In the wake of a storeroom upgrade, seismic activity, and the closure of Victoria’s Karori Campus, over half of Victoria University of Wellington’s Art Collection was relocated last year. While the logistics of coordinating the movement of hundreds of fragile objects was significant, their disruption gave the Adam Art Gallery, the Collection’s custodian, cause to reflect on the relation of art works to their context. Out of Site – Works from the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection is the outcome of this exercise, and an opportunity for our audiences to view works seldom seen together.
All the selected works reflect, respond or relate to site, and several have a particular purchase on the University itself. From Gordon Crook’s Light Installation of 1974, which was designed for the Karori Post Office, but hung for many years in the Faculty of Education’s Karori Campus, to Eddie Clemens’s Collector’s Edition Glitch (Viewing Bridge) of 2014, which uncannily replicates a feature of the architecture of the Adam Art Gallery, to a formal portrait painted in 1949 by Evelyn Page of esteemed academic Thomas Hunter, after whom the Hunter Building is named, to a suite of photographs by Ava Seymour that was commissioned for an exhibition at the Adam and produced whilst she was artist-in-resident at the McCahon House in west Auckland, Out of Site draws out stories that link key works to their environs through historical association, symbolic allusion, photographic documentation, and by site-specific intention.
Exploiting the homophonic play of the title, Out of Site also makes public aspects of Victoria’s Art Collection that normally remain out of sight. For example, the exhibition includes documents revealing the process of commissioning Neil Dawson’s Toss after deaccessioning an earlier commission, Flying Steps. In addition, the selection of works in the Kirk Gallery have been drawn from the entire lineup of sixty items removed for safekeeping from the buildings that make up the Pipitea Campus which were affected by recent seismic activity. This serendipitous removal has served as the basis for a curatorial exercise performed by participants in the inaugural Adam Art Gallery’s Summer Intensive and their process is one of the subjects of the display.
The VUW Art Collection currently numbers 576 items. Since 1999, the Adam Art Gallery has overseen the professional management of the Collection, working with the VUW Art Collection Trust to care for and develop the Collection for the benefit of staff, students and the wider public. Through an active acquisition programme and the addition of works from the Wellington College of Education when it became part of Victoria University, the Collection has doubled in size since 2009.
The origins of the Collection can be traced back to 1934 when a series of portraits of the founding professors of Victoria College was commissioned. In 1942, historian J. C. Beaglehole was enlisted as the staff representative to hire suitable works of art to enliven the walls of the newly established Staff Common Room at Victoria University College. By 1947 he had convinced the Staff Club to pay an annual levy for purchasing ‘original New Zealand pictures’, and the first addition in 1948 was Sam Cairncross’s Daffodils (1946). The Collection reached a turning point with the purchase in 1956 of a work well beyond the Staff Club’s budget: Francis Hodgkins’ Kimmeridge Foreshore (1938). Beaglehole, Frederick Page and Douglas Lilburn’s successful championing of the purchase of this painting led to the University following the Staff Club initiative by committing an annual sum for acquiring works to build its own collection. Since these auspicious beginnings, and with the special contribution of Tim Beaglehole, who, following his father’s example, championed the Collection for his entire career at Victoria, the University has compiled an important body of work by New Zealand artists that enhances its several campuses and contains an embedded array of cultural narratives, some of which are told in this exhibition.
Calendar of public programme events here.