Artists are frequently asked to donate work to help other people's good causes — now 30 of New Zealand's leading artists have given significant artworks to support a cause close to their own hearts.

Shane Cotton, Lisa Reihana, Star Gossage and Gretchen Albrecht are among those who have donated work to an Auckland auction to raise funds for the Wairau Māori Art Gallery. The world's first purpose-developed contemporary Māori art centre, it will be housed in Whangārei's Hundertwasser Art Centre, which is expected to be completed late 2020.

More than $22 million has been raised for the building but Wairau Māori Art Gallery board chairwoman Elizabeth Ellis says the auction is to help fund the next phase of development and infrastructure support.

"Imagine how exciting it will be to know that there is one place in Aotearoa New Zealand where Māori artwork will always, permanently be able to be seen by the people of Te Taitokerau, of Aotearoa and the world beyond," Ellis said.


It's a viewed shared by fellow board member and gallerist Tim Melville, whose gallery hosts the auction. Melville says Māori art is recognised worldwide as a powerful form of expression that acknowledges, values and contributes to the bicultural character of Aotearoa New Zealand and enriches the lives of all New Zealanders.

He says tourists are always keen to see Māori art and culture — as evidenced by the number of international visitors who flock to Auckland Art Gallery to see work by our indigenous artists. They are also fascinated by painters Gottfried Lindauer and Charles Goldie, whose works record Māori culture of the past.

"It's the same with Auckland War Memorial Museum; people want to look at the Māori material — the taonga. That's what people want to know about; that's the thing that identifies us," Melville says.

"This building will be such a drawcard for Whangārei. I think it will represent hope in many ways. This is a place where senior and mid-career Māori artists have a right to show; a place where they will be showcased and nurtured. They may not always be prioritised at other public galleries but this is a place where they belong. It represents an opportunity for the future."

Some 32 artists have contributed to the auction, 18 of whom are Māori, and the works being auctioned include paintings, prints, sculpture, jewelry and photographs.

One of the biggest pieces is the 2003 wooden "spaceship" Endeavour by sculptor Brett Graham. Melville says this work aptly demonstrates how contemporary Māori artists are responding to today's concerns and conditions.

He says artists, including a number of non-Māori, and their dealer galleries were quick to contribute work for the auction because they recognise the importance of the Wairau Māori Art Gallery to New Zealand's wider arts environment.

"They are supporters of the kaupapa."

The hope is to employ a fulltime curator who work with visiting curators to stage at least three exhibitions a year in partnership with the nearby Whangārei Art Museum. Major galleries such as Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery — Toi o Tamaki have said works will be available from their contemporary Māori collections for display at Wairau.

The auction is at the Tim Melville Gallery on Wednesday.


The Hundertwasser Art Centre:

• Was first mooted by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser in the late 1990s. Hundertwasser moved to New Zealand in 1974, living on his Kaurinui property in Northland until his death in 2000.

• In 1993, he identified a Whangārei building to undergo his "unique style" of architectural transformation. From the outset, Hundertwasser wanted it to showcase the art of tangata whenua.

• It has taken years of discussion and debate, much of it about funding, to get the project stared. Construction began this year on a Whangārei waterfront building and has the full support of the Hundertwasser Non Profit Foundation in Vienna.

• Whangārei's art centre will be his only major building in the Southern Hemisphere and, because there are no remaining unbuilt projects of this scale conceived by Hundertwasser, it will be the last of its kind in the world.

• The Hundertwasser Toilets in the main street of Kawakawa were completed in 1999 and are one of the few toilet blocks seen as an international work of art and a tourist attraction in their own right.