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Glorious galleries: How to add some art to your next holiday

NZ Herald
By Jessica Wynne Lockhart

If you're more into art than antiquities, Jessica Wynne Lockhart has found some of New Zealand's best galleries to visit on your next regional getaway

According to Museums Aotearoa, New Zealand has more than 470 public museums and art galleries, which equates to 10 museums or galleries per 100,000 people. And that's not even making mention of the thousands of painters, sculptors, carvers, and makers that showcase their work in studios across the country. Translation? We're a particularly cultured bunch.

But with dozens of galleries everywhere from the biggest cities to the tiniest hamlets, it would be impossible to get to them all. That's why we've selected some of the country's must-visit galleries, with a focus on work by some of New Zealand's most talented creatives.

Whanganui: Quartz, Museum of Studio Ceramics

Whanganui may be known for its well-preserved heritage buildings, but don't judge the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics for its less-exciting location in a 1960s office building. Sure, the setting isn't that inspiring, but allows the ceramics to take centre stage. This gallery will convince you that pottery isn't just for tea parties — it can also be positively provocative.

Showcasing objects from the early 20th century to present, the collection is presided over by Rick Rudd, a potter with work in Te Papa. Known for his large collection of unusual abstract teapots, Rudd can often be seen at work in the gallery. But his are not the only creations on display; in 2019, well-known Wellington collector Simon Manchester died and bequeathed his entire collection to the Rick Rudd Foundation. Now, more than 500 works from that collection are permanently displayed on-site.

Also worth visiting in the region:

Sarjeant Gallery on the Quay.
Space Studio Gallery.
Te Whare Tūhua o Te Ao.

West Coast: Left Bank Art Gallery

The West Coast has become world-renowned for its pounamu carvers, with most tourists flocking to Hokitika to watch them in action and buy a piece for loved ones. However, you'll need to head south to Greymouth to the Left Bank Art Gallery to truly appreciate this art form. This is where you'll find a large national collection of greenstone, including award-winning jade works, and two large boulders that were worked on by leading carvers around New Zealand. You'll also want to mark your calendar for late November, when Left Bank will showcase work from the Tai Poutini Polytechnic Jade Carving Exhibition.

The work on display isn't limited to greenstone. Housed in the historic 1924 Bank of New Zealand building, the former vault and main gallery also exhibits paintings, photographs and natural fibre textiles. The emphasis here is on work by local arts and craftspeople, such as Hokitika's Kate Buckley's series of relief prints of crows created during lockdown.

Also worth visiting in the region:
Andris Aspe Gallery in Ōkārito.
Petr Hlavacek in Whataroa.

The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson. Photo / Supplied
The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson. Photo / Supplied

Nelson: Suter Art Gallery

With the number of artists and makers choosing to make the Nelson/Tasman region their home, it's not surprising that the area might just have the most galleries and art studios per capita. Arguably the most cherished is the Suter Art Gallery.

One of New Zealand's oldest cultural centres, it features national and international art from the past two centuries. Its bragging rights include NZ's largest collection of watercolours by landscape artist John Gully (1819-1888) and work by Sir Mountford Tosswill Woollaston (1919-1998), who was one of the founders of modern art in New Zealand.

Current exhibitions include Wellington-based artist Natchez Hudson's thought-provoking flipped landscapes and the new City ArtWalk, which brings the work of Nelson's artists outdoors.

Also worth visiting in the region:

Parker Gallery.
Red Art Gallery.
Michael Macmillan Sculptor.
Bartlett & Gold Gallery.

Northland: Burning Issues Gallery

We're still eagerly awaiting the opening of the Hundertwasser Art Centre and the Wairau Māori Art Gallery. When they open later this year, the latter will become the country's first dedicated gallery of nationally and internationally recognised contemporary Māori art. But until then, there are plenty of galleries in Whangārei's Town Basin to whet our appetites.

A firm favourite is Burning Issues, which has been showcasing work by Kiwi ceramic and glass artists for 25 years. Not just a place to purchase a piece to take home, it's also where you can see glassblowers Keith Grinter and Rebecca Heap at work, turning molten glass into stunning objets d'art. It can get very hot in the summer months, but it's handy to plenty of spots to grab a cool drink afterwards.

Also worth visiting in the region:
Reyburn Art Gallery.
Quarry Arts Centre.
Village Arts Kohukohu in Hokianga.

Blair Somerville and Sandra van der Sommen outside The Lost Gypsy Gallery. Photo / Hayden Campbell
Blair Somerville and Sandra van der Sommen outside The Lost Gypsy Gallery. Photo / Hayden Campbell

Southland: The Lost Gypsy Gallery

If you associate "galleries" with places of quiet and contemplation, the Lost Gypsy might just be the antidote to your preconceived notions. A visit to craftsman Blair Somerville's gallery is guaranteed to experience the kind of wonder and delight usually reserved for children (but be aware it's actually best for kids 13 and up). This Catlins' house truck is crammed to capacity with whimsical automata made from found objects, including a literal "train" of thought that circles around the space.

The Lost Gypsy is free to enter, but it's worth it to shell out the extra $8 to enter the "theatre" out the back. This is where Somerville's larger-scaler kinetic sculptures are housed and there are more than 120 buttons to push, wind and play. The Lost Gypsy is open only during the summer months, so plan your visit now.

Also worth visiting in the region:

Eastern Southland Gallery, Gore.
The Good Studio, Riverton.

Marlborough: The Gallery in Havelock

Representing the work of 24 Marlborough artists, Havelock's the Gallery is unique in that it's entirely volunteer-run. Artists paying affordable rent to showcase their work in the spot and profits from the modest commissions go back into the community. The result? Since 2014, it's been able to give $50,000 back to the community.

Highlights include life-like portraits by self-taught painter Rebekah Codlin, who grew up on the boat-access-only shores of Marlborough Sounds, and pakohe (agrillite stone) carvings by local Māori carver Clem Mellish, including some that are affordable enough to take home.

Also worth visiting in the region:
Millennium Public Art Gallery.
The Diversion Gallery.
Artofact Gallery.

Manawatū's Zimmerman Art Gallery. Photo / Supplied
Manawatū's Zimmerman Art Gallery. Photo / Supplied

Manawatū: Zimmerman Art Gallery

Making art both free and fun was the philosophy of curator Bronwyn Zimmerman when she opened her eponymous Palmerston North art gallery in 2010. Displaying work of emerging and established New Zealand contemporary artists — including local powerhouse creative couple Fran and Paul Dibble, known for their bronze sculptures—Zimmerman is dedicated to providing better public access to artwork.

This ethos goes hand-in-hand with the latest initiative from Te Manawa. Located right across the road from Zimmerman, the region's public art gallery is currently working on a project called "Democracy of the Rack," which aims to move the 2500 items acquired over the past 50 years out of storage and on display.;

Also worth visiting in the region:
Square Edge.
Joe McMenamin.

Auckland: Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery

If you've ever driven through Titirangi on your way to Piha, chances are this gallery has probably caught your interest. If you've never stopped in, make a plan to do so as soon as Auckland reaches level 2.

Its name, Te Uru, references a wind that blows from the west — which also hints at what you'll find inside. Te Uru showcases contemporary visual art with a distinctive West Auckland focus in its award-winning, state-of-the-art building.

When the gallery reopens after lockdown, you can see exhibitions including The Moon Was Talking, showcasing West Auckland photographer Edith Amituanai's portraits made with Year 11 students at Kelston Girls College (until November 21), alongside Mercury in Retrograde, featuring works of ceramics and clay (until December 5).

Also worth visiting in the region:
The Wallace Arts Trust.
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
Te Tuhi, Pakuranga.

Garage Gallery in Mackenzie. Photo / Rachel Gillespie
Garage Gallery in Mackenzie. Photo / Rachel Gillespie

Mackenzie: Garage Gallery

It would be easy enough to drive by Kimbell's Garage Gallery, without having any inkling about what you just passed. Housed in a former motor repair building with a red roof, Garage Gallery brings a whole new meaning to the idea of "accessible artwork".

Within, professional art curators Chris and Lulu Taylor showcase fine artists, with the focus on promoting investment in artwork and bringing collectors and artists closer together. Most of the work on display is landscape oil on canvas pieces, including work by Nathanael Provis, known for his dramatic Canterbury and Milford Sound scenes. This is where to find an investment piece for your home, but smaller crafts are also for sale.

Also worth visiting in the region:
77 Art + Living

Wellington: Pātaka Art + Museum

You don't have to drive far from Wellington's city centre to be immersed in the world of Māori, Pacific and Aotearoa New Zealand artwork. Located in the heart of Porirua, Pātaka Art + Museum is a world-leading contemporary art gallery that's been in operation since 1998.

Today, it continues to display the work of some of the country's best established and emerging artists. Currently presented is Toi Koru, an exhibition that tracks the trajectory of Sandy Adsett's painting practice from the late 1960s to today. Although Adsett has gained recognition internationally, it's only the third solo exhibition for the Māori artist and educator.

Also worth visiting:
Dowse Art Gallery.
The New Zealand Portrait Gallery.
Te Papa Tongarewa.

Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel.