Did you know your national museum owns works by Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt and Pablo Picasso? Even a cursory glance at the magnificent Art at Te Papa will leave you breathless at the riches of the Te Papa collection—and thrilled that you and I own it all.
Te Papa tends to hit the headlines when some delicate, mainstream journo becomes outraged on our behalf, usually when an artwork has the temerity to ask the visiting punter to do a bit of thinking—remember the Madonna-in-a-condom scandal of 1998? Lordy, I’ve only just recovered.
In between times, Te Papa gets on with the job of looking after more than 5,000 visitors a day. In fact, based on recently published international museum attendance figures, Te Papa’s 1.8 million annual visitors places it at about 18th in the world, just ahead of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Not bad for Our Place, eh?
That makes Te Papa a world-class tourist attraction (John Key are you reading this?), and the reasons why can be readily found as you browse through the pages of this mighty book.
Art at Te Papa is a 400-page guide to the museum that is world-famous in New Zealand. Art is just part of the holdings of the museum but, as the book amply illustrates, these holdings are rich and diverse and should be the source of a high degree of national pride.
I turned straight away to the section titled ‘New Zealand Art 1945–1970’ (one of eight chapters) and marvelled again at the flowering of New Zealand modernism after WWII. Te Papa holds crucial works in the New Zealand canon such as McCahon’s Northland Panels of 1958. Art lovers will have seen many of these works before, but reproduced here with some old favourites and alongside some lesser-known gems they speak anew of the virility and splendour of our national discourse in the visual arts.
This book is a timely reminder of the singular role great museums play in our national life and as storehouses of artistic treasure. The introductory essay recounts the furore over the 1978 purchase of Northland Panels for the astounding sum of $25,000. Today this painting alone is worthy many millions of dollars, a reminder that the value of our national collection can be measured in more than just cultural terms.