Wellington is living up to its reputation as the cultural capital with Te Papa's brand new $8.4 million art gallery opening its doors this weekend. Spanning two levels and created from over 30 tonnes of steel and 20 kilometres of lumber, Toi Art is the first in a series of major changes for the national museum; some of the 20-year-old permanent exhibits are set to be transformed over the coming years.
The gallery's opening weekend will welcome five new exhibitions and ten exclusive new artworks that together "give a sense of what New Zealand art is, and how it fits within the Pacific." A new, yet-to-be-announced project by leading contemporary artist Michael Parekowhai will be one of the first to inhabit the new space.
Toi Art also opens with two major retrospective shows: Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists — a celebration of mana wāhine, indigenous identities and the role this collective has played over the past 26 years in giving voice and visibility to Māori and Pacific peoples in Aotearoa, plus I want to go to my bedroom but I can't be bothered — the 30-year evolution of world-renowned New Zealand jeweller Lisa Walker.
Also opening will be Détour – a seminal new installation that challenges art conventions, and abstract art exhibition Kaleidoscope: Abstract Aotearoa — an exploration of colour, shape and pattern in the Pacific, with a new immersive artwork by Tiffany Singh. The fifth exhibition, Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand, questions ideas of belonging in Aotearoa, and offers different visions of how art might help us find a place to stand.
Works from the national art collection will also be on show, including paintings by C.F. Goldie, Gottfried Lindauer, Rita Angus, Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Gordon Walters, and Robyn Kahukiwa.
Head of Art, Charlotte Davy says the vast, almost-4000m2 floor area, will welcome works that have never been seen before as well as new artistic opportunities. "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."
One particular work is the Toi Art: Immersive Movement Tours. The new commission will see dancers lead the public through the new galleries using movement to explore art in new ways. The one-on-one walking tour aims to activate senses and encourages deep connections with the surrounding art and architecture.
The opening weekend (17–18 March) will kick off with a program of free events and performances — including a free Saturday night gig headlined by Auckland-born, Los Angeles-based musician Chelsea Jade and Auckland electronica group SoccerPractise.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will officially cut the ribbon on the space on Friday 16 March.