Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Wellington: City's secrets a walker's delight

Treasures tucked away in vacant lots are highlights of a Wellington art walk, says Isaac Davison.

The orb-like courtroom in Wellington's Supreme Court takes visitors' breaths away. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The orb-like courtroom in Wellington's Supreme Court takes visitors' breaths away. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It can be rewarding to look above the line of sight, beyond a facade and down side streets.

A new "Secret Art Walk" in Wellington prompts you to think again about every drab office foyer or vacant lot. Within many glum spaces, treasured artworks are waiting to be found.

The self-guided walk begins at The Backbencher pub (under renovation at the time of writing) in Thorndon and finishes at the Museum Art Hotel, about 2km away.

I'd recommend putting aside 2 hours, but I managed to see all 31 stops in 90 minutes on the way to work.

The tour crams in architecture, street art, sculpture, a couple of major galleries and two museums, but the true gems are in the artworks sitting unnoticed in office-block foyers, inside retail stores and, in one case, hidden under a stairwell.

Two strong thoughts hit me when I see a good artwork in a vacant foyer: Firstly, how have I not noticed this thing before? And, secondly, I could easily steal this.

Thankfully the Property Council, which has organised the tour, anticipated the second impulse and made sure all owners had insured their work before its map to the city's most stealable art was distributed last week.

On to the first thought then - the tour draws me inside buildings or down laneways I've walked past 100 times, oblivious to their secrets.

Some are permanent fixtures, others are artworks plucked from collections and hung in lobbies that are only separated from the public by automatic doors.

At separate spots I am asked what I am doing: "Are you lost?", "Can I help you?" and "Are you here for a meeting?"

Clearly this art has not had enough attention and the council has done a good job of shedding light on it.

It has also wisely left people to make their way around the works at their own speed. Which is just as well, because three of the stops are pubs.

A highlight is the new Supreme Court building, in particular the orb-like courtroom inside a copper dome, which is designed to look like a kauri cone.

The guide at the front desk tells me: "The initial reaction from people is that this is a serious place where judgments are made. But 96 per cent of people arrive, look up and say 'phew'... it takes their breath away."

In Lukes Lane, a single piece of graffiti climbs nine stories on the side of a carpark. The scale is impressive but the painting not as much. I prefer the smaller tags at ground level which creep into doorways, over windows and across elevator doors.

Commerce overtakes art near the middle of the walk, which features a series of souvenir and jewellery shops.

But even when the art temporarily dries up, there is a still a simple joy in taking time to criss-cross the streets and meander between coffee shops.

Another highlight, a large Richard Taylor-designed metal horse suspended from the ceiling of the Telecom building, had not been installed when I did the tour. The receptionist assured me it would be "splendid", even though she was told she'd "only be able to see the horse's rump" from her desk. The horse went on last week.

There are glimpses of history, too, such as the remains of Te Aro Pa in an exhibition space on Taranaki St.

As well as 170-year-old ponga branches, there are grainy photographs of the city when it was a dun-coloured paddock, punctuated only by the pa and a smattering of houses.

In women's clothing store Andrea Moore, a couple of moody Kezia Whakamoe works, painted in thick brushstrokes, are propped on clothes racks.

A caption below one of the paintings says, "Welcome, this is our story, step over the threshold, watch, listen."

This is the art walk in a nutshell: their secrets, our pleasure.

Extras on your stroll

Best coffee: Old Bank Arcade.

Best drink: Gibson cocktail at the Hippopotamus Restaurant, Museum Art Hotel.

Best place for a breather: The cavernous first floor at the St James Theatre.

Tour highlights: Supreme Court, Museum Art Hotel.

Safety first: Don't read a map while walking on Willis St - there are buses galore.

Map and directions are available from propertynz.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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