Christchurch Art Gallery - Jenny Harper

Art in the city 

The Art Gallery in the central city was put on hold for five years as it underwent major repairs. Now it is back, and welcoming people in behind the wavy glass façade.

Jenny Harper, of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, has been the director of a closed gallery for more time than she has been an open one.

Moving to Christchurch in 2009 after living and working in London, Sydney and Wellington, Harper returned to her home town for the role of gallery director. She’s now held the position for seven years, five of which the gallery was closed to the public.

During its closure however, the gallery acquired over 500 pieces to add to its collection, including the neon lit piece, Everything is Going to be Alright by Martin Creed, displayed on the exterior of the gallery.

To those familiar with the galley, on the surface the building doesn’t appear to be much different than it was before it closed its doors for major repairs. For seven months, it held the role of the Civil Defence headquarters, with media and emergency response staff flooding the atrium.

“We’ve taken a fresh approach to showing the works in the gallery. The current shows are temporary in that they’ve been named, and will stay in those groups for the next six months."

Jenny Harper - Christchurch Art Gallery

Stepping inside, the foyer and the gallery layout hasn’t changed much either.
The huge restoration project was done in the basement of the gallery, with the entire building being lifted offits foundations and base isolators retro fitted, before being placed back down on its columns.

Harper says what has changed in the gallery is the “distinct difference” in the way they’re exhibiting their collections.

“We’ve taken a fresh approach to showing the works in the gallery. The current shows are temporary in that they’ve been named, and will stay in those groups for the next six months. What’s new and what’s been acquired, and unseen and new works, have been dotted throughout our current collection.”

Five key works are to commemorate the opening of the gallery, three which have already been acquired. Michael Parakwhai’s On First Looking into Chapmans Homer, which first stood in the central city amongst earthquake debris before temporary installation at the Christchurch International Airport now sits at home in the gallery’s foyer. Bill Cuthbert’s Bebop, a sculpture of lights and chairs, hangs high above the main staircase. And of course, the Martin Creed.

“At ten to ten, they stood on the stairs, as people started to gather outside. We clapped as they came in, and they started to clap back. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many random hugs.”

Jenny Harper - Christchurch Art Gallery

Harper says the greatest moment since opening the doors so far was on the gallery’s re-opening day, when staff and volunteers, along with their families, arrived at 9am, an hour before the gallery opened to the public, to have a first look around.

“At ten to ten, they stood on the stairs, as people started to gather outside. We clapped as they came in, and they started to clap back. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many random hugs.”

Visitor figures sat at around 10,000 in the opening weekend, the same numbers as closing weekend during the hugely popular Ron Mueck exhibition, opening in October 2010 and closing in January 2011, between the two largest earthquakes.

The public have especially enjoyed seeing Petrus Van De Velden’s The Dutch Funeral without its large gold frame.

“The decision to unframe the Dutch Funeral meant that people looked it afresh. They’ve been able to draw comparisons that weren’t as easy to see with the frame around it”.

Tanya Schultz’s piece Pip & Pop, made with over 600kg of caster sugar and taking 140 hours to create, has also been really popular, as well as Simon Morrison’s Yellow arch, which is a “really nice respite”, says Harper.

With CoCA gallery opening in February, Harper says the cultural hub is returning to the central city, giving people even more reason to come in.

The gallery achieved its pre-Christmas 2015 opening date, deciding to open with the on-site café and carpark to be completed.

However, the opening was down to the wire.

“We had a supporters evening on 18th December. People started arriving at 5.30pm for a 6pm start. At three minutes to six we were putting the last tubes and lighting up. I was doing a presentation, and had to ask people to move for cherry pickers. I said in my speech that we had to reschedule due to a piece of performance art, which I named “Just in time”.

Harper says she hopes to see more people living in the inner city in the future, now that the arts have returned with force.

“I’d like to see a city where people know they have options. And knowing they will have fun and be engaged”.

Jenny Harper’s Top 5 Things to do in Christchurch

  1. Eating out at interesting restaurants. King of Snake on Victoria Street and Roots in Lyttleton are all great.
  2. Day trip to Geraldine – my father lives there, so I do that a bit.
  3. I frequently visit the Opawa St Martins Farmers Market.
  4. The Gallery – of course.
  5. Attending an operas performed at the wonderful Isaac Theatre Royal.

How to Get There

In New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch is the country’s second-largest city. It has an international airport, and there are regular flights from other domestic centres.

Best Time to Visit

In autumn, the changing of the leaves makes the city’s historic districts especially beautiful. With ski areas such as Porters and Mt Hutt nearby, you can enjoy a winter wonderland. Known as “the Garden City”, Christchurch comes to life in spring, while summer is an opportunity to enjoy some of the city’s 40 safe swimming beaches.

 

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