In 2002, New Zealand artist Judy Millar received a request from a Swiss art gallery to send one of her abstract paintings to them within 48 hours.

Millar, who that year won the Wallace Arts Trust Paramount Award, suspected the Galerie Mark Muller thought she was from Oakland, San Francisco rather than Auckland, New Zealand. After organising a specially made box to transport the painting, she made a slightly impulsive decision to jump on a plane, travel over and introduce herself.

It's a decision that has now paid off with the Swiss giving the acclaimed painter her first international survey show - but her arrival at the Zurich-based Galerie Mark Muller 17 years ago is still a talking point.

Armed with an address on a piece of paper, Millar made her way to the gallery only to find she'd arrived too early and it wasn't yet open. In the days before mobile phones were ubiquitous, she could see people moving around inside the building but didn't have any way to contact them.


Unable to attract their attention, Millar decided to demonstrate some Kiwi resourcefulness and climb over a fence, which separated the building from the street front, and introduce herself: "Pretty soon I was surrounded by people demanding to know what I thought I was doing and I was pretty quickly informed that was not the type of thing you do in Switzerland …"

When the staff learned she was a New Zealander – rather than from San Francisco - who had travelled a considerable distance to be there, a friendship was established with gallerist Mark Muller who didn't hold Millar's slightly unusual entrance against her.

Judy Millar's Rock Drop is on display at Auckland Art Gallery.
Judy Millar's Rock Drop is on display at Auckland Art Gallery.

The Swiss have since embraced Millar's wildly colourful art with its untamed brushstrokes, and given the North Shore born-and-raised artist her first international survey exhibition. Now on at the Kunstmuseum St Gallen, The Future and the Past Perfect brings together around 45 of Millar's works.

The museum's website states, "… audiences in Switzerland have been well acquainted with the artist since 2004 and love her open, expressive work …"

Since 2005, Millar has divided her time between working and living in Berlin and at her West Auckland home; in 2009, she was New Zealand's representative at the Venice Art Biennale.

For the St Gallen's exhibition, she has worked with art museum staff to gather together works from New Zealand and across Europe. While she describes it as a huge undertaking, she says it's amazing to see nearly 40 years of work brought together for the first time.

"This level of attention being paid to my work is beyond anything I could have imagined."

At the same time, Millar is also included in an exhibition called Frozen Gesture at a second Swiss museum alongside the likes of American heavyweight painters David Reed and the late Roy Lichtenstein.


To see Judy Millar's work in Auckland, visit her solo show at Gow Langsford's Lorne St gallery or go to Auckland Art Gallery where her installation Rock Drop is on display.