"I saw the display at lunchtime today and when I came out I said I never saw the art gallery so desecrated by such a nauseating sight. The figures, offending against all known anatomy, to me were repulsive," was the reaction of Auckland Mayor John Luxford to a touring exhibition by British modernist sculptor Henry Moore in 1956.
For this country's expectations of what represented art and culture to be defied in such a way by a visiting show from the colonial motherland intrigued, baffled and shocked New Zealand society, leading one patron to storm out of the gallery shouting the artist should be shot.
Sixty years later, the outcry against the acquisition of two works by another British sculptor has shown these attitudes towards art, despite being antiquated, may have been well-preserved.
The Christchurch City Council Public Art Advisory Group will pay $500,000 for Stay by Antony Gormley. The group has a budget of $280,000 a year and after not spending anything last year has invested two years' allocation on the figures by the internationally recognised artist.
Understandably, post-earthquakes, there is increased focus on local body spending and city governance. But the Gormley acquisition has been delivered within budget and far from being undemocratic, there are many historical examples that show why a council's politics and art buying shouldn't mix.
Some suggested a local and not a Londoner would have made a better choice. These concerns were ironic, given it will stand in a river called the Avon as punts and trams pass nearby in a city proud of its quintessentially English character.
Instead, the council should be commended for showing the vision to provide the city with the significant work it deserves and positioning Christchurch as a centre with an international focus.
That the battle for New Zealand as a modern society - at least in a cultural sense - should break out once more in Christchurch was doubly ironic, as it was assumed the fight had been won there for us all in 1951.
That was the year Frances Hodgkins' watercolour The Pleasure Garden was finally hung in the Robert McDougall Art Gallery collection.
The painting was one of six by the recently deceased artist sent from Britain after the Canterbury Society of Arts expressed interest in buying work by the New Zealander who had been acclaimed in Europe. But, not being up to speed with developments in style, the province's arts elite rejected them.
More worldly private citizens got together and raised the money to buy The Pleasure Garden, but on being presented to the Christchurch City Council, the work was rejected again. The mayor at the time, Sir Ernest Andrews, suggested it was "unacceptable on its merits".
That is one of many examples of why putting art purchases up for political debate leads down a perilous path.
What makes the situation then-and-now different is that in 1951 the day was saved by the public refusing to allow the establishment to turn their city into a backwater.
Perhaps the Gormley acquisition was only saved by the council's processes developed so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.