words Rebecca Fox
Works from a senior Ngāi Tahu contemporary artist, a Rita Angus watercolour, a major Joanna Paul work and a monumental urban landscape by an international artist are among recent acquisitions now on display for the first time in Dunedin.
New exhibition Huikaau – where currents meet celebrates the past, present, and future of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (DPAG) collection.
Not only are there significant new works on display, but also for the first time there are works from the Paemanu contemporary Ngāi Tahu art collection. These are on loan to the gallery, and are being exhibited alongside selected works from the gallery’s permanent collection.
For curators Lucy Hammonds and Lauren Gutsell it’s an exciting time.
“It has been a journey of discovery and an opportunity to celebrate some of the major collecting that has happened over the last few years,” Lucy says.
They include Ross Hemera’s (Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tahu) ‘Horotea ngā tapuae i te awa’, which was created in the gallery this year, Rita Angus’ watercolour ‘Lake Wanaka, Pembroke’ (1939), Joanna Margaret Paul’s ‘Panoply’ (1984) and visiting artist Yang Yongliang’s ‘Artificial Wonderland II, Travelers among Mountains and Streams’ (2014).
DPAG, which was New Zealand’s first civic collection of art when established in Dunedin in 1884, regularly showcases its collection in a major exhibition covering its ground floor galleries with the aim of taking a deeper look at the collection.
In this exhibition, the curators wanted to look at the history of the collection, its importance nationally and internationally, as well as display works that have not or have rarely been exhibited.
It has also been a chance for the gallery to continue the collaborative approach it took with the recent Paemanu: Tauraka Toi exhibition co-curated by a team of senior Ngāi Tahu contemporary artists and trustees.
For the new exhibition, Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou and Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, and in particular Claire Kaahu White, Robert Sullivan and Paulette Tamati-Elliffe have worked alongside gallery staff to select works in a variety of media that speak of “place and journeys, of memories and symbols of loss and reclamation”. The works were made from 1914 to 2021.
“In the main, Kai Tahu artists with mana whenua connections to Ōtākou, Puketeraki, and Moeraki were selected for the taumata toi,” Claire says.
So the exhibition has been named ‘Huikaau’ as it references a particular place at the mouth of Otago Harbour where the ocean currents join the harbour.
“Conceptually, it’s a way of thinking about the different currents in the collection and how this exhibition can weave them together and create a meeting point for those different currents that run through the collection,” Lucy says.
White says those meeting points, or nohoaka, refer to places where Ngāi Tahu stayed to gather kai and the trails that took Māori from inland to the coast gathering kai.
“The theme of water runs throughout the works, sustainer of life, carrier of voyagers, the beginning and the end.”
For her, the journey in the gallery begins in D Gallery with the first nohoaka, and from there visitors can follow the trail through the other galleries to view works that “supported and sometimes interrupted those themes”.
A key work in D Gallery is the small Eva (Iwa) Burns’ (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe, Waitaha) oil painting of Lake Hāwea from 1914, which is on loan from the Hocken Collections.
“That became a critical and important link … ostensibly her work is of the landscape genre, but the story behind this work became very important to the mauri [life force or essence] of this exhibition.”
Moving into the Port Otago Gallery those aspects are woven together with Hemera’s just-completed works referencing the Ngāi Tahu tradition of rock and cave drawings, 2019 Frances Hodgkins’ fellow Imogen Taylor’s ‘Another Word For Abyss’ (2019) and Zanobi Machiavelli’s 1452 ‘Madonna and Child’.
Lucy says the mix of works also acknowledges there is a continuous and rich visual art tradition in Dunedin and how the gallery’s early ambitions – to build an important collection of historical art for the benefit of the community and to support the creation of contemporary art – continues today.
Another aspect is the recognition of the strong history of significant donations to the gallery from local families and from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society, such as the recent Taylor work.
The Machiavelli was given to the gallery by Mary, Dora and Esmond de Beer, three grandchildren of Bendix Hallenstein, to mark the centenary of the foundation of Hallenstein Brothers. The family played a large part in the gallery, having one of New Zealand’s most significant collections of historic European art.
Lucy says it seems fitting to be including the work in an exhibition in the year Hallenstein Brothers is celebrating its 150th and have it exhibited alongside two other works donated by the family – Marcus Gheeraerts’ ‘Margaret Hay, Countess of Dunfermline’ (1615) and Claude Lorrain’s ‘Landscape with Hagar and the Angel’ (1654).
The gallery also uses exhibitions such as this one to develop new research and to look at focusing on works that may have not been prioritised much historically, such as the stories of female artists.
“You find there are challenges in all parts of collecting.”
In the Port Otago Gallery they have selected works by Scottish-born, Dunedin-raised artist Edith Bathgate, along with works by New Zealand painters Doris Lusk (1916–90), Frances Hodgkins (1869–1947) and, near the end of the wall, Taylor’s work.
A new find in the collection being exhibited is British painter Lucy Kemp-Welch’s (1869–1958) ‘The Harbour’ (20th century).
Lauren says people have been very interested in the work because the artist was well known for the painting of horses in action and war horses.
“She painted the illustrations for the 1915 edition of Black Beauty [by Anna Sewell].”
Another work that has not been on display for a long time, if ever, is Margaret Fisher Prout’s (1875–1963) oil ‘In the Garden’ (1936), which sits alongside works by well-known impressionist artists Claude Monet, Henri Le Sidaner and Lucien Pissarro.
“Margaret’s work represents a rare example of a professional woman artist working in the Impressionist style.”
Lucy says all of these finds are a reminder of the depth of the collection and how much there is still to discover about it.
“I’ve learnt a whole lot of new information. Some works I’ve worked with many times over the past few years and some [I’ve] never seen before. I think that is true of everyone who has worked on it and it’s gratifying to see it come out into the galleries and see the wider team go, ‘Wow I’ve never seen that before’.”
Huikaau – where currents meet runs at Dunedin Public Art Gallery until October 31, 2025.