Still looking: Peter McLeavey and the last photograph
Curated by Geoffrey Batchen and Deidra Sullivan
6 October – 20 December, 2018

“I think there is one more photograph I have to find. The last photograph. I’m still looking for it. It’s out there somewhere. I’m waiting for it to claim me, the last photograph. I don’t know what it is, but when I see it, I’ll know it and I’ll buy it, and it will hang with all the others. And maybe then the life, the story, the quest, will be complete.”

This exhibition explores the quest described above by Peter McLeavey. Unbeknownst to many, McLeavey spent almost thirty years collecting photographs, amassing a world-class ensemble of prints by some of the medium’s most significant figures. These include William Henry Fox Talbot, Charles Clifford, Francis Frith, Eugène Atget, Berenice Abbott, Bill Brandt, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, and Joel-Peter Witkin. McLeavey also collected related examples of photo-media, such as photogravures by Léon Vidal, James Nasmyth, and Loewy and Puiseaux, and lithographs by Joseph Beuys, Barbara Kruger and Sherrie Levine. In addition, he acquired numerous examples of New Zealand photographs, from ambrotypes and albumen prints to contemporary art.

McLeavey claimed that ‘collections are essentially maps of the self. A diary of the self. They reflect back the lives of the collectors.’ Still looking takes up this proposition, tracing the trajectory of McLeavey’s own collecting and measuring it against his itinerant childhood, his Catholicism, and his various intellectual, emotional and aesthetic interests. Welcoming the opportunity to pursue art works that he wasn’t selling himself, McLeavey tended to collect particular photographers in depth and after considerable research and consideration. Most of his photographs were acquired from leading dealers in the United States and are among the finest prints by these artists that were available. McLeavey also framed each photograph in an individually designed molding, accentuating certain aspects of each image and imposing a personal perspective on the viewing experience.

The exhibition features an array of photographic images in a variety of media, along with letters and catalogues related to McLeavey’s purchases, providing a unique opportunity to reflect on the nature of collecting and to invite each visitor to ask what their own ‘last photograph’ might be.

An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with an essay and annotated list of works by the curators. This has been published with funding from the Ronald Woolf Memorial Endowment, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, and the Wellington Institute of Technology. The publication is available for sale at Adam Art Gallery or online here.


Media release for Still looking: Peter McLeavey and the last photograph here.


Detail of, Dane Mitchell, <i>Meander Collection</i>, 2015, c-print, 250 x 380mm, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, purchased 2018


Solid State: Works from the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection
Curated by Sophie Thorn, Collection Manager
6 October – 20 December, 2018
Opening 5 October, 6pm

Solid State brings together a selection of recent additions to the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection by six contemporary New Zealand artists. Presenting works by Phil Dadson, Fiona Connor, Richard Frater, Simon Ingram, Daniel Malone and Dane Mitchell, Solid State explores research based approaches to art making that delve into fields of knowledge such as chemistry, physics, electronics and environmental sustainability. It demonstrates how the art collection seeks to build meaningful connections to other disciplines in the university context.

In the physical sciences there are four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma. When something is in a ‘solid state’ its molecules are tightly packed together; it can hold its shape and has a definite volume. All the works in this exhibition can be described as solids because they take a material form, whether this is a painted surface, a brass ring, framed image, projector, TV screen, iPad, sheet of paper, or glass brick. However, each work also results from, refers to, or instantiates other less tangible states. Dane Mitchell’s brass rings are solid representations of the molecular structure of water; Simon Ingram’s abstract paintings were made by a machine programmed to react to low-frequency radio signals; and Philip Dadson’s videos materialise sound by snagging Antarctic wind in wires and fabric exposed to the elements on the ice. Even more complex are works by Richard Frater, who has cast a ring out of the silver extracted from 16mm film, that is then reproduced through the exposure to light of a wet plate coated with silver nitrate, and Daniel Malone, who cast a glass brick by melting and reforming the shards of a window he broke with a clay version of the same object. While Fiona Connor compiles data about the Adam Art Gallery’s building in order to draw attention to the energy it consumes.

Though highly selective, these works are indicative of the means by which artists today explore the world around them. Finding form for the complexity of material existence and embedding objects and images with encoded histories through transformational processes, their art making can be thought of as another mode of research, a kind of material thinking that is at home in the university.


Image: Dane Mitchell, Meander Collection (detail), 2015, c-type print, 250 x 380mm,
Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, purchased 2018



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