A silent beauty

By Adam Gifford

Walk into the foyer of the refurbished ANZ Tower and you'll find some grand-scale art works everyone can enjoy. Adam Gifford reports

Sara Hughes' Orangerie creates a dappled light on the floor of the ANZ foyer. Photo / Greg Bowker
Sara Hughes' Orangerie creates a dappled light on the floor of the ANZ foyer. Photo / Greg Bowker

If you cut across from Federal St behind St Patrick's Cathedral, heading for lower Albert St, you can shave seconds off your journey by traversing the foyer of the ANZ Tower. It might not save any time though. Walk in the side door and you may be transfixed by 12 panels of jewel-like colour floating off the wall.

It's a work by American artist Winston Roeth, described by one critic as "probably the best colour-painter in New York".

Art consultant Paul Baragwanath, who curated artworks for the refurbished foyer, describes it as the beating heart of the space. And beat it does, each aluminium panel painted with multiple layers of the best quality Kremer pigment into a dense matt surface.

The colours are not easily definable, hovering between shades, and changing depending on the angle of the sun and the position of the viewer.

"Art can become like wallpaper, it can die, so a critical starting point was the painting had to change hourly, daily, and remain fresh so this concept is incredibly light sensitive," says Baragwanath.

Roeth is represented in New Zealand by Fox Jensen Gallery, so the work of this 68-year-old master will be familiar to many, but this is the first time it has been featured in a public space.

The opportunity came because the building's owner, Precinct Properties, formerly AMP NZ Office, refurbished the tower and expanded the foyer. With no planning concessions to be had by including artwork in a space that was not a new build, it can be seen as a statement of prestige to commission new works.

"In terms of the overall vision, this foyer needed to be of international standard, so if a Tardis dropped in you could be in any of the great foyers in the world," Baragwanath says.

The brief Roeth was given included the space, as well as an instruction to in some way reflect the elements of Auckland's natural beauty, such as the light of the skies and the water.

"The architects, Warren and Mahoney, created this beautiful wall, they specified the marble, and they didn't want it completely covered by artwork," Baragwanath says. "Roeth took that and considered the painting needed to do two things: amplify the beauty of the space and introduce other elements to it. There are multiple lines of sight, as people come up the escalators, around from the carparking or through the doors. There is also the challenge that from parts of the foyer only the bottom part can be seen, so it needed to be a work without a single focal point."

Baragwanath said the Roeth work served the function of the portraits many banks displayed on their walls. "This needed to have that personality to it. It needed to have formality and dignity but also a playfulness and personal engagement. That is where the colour comes in, which comes back to the starting point, this beautiful place we live in. "When I discussed the project with the artists, I set out the aspirations for the work, which is to bring in the beauty of the sea and sky, bring in the autumn colour, the sun going down, the city at midnight, all of these different emotional experiences."

The work is called In a Silent Way. On the way to his studio, Roeth stopped at a garage sale and found a CD of Miles Davis' 1969 electric masterpiece, which fed into the work.

Moving towards the escalators down to Albert St, you pass a large glass wall looking out at a trellis that will eventually be covered with ivy. Auckland artist Sarah Hughes has covered this glass on both sides with a pattern of vinyl leaves, which creates a dappled light on the marble floor.

Baragwanath says the wall needed to have presence and beauty but couldn't be a single focal point, nor did it need to compete with the Roeth.

Hughes drew her inspiration for the work, called Orangerie, after the garden glass palaces of the 18th and 19th century, from the Wintergarden in the Auckland Domain. "It's the sort of feeling you have peering through the glass at the leaves."

Her other work is called Wintergarden, and is a series of glass slabs lit by coloured LEDs hanging from the ceiling of a narrow corridor leading to lifts. With its whisper of wisteria hanging down from the Wintergarden's pergolas, it will be a work that will have late night walkers peering through the glass.

Hughes says the commission gave her a chance to work on a larger scale than usual, and also encouraged a lightness of touch.

Opposite the lifts is another light work, Poutama, by Peata Larkin.

Larkin has created the traditional tukutuku pattern of the stairway to heaven from plastic gauze cut and painted in a mix of translucent paints.

The pattern is mirrored, so the staircase becomes a ziggurat, or an image of the city, or perhaps a temple to Mammon.

Rounding the corner and looking in the direction of the harbour, the eye is drawn to a circular Neil Dawson sculpture suspended from another marble wall. Called Birds and Boats, it speaks of the city of sails.

During the day, it is lit by a white spotlight, creating shadows from the cutout steel and, at night, a yellow light comes on to maintain the warmth of the work.

Baragwanath says the foyer is starting to be included in guided art tours, but it's a public space, so people can enjoy it at any time.

- NZ Herald

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