Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to art crime research and visual arts
A Tauranga art historian who helped establish the city’s public gallery and published multiple books on art crime has been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Penelope Jackson has been recognised for services to art crime research and visual arts.
Jackson said the news was unexpected, however, she was “amazed and humbled” to have been recognised in a “very public way”.
“It’s a lovely surprise. It’s a wonderful confirmation that I’ve made a contribution as an art historian to our visual and cultural history. What more could you want?”
She was curator of the Tauranga Art Gallery from 2003 to 2010, playing an important role in setting up the public gallery which opened in 2007. From 2010 she took on the gallery’s director role while also staying on as curator. She left the gallery in 2015.
These roles were “tough going” at times but “so worth it” in the end because of what they contributed to the Tauranga community, she said.
“What is really empowering was the number of schoolchildren who would come to the gallery. You know, if children visit a gallery as youngsters, they hopefully will continue to, and that’s always a wonderful thing to inspire.”
During this time she curated an exhibition on the work of Edward Bullmore and a survey show of sculptor Jeff Thomson. Corrugations: The Art of Jeff Thomson toured the country and earned a Museums Aotearoa Exhibition award.
Reflecting on her career, Jackson said she felt “very privileged” to have worked with a diverse range of New Zealand artists and with a focus on introducing new audiences to their work.
She said Thomson’s show at the gallery had more visitors than any other exhibition at that time which was “really wonderful”.
Jackson has also curated three exhibitions on the work of Dame Lynley Dodd, which toured 23 locations across Australia and New Zealand.
“That is literally tens of thousands of people who have seen her [Dodd’s] work. And not only that, it showcases to us all these people are reading these books to their children or themselves.”
Other exhibitions she is particularly proud of included An Empty Frame: Crimes of Art in New Zealand, held at Waikato Museum and Katherine Mansfield: A Portrait held at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery.
Jackson has also published three books about art crime research including Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story (2016), Females in the Frame: Women, Art, and Crime (2019) and The Art of Copying Art (2022).
She was a founding trustee of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust in 2015 and is currently the chairwoman.
In simple terms, she said art crimes were “criminally punishable acts that involve works of art”. This could include vandalism, theft and fraud.
“Art crime is as old as art. Wherever you’ve got a history of art, you’ve got art crime. For me, it’s important to bring about an awareness of art crime, that it does exist and always has existed.”
She said nowadays it was becoming easier to create fraudulent works with the development of digital technology. But on the flip side “the technology for discovering fraudulent art has also been upped”.
“It’s a bit of a game. So for me, it’s really important to educate people about art crime.
“But it’s also very much part of our visual and cultural history. By not including it we’re not really giving a true account of that history.”
She was the recipient of the University of Auckland’s Michael King Writers Centre Residency in 2020, having her stories published in anthologies.
Jackson told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend her career was “certainly not over” and without revealing anymore said she was currently scoping material for another book.