The latest in an ongoing series of exhibitions that display the national art collection opens at Te Papa this Saturday. Past Presents – looking into the art collection contains iconic works that range from the sixteenth-century through to recent acquisitions. Visitors will learn more about the origins of the national collection, the trends that have influenced collecting patterns in the past, and the direction in which the collection is now heading.
Past Presents showcases the range of art held in the national collection – everything from old favourites such as the well-known portrait of Mrs Humphrey Devereux by eighteenth-century American artist John Singleton Copley, through to the latest contemporary sculpture such as Scott Eady’s Music Boxer.
Past Presents is divided into five chronological segments. ‘Past masters’ contains works which were all created before 1900, and features some major European names including Rembrandt, Dürer, and Goya. A group of European prints represents the extraordinary collections donated to the national collection by Bishop Monrad in 1869 and Sir John Ilott in 1952.
The distinctive British influences that existed in the early twentieth century are examined in ‘New Century’, with artists such as Stanley Spencer and Frances Hodgkins. ‘Home ground’ concentrates on the 1940s and 1950s – a time when New Zealanders were developing a much stronger sense of national identity. Some of the country’s best known artists, including Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, and Gordon Walters emerged during this period, and their works feature in this section.
After the 1960s, international works from the United States and New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours made their way into the collection. ‘Pacific boundaries’ looks at these as well as works by Mäori artists, including Buck Nin. Photography and works in other media, including sculptures by Don Driver, also feature in this section.
Recently acquired works, all displayed here for the first time, are the subject of ‘Collecting the contemporary’ – the final segment. Installations include the quirky Music Boxer and Ani O’Neill’s vibrant Rainbow Country.
‘This exhibition tells two stories,’ explains Te Papa art curator Natasha Conland. ‘As well as detailing the rich history of this country’s art, it tells a fascinating story about New Zealand’s collecting habits. Past Presents shows how collecting tastes have changed during the twentieth century, how those trends have been shaped by historical events, and how our national identity has been shaped through art.’