150 years of news - Te Papa opens amid logo and name criticism gallery

MIKE SCOTT/NZTA FAIRFAX NZ KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ DON ROY/FAIRFAX NZ MARK ROUND/FAIRFAX NZ PHIL REID/FAIRFAX NZ

Te Papa pictured from the air in 2010.

Contractor John Smith surveys the early construction of Te Papa in 1993.

A colossal squid attracted huge crowds to Te Papa in 2008.

Te Papa's Dinosaurs from China exhibit in 2003 - staff member Vicki Conner walks past the skeleton of a Yangchuanosaurus, or baby T-Rex.

Te Papa chief executive Cheryll Sotheran in 2001.

A dress infamously worn by British model Elizabeth Hurley is adjusted by Te Papa textile conservator Valerie Carson in 2003.

Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton's lifeboat, the James Caird, is craned into Te Papa in 2004.

Te Papa's controversial logo, a thumbprint.

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The omens did not bode well ahead of Te Papa's opening in 1998. A ceremonial waka foundered in Wellington harbour, a Maori warrior launched a bizarre attack on a news cameraman, and all the while criticism continued about the new museum's name and thumbprint logo.

Advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi unveiled the museum's branding in April 1997 to howls of outrage from the public, not least because the exercise cost $200,000.

Calling the logo "Te Thumbprint", The Evening Post poured scorn on the "clunker". "Two-a-penny philistines who argue they could have done it ... are for once on strong ground. Have another go."

The name "Te Papa: Our Place", a modification of the old Dominion Museum name "Te Papa Tongarewa", was open to interpretation, the paper noted.

"Papa can be rendered as board, flat rocks or buttocks, meanings which have thrown the rump of criticdom into frenzied mirth."

Letter writers were even blunter. "I find everything about the marketing image for Monz [Museum of New Zealand] crude, rude and insulting," wrote Lower Hutt's Colin Simon, who designed the classic 1974 Commonwealth Games "NZ" logo.

"The name, Te Papa, vacuous. Slogan, Our Place, meaningless. Symbol, thumbprint, crude, sinister, irrelevant. Colours, red and black, pedestrian. Typestyles, characterless. Whole image, amateur hour, confused, ugly," Simon continued.

Hostile attitudes were also directed at the building itself.

"The design now taking shape on the waterfront was immediately rejected by 95 per cent of polled newspaper readers. There'd been no public competition for a design, and Wellingtonians felt this one had been foisted on them," The Dominion reported in 1996.

Lead designer Ivan Mercep conceded his budget and the museum's brief ruled out an architectural icon in the league of the Sydney Opera House.

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But museum chief executive Cheryll Sotheran defended the yellow and grey stone edifice.

"The real disaster would have been if that hugely adverse environment that we were operating in forced us into choosing options that were bland and mediocre," she told The Dominion in 1998.

Sotheran's public relations masterstroke was to invite Wellingtonians to open days of the still under-construction site. "Acidic attacks were neutralised," The Evening Post conceded.

"The indomitable chief executive fronted up, answered the critics and effectively sidelined dissenters in the design, museum and arts industries."

The museum had more publicity fires to fight before its grand opening. A man dressed as a Maori warrior used a taiaha to bash cameraman Grant Atkinson during a ceremonial procession escorting war canoe Teremoe from the old museum to the new on May 10, 1997.

"Atkinson was left bleeding and dazed and was helped to the side of the road by media colleagues. He was taken to Wellington Hospital where he received 12 stitches to his face and was treated for shock," The Evening Post reported.

"The taiaha broke in pieces during the incident."

The attacker, Levin 38-year-old Timothy Thomas Tukapua, was fined $1000 and given four months' periodic detention.

Another ceremonial waka, this time water-borne, needed to be rescued from Wellington Harbour a week ahead of the museum launch and was towed, with 15 people aboard, to Shelly Bay.

Still, all the controversy was set aside on February 14, when 15,000 people gathered for a spectacular dawn ceremony to christen the new home of New Zealand's treasures.

Sailing hero Sir Peter Blake was the first to step across the threshold, accompanied by children Tama Whiting, 5, and  Grace Sweeney, 8.

Former prime minister Jim Bolger said green-lighting a new Te Papa was one of the greatest decisions he had made as leader, and his successor Jenny Shipley was equally effusive.

"As New Zealanders, we think of ourselves as young, as raw and fresh, but one day, in looking in the mirror, we find, to our surprise, we have grown up," she said.

"This building behind us is such a mirror. It is a place where we can look at ourselves, at our past and at our present, at our natural heritage, at the unique mosaic of cultures that is New Zealand."

The newspapers lavished praise on the $317 million project, which came in on time and under budget.

"Some impossible dreams are nevertheless worth dreaming. This is one come true," The Dominion said.

"It is a bold and imaginative statement about New Zealand and New Zealanders. Among attractions in Wellington, it is the jewel in the crown."

Chief executive Sotheran basked in the approval. "Vindicated is not the word I would use as I have always believed profoundly in the project," she told The Dominion.

"I am far more pleased for the team than anyone else that they are getting the approval ratings and that the experience is being recognised for what it is, which is a very interesting, exciting, challenging look at New Zealanders and their identity."

 - Stuff

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