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Toi Art: A peek inside Te Papa’s fancy new art gallery

Top image: T?rangawaewae Art and New Zealand, installation view. Photograph by Michael O’Neill

Opened on March 17, the new $8.4 million art gallery spans two levels of the museum and is part of a major renewal of all Te Papa’s exhibition spaces.

As Idealog reported back in January, the art gallery is the biggest change to Te Papa since it opened. It also follows the opening of H?n?tore, Te Papa’s high-tech learning lab, in 2017 (which we wrote about here).

As well as art exhibitions, it offers hands-on art activities for children, and interactive experiences like a virtual reality visit to an artist’s studio. Oh, and it’s big – as in 74 kilometres big if all the 40,000-plus artworks were displayed next to each other (about the same distance as a flight from Wellington to Blenheim).

Janet Lilo, Top16, 2007-18 (detail). Photograph by Maarten Holl.

Evan Williams, chairperson of the Te Papa board, says the gallery is a new home for New Zealand art, and a place where all visitors can find something to enjoy. “Toi Art will showcase iconic works from the national art collection, alongside new art created especially for this space. As holders of the national art collection, we are uniquely placed to tell the story of art in New Zealand, and this new space offers the chance to do just that.”

Pacific Sisters – Ani O’Neill, Niwhai Tupaea, Rosanna Raymond, Suzanne Tamaki, 21st Sentry Cyber Sister, 1997.

Charlotte Davy, Te Papa head of art, is equally enthused. “Toi Art is a game changer for art in New Zealand,” she says. “The vast new entrance gallery is larger than any space at Te Papa, and will enable us to showcase works that have never been seen before. There’ll be performance, dance, fashion, film, music, large-scale and new immersive works on show, which is now made possible by the size of the new gallery spaces.”

Niwhai Tupaea, Central Church, Beresford Square, Auckland, 1993. Photograph by and courtesy of Vivienne Haldane (LR).

Designed by Warren and Mahoney, the gallery features flexible spaces to show large-scale and immersive new works. Warren and Mahoney principal architect Katherine Skipper says the gallery has been designed to welcome people into the space, and to encourage them to engage with art.

A new project by contemporary artist Michael Parekowhai takes on the first space of the new art gallery. There are also two major shows going on during the opening, Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists and Lisa Walker: I want to go to my bedroom but I can’t be bothered. There are also two exhibitions showcasing the national art collection, alongside nine new artworks and installations.

A girl plays in the interactive art studio in Toi Art at Te Papa. Photo by Kate Whitley.

Famous works from the national collection are also on show, including paintings by C.F. Goldie, Rita Angus, Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Gordon Walters, Robyn Kahukiwa, and of course Gottfried Lindauer. Toi Art also has new works by contemporary artists from throughout New Zealand, including Helen Calder, Lonnie Hutchison, Janet Lilo, Jeena Shin, Tiffany Singh, Ngataihauru Taepa and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi.

Even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a fan of the new space. “Toi Art is all about the fact that art is for everyone, and I believe every New Zealander will find something here that speaks to them, something to amaze and challenge them.”

Big as the opening is, even bigger things are being planned at Te Papa. As Idealog has previously covered, Te Papa is sinking $11 million into a new nature and environment zone that’ll use the latest tech to teach visitors about the world in which we live. It is set to open in early 2019.

Artist Ani O’Neil welcomes Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson into Toi Art. Photo by Kate Whitley.

By the numbers: Te Papa’s new art space


Levels of art

New exhibitions


New artworks made for the opening

$8.4 million


3,980 square metres

Floor area


Artworks in the national art collection

74 kilometres

Wall length needed to display entire national art collection (about the same distance as a direct flight from Wellington to Blenheim)


New acquisitions to the national art collection


Natural materials in Tiffany Singh’s new work Indra’s bow – including dried plums, rosebuds, dragon’s blood and blue peas

1.5 million

Visitors to Te Papa per year


Hours worked by builders on the new gallery


Nails used to build Toi Art



30 tonnes

Amount of steel used

20 kilometres

Amount of timber used

Lisa Walker, Pendant, 2010, plastic, lacquer, thread.
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