Art galleries are a wonderful way to capture a destination's sense of identity, to contemplate life's big questions, to impress a date, or wile away an afternoon. With close to 100 galleries dotted across Auckland, we are spoilt by artistic choice. So taking some established names with some emerging spaces, we've compiled ten art galleries where you can see exceptional art for free.
AUCKLAND ART GALLERY, AUCKLAND CBD
Situated in the heart of the CBD, all roads lead to Auckland Art Gallery. From its architecture to the art itself, the gallery merges the historical and contemporary to establish a sense of place on both the local and international stage. Founded in 1888, Auckland Art Gallery now boasts 16,000 pieces ranging from the 11th century to today; meaning that there really is something for all tastes.
With several permanent exhibitions dedicated to the history of New Zealand art, it's a great place to get a broad overview of our how our sense of self has developed and where we're going. While the (fairly) recent appointment of its latest director Rhana Devenport has seen a glut of impressive international touring exhibitions pass through its doors of late. Previous crowd favourites include The Obliteration Room and The Body Laid Bare. While Julian Rosefield's immersive 13-screen film installation, Manifesto, starring Cate Blanchett has been extended until Sunday 15 July. Keep up to date with the talks, events and exhibitions on the Auckland Art Gallery website.
GOW LANGSFORD GALLERY, AUCKLAND CBD
Just across the road from AAG is Gow Langsford, widely regarded as one of the most influential art dealers in New Zealand. Established in 1987, the names on their books is a who's who of New Zealand artists: Dick Frizzell, Sara Hughes, John Pule and Max Gimblett – and that's only scratching the surface. After 30 years in the business, the gallery has hosted over 300 exhibitions from some of the finest artists from New Zealand and around the world, including Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso.
FRESH GALLERY, ŌTARA
For over a decade, Fresh Gallery has given contemporary Pacific artists a space for their visions to be seen and their voices to be heard. Nestled in Ōtara, the monthly rotation of art exhibitions aims to make art relatable to the gallery's location and community. Fresh's grassroots attitude continues with workshops and public talks also readily available. A recent example was KO 'EKU 'IAI: Existence in Auckland — a conversation between artist Visesio Poasi Siasau and visiting lecturers from Lo'au University Tonga. From experimental art projects and collaborations with national and international artists to emerging artists, this is a gallery that lives up to its name.
TE TUHI CENTRE FOR THE ARTS, PAKURANGA
Before you even enter Te Tuhi, there is a statement of intent with Michael Parakowhai's hyperbolic sculpture Atarangi II outside the front door that merges local and global art histories of the past and the present. Through its locally engaged, socially conscious art exhibitions from a range of exciting local and international artists, Te Tuhi has established itself as one of Auckland's best contemporary art institutions. Coupled with a robust annual program that includes major exhibitions, offsite projects and free public talks, the gallery maintains a sense of discovery in an exciting, accessible way. This is very appropriate when you consider the name Te Tuhi was gifted by local tangata whenua Ngāi Tai and is in reference to their ancestor Manawatere, a great explorer. If you're around during mealtime, the space also plays host to Small Fry, a small and delightful artist-run cafe.
PAH HOMESTEAD, HILLSBOROUGH
Perched atop a hill in Monte Celia Park is Pah Homestead. Originally built in 1877 as a nunnery, it is now the home of the TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre which curates artwork from the Sir James Wallace Arts Trust Collection. Since beginning his collection in the 1960s with a piece by Toss Woolaston, Sir James Wallace has never stopped collecting. Currently clocking in at 7000 artworks in almost every medium you can think of, the collection captures the history of New Zealand art while showcasing emerging talents. The juxtaposition of modernist and contemporary art with parquet floors, marble floors and other trappings of Victorian aesthetics is striking to say the least. The centre also hosts touring exhibitions, as well events such as talks, screenings and concerts.
ARTSPACE, KARANGAHAPE ROAD
K' Road is the historical heart of Auckland's bohemian set. It's an area where artists and their audiences are keen to present new ideas and challenge societal norms. As a non-commercial, non-collecting art institution, Artspace is just that; a space for art where exhibitions actively contribute to the discourse of contemporary art. It might sound intimidating, but rest assured that there are plenty of ways to engage with Artspace. Education is at the heart of Artspace's ethos with a well-stocked reading room and plenty of free public talks with curators and artists covering topics such as social context, institutional programming, creative commons and audience development.
MCCAHON HOUSE, TITIRANGI
Colin McCahon is perhaps New Zealand's best-known modern artist. He moved to Auckland in 1953 and taking up a role at the Auckland Art Gallery as a curator, writer and editor. His time in Titirangi was characterised by landscapes in a variety of styles and forms and McCahon would often paint directly onto the walls of his home. McCahon House offers an intimate insight into his artistic process and inspiration.
FOX JENSEN GALLERY, GREY LYNN
Dealer Gallery Fox Jensen brings some of the most exciting artists from Europe, Australasia, Europe and America to our fair shores. With a sister gallery in Sydney, both are regular attendees at Art Basel Hong Kong and Sydney Contemporary Fair. If your tastes lean towards contemporary abstraction, then look no further.
Featuring architecture, craft and design, Objectspace is a welcome addition amidst a glut of visual art galleries. It manages to both rightly elevate these mediums to gallery/museum status while highlighting their everyday importance. One of their current exhibitions Mirror Grain captures their ethos well. Merging art history and design history the result is an exhibition that is modern yet timeless.