This is a brief survey of the year in art in Auckland and, coincidently, there is a perfect holiday survey exhibition at the Auckland City Gallery. Representation and Reaction shows modernism and the New Zealand landscape tradition between 1956 and 1977. It combines nostalgia, lots of talking points and some excellent painting.

It takes us back to the time in Auckland before dealer galleries, before art history in university and secondary schools, when art was just painting - and landscape painting at that.

The show, cleverly curated by Peter Shaw, draws on two collections, the Kelliher Trust and the Fletcher Trust. It recalls a time when the Kelliher Award was a big event and insisted on "realism". It was popular with the public but detested by the liberal art world.

In Representation and Reaction, Kelliher prize-winners are placed beside more advanced art, including early examples of abstraction that were included in the Fletcher collection which was formed later.

The controversies are very distant and now rather quaint, but as the exhibition floods through two of the upper gallery rooms it makes a splendid show of New Zealand landscape painting with a dash of real spice here and there. Take your granny.

Times have changed. Dealer galleries start up all the time and often 10 exhibitions open in a week - even as many as 20. Extreme art is commonplace, yet real controversy is rare.

Survey shows are an important function of public galleries and there have been some good ones this year.

We were able to see the full extent of the Reverend John Kinder's achievement in both painting and photography in the 19th century. And we could see how the New Zealand landscape was developed in a modern, symbolic way in the 20th century by Don Binney. Both shows were at the Auckland City Art Gallery.

These fine shows were followed by a big present-day contrast - the extrovert international Max Gimblett, long resident in New York, and Shane Cotton, introspective and linked to Maori tradition.

Gimblett impressed as much by the films of him in action as by the paintings he produced. The sight of him using a mop filled with black paint to make one dynamic sweep across a meticulously prepared geometric canvas was irresistible.

On the other hand, Cotton's work was precise, detailed and reached into myth while using highly individual effects. No one says more about the occupancy of the land by Maori and Pakeha in unforgettable images of landscape and symbol far beyond the imagining of the Kelliher Award admirers.

The other public gallery in central Auckland is Artspace, which has been under the clever direction of Tobias Berger. When he leaves in April to take up a position in Hong Kong it will be a real loss to the city's art scene.

Talk of art as investment has been a prominent part of the scene this year, with much media discussion of prices achieved at auction. Among the notable shows at Artspace was an astonishing exhibition where the director persuaded about two dozen dealer galleries to display works they had for sale at $35,000.

The variety of style was extraordinary. This show was brilliantly presided over by Billy Apple's golden apple - the one work of art whose exact weight assures you always know how much it is worth. The show was guarded by real guards and one of Michael Parekowhai's big, ironic statues of a guard. It was more real than the reality.

There were other fine things at Artspace, not least the grand democratic survey of drawings all done on A4 paper.

Both te tuhi-the mark in the east and Lopdell House in the west have performed good service by mounting the kind of worthwhile installation show that no dealer gallery could touch, such as Gregor Kregar's self-portrait statues and Mark Braunias' vigorous and self-revealing studio installation.

The university's Gus Fisher Gallery in Shortland St shows touring and local artists and provides an opportunity for art scholars to display their research for scrutiny, as they are obliged to do these days. The most memorable thing at the Fisher was a helicopter fluttering to death in a box, a video by Swiss sculptor Roman Signer.

Galleries overseas are loaded with short videos and they had their place here, notably in a grand show of visual myth from which many meanings might be taken. This was by Shirin Neshat at the Auckland City Gallery.

Artspace showed lively kinetic visuals by Dutch artists but most telling of all were videos by our own multi-media artist Phil Dadson, whose loops of a mast in the snow, a bamboo post in a blizzard, and the terminus of a great glacier were powerfully, almost painfully, evocative of the Antarctic.

Among the memorable exhibitions at dealer galleries were the fine display of painting by Phillip Trusttum based on Mussorgsky's great music, Pictures at an Exhibition. The music inspired big canvases, spectacularly painted with great authority and Trusttum's immaculate sense of colour.

Then there was Dick Frizzell, manipulating paint with the art that conceals art, recording an unmistakable part of the New Zealand scene with wit, observation and more depth than at first appears.

It was also a year for curious shows, notably by Francis Upritchard, artist and taxidermist, who is building a very big reputation in London. She can make an antique object out of school compasses and an ancient ritual object out of a squash racquet. Liz Maw made the headlines with just two paintings, real and green and spotted with dew.

The award for making art out of the commonplace found object goes to et al, whose view of the world is of a place filled with mud-colored junk and squawking noise and where the most essential structure is a portaloo. She won the right to be New Zealand's representative at the Venice Biennale and also the generous Walters Prize.

There are also young artists who have, in a sense, come of age. They range from Sara Hughes who makes huge colourful abstract installations, to Zarahn Southon, whose neo-realism arrives at portraits which suggest whole strata of our urban population.

The future looks rich and rewarding.

In September we lost Pat Hanly, a wonderful painter, colourful in every way and a courage-giver to the whole art community.

The confidence he engendered in artists here is one of his great legacies.