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By India• 20 Jun 2019
Growing up in Wellington helped Julia Waite discover her passion for art. She now lives in Auckland, where she is Curator, New Zealand Art, at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. The exhibition she co-curated, Gordon Walters: New Vision, opens at Te Papa on 15 June.
Gordon Walters: New Vision is now in its fourth iteration – Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch and now Wellington. This show is tinged with a bit of sadness for me, because it’s the last dance with Gordon, the last presentation of this exhibition. But it feels fantastic that it’s going to be presented at the national museum and, more deeply, in Gordon Walters’ hometown. He was born in Wellington, and he went to Rongotai College. Wellington shaped him like nowhere else, so this feels like an important homecoming.
Walters is amazing. He’s one of our greatest artists. His paintings look mechanical, but there’s a human story behind the exhibition, and I think sharing that enriches the experience of the work. As a curator, I want to give people a sense of the person. I want visitors to feel the humanity coming through the body of work.
I still remember all the amazing programming at City Gallery in the late ’90s, when Paula Savage was the director there. I saw Keith Haring, Frida Kahlo, Rita Angus, Tracey Emin and Gerhard Richter. I remember they had a lot of Keith Haring merchandise and I got a Keith Haring T-shirt – two people with a pulsing heart between them – that I wore to death.
I did a Master of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University. I really valued the opportunity to go and do practical placements while I was studying. I did some work at the Museum of City & Sea [now Wellington Museum], which I really enjoyed. It was great spending time in that beautiful old building down by the water and seeing the museum’s commitment to telling local stories with flair and detail.
I’ve been in Auckland for almost eight years. I really miss Wellington’s proximity to places to walk, like the town belt, Otari-Wilton’s Bush and the Botanic Garden. All the green spaces in Wellington are amazing. Someone did some really good town planning. It’s different in Auckland – you’ve got the waterfront and Cornwall Park and the Domain, but it’s not the same. It’s much more built up.
Whenever I’m back in Wellington, I try to get to Te Papa and look at the collection display of New Zealand art. I always like going to look at the meeting house on level four, Te Hau-ki-Tūranga, because I’ve been visiting that since I was a child. You don’t always get the opportunity to look at something so old and beautiful and finely carved. I also like visiting the dealer galleries, especially Hamish McKay and Hopkinson Mossman, and it’s great because they’re so close together.
I am a sucker for Loretta, I get amazing nostalgia at Astoria, and I love those places on Ghuznee Street, Milk Crate and Customs. I like that whole precinct – it’s really interesting. Gosh, Ghuznee Street wasn’t like that when I was growing up.
Gordon Walters: New Vision provides an in-depth look into the development of Walters’ work, and reveals the different art forms which fuelled his vision and inspired the creation of a singular visual language.