Te Papa chiefs call for $100m home for nation's art

Te Papa's new chairman has thrown his weight behind building a $100 million art gallery to house the museum's formidable – but rarely seen – collection.

Sir Wira Gardiner, appointed to the top job a fortnight ago, says a standalone gallery is high on his personal agenda as the museum does not do the collection justice.

Te Papa has been criticised by the art community, politicians and the public since it opened in 1998 for not displaying more of the 15,000 artworks in its collection.

Sir Wira said yesterday that he supported Te Papa board member Chris Parkin, who told The Dominion Post he "would really like to leave Wellington with a new national art gallery".

Mr Parkin said he wanted to see the national collection housed in the proposed "transition building" next to Te Papa. The building was designed for Wellington City Council by Amsterdam-based UNStudios in 2005 but the council has said it is unlikely to go ahead until at least 2014.

Mr Parkin estimated the cost of a new building at $100 million, which he believed could partly be raised from private benefactors.

It is the first time anyone on Te Papa's board has publicly suggested a national gallery. Sir Wira said the public was unable to view most of the museum's significant art collections. "If we could, I'd put the whole damn lot out. One of our problems with the current facility ... is that we don't have the space to do justice to our art.

"The idea of a discrete location to display our national art is certainly high on my personal agenda." Te Papa had done "an extraordinary job" with the space it had, but a gallery would be a great complement, he said.

Board members have already held informal discussions and Sir Wira hopes to start proper planning by the end of next year.

"I'm in a position as chair of Te Papa to move it forward expeditiously. We're engaged in that discussion and as far as I'm concerned, if we can line all the ducks up, I see no reason why we can't press on."

He agreed private funding was needed: "Our current sources of income are not sufficient to fund a facility like that [but] we know there are a number of New Zealanders with significant resources who may wish to contribute."

The council also had "a big role to play".

Arts patron Denis Adam, whose Adam Foundation has helped fund several big projects, said he supported the idea in spirit. "Whether I'd support it financially is another matter. We spent a great deal of money on the city art gallery and I don't think we're in the running for another large outlay at this stage. We are not made of gold, unfortunately."

Te Papa chief executive Mike Houlihan has said the museum's art spaces are "not ideal" and this should be addressed in its long-term planning.

"You've got art at the top of the building. You have to take two lifts to get to it and that's not easy. If you were taking a slightly cynical view, you would say art is being sent back to the attic."

A spokesman for Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson said a standalone gallery was a good idea but neither the Government nor Te Papa had much room in their budgets to fund it.

Wellington art curator and businessman Luit Beiringa dismissed the idea as "all speculation ... It's been mooted too often for me to take it seriously any more".

Question Of Display

February 1998: Te Papa opens, having absorbed the old National Art Gallery in Buckle St. Immediately there is heated debate that it is not displaying enough art.

January 2000: The Art Gallery of New Zealand Society says the area beside Te Papa would be ideal for a new public art gallery.

March 2000: Prime minister Helen Clark criticises how Te Papa displays its art and orders a review after an old fridge is placed next to a Colin McCahon painting in an exhibition.

July 2000: Wellington arts philanthropist Denis Adam and architect Ian Athfield propose a $6.9 million reorganisation of Te Papa to accommodate a national art gallery, along with a $23.3m remodelling of the Odlins Building to provide exhibition space. The government's review recommends a new art exhibition area.

2001: Te Papa spends $4.7m expanding the space it gives to display art, adding a 1500sqm gallery.

The Dominion Post