Opening of Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangārei delayed by two months

Denise Piper/Stuff
A cupola covered in $50,000 worth of gold leaf has been lifted onto Whangārei's nearly complete Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery. Video first published June 26.

The official opening of Whangārei’s much-anticipated Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery has been delayed for two months by Covid-19 restrictions.

The centre – the last building designed by the late Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser – was due to open on his birthday, December 15, but will now open on February 20.

However, visitors will be able to properly see the building’s exterior and walk around the grounds on Whangārei’s waterfront when the construction fences come down on December 3.

Visitors will have to wait until February 20 for the opening of the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery in Whangārei.
Kea Kids News
Visitors will have to wait until February 20 for the opening of the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery in Whangārei.

On the same day, the centre’s restaurant and bar Aqua will open, allowing diners to get a glimpse of its interior.

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The building was first designed by Hundertwasser in 1993, originally to convert the former Northland Harbour Board building into an art gallery.

The exterior of the Hundertwasser project is nearly complete, with a cupola made with real gold leaf lifted onto the building in June.
Denise Piper/Stuff
The exterior of the Hundertwasser project is nearly complete, with a cupola made with real gold leaf lifted onto the building in June.

But the project has not been straightforward – much like Hundertwasser’s artistic philosophy which abhors straight lines.

The project was twice scrapped – once in 1993 when the Northland Regional Council did not wish to sell its habour building, and again in 2014 when Whangārei District Councillors withdrew council funding for the project.

Since then, the centre has been backed both by a referendum and a public fundraising campaign, with money also coming from the Provincial Growth Fund and NZ Lotteries.

People wanting to see more than just the model of the Hundertwasser Art Centre will be able to walk around the grounds from December 3.
Richard Smart/Supplied
People wanting to see more than just the model of the Hundertwasser Art Centre will be able to walk around the grounds from December 3.

The project hit another snag when it was discovered the former harbour board building could not be used for the project and had to be dismantled. The first foundation piles were driven in September 2018.

This is the second time Covid-19 restrictions have delayed the project’s opening, with 2020’s lockdowns causing six months of delays.

Thomas Biss, the chairman of governing body Hatea Art Precinct Trust, said the Hundertwasser Art Centre was no exception for falling prey to the uncertain times created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

STUFF
Wairau Māori Art Gallery chairwoman, Elizabeth Ellis, says the country's first dedicated contemporary Māori art gallery has big visions for the future.

“The impact of the pandemic has been felt deeply throughout the Northland and Auckland regions, and this has prevented Wairau Māori Art Gallery from being able to assemble their inaugural exhibition,” he said.

There have also been delays with the delivery of art from Europe, with the centre set to display the largest collection of Hundertwasser’s art outside of Vienna.

There were also delays getting essential materials, such as the accessible stair lift connecting the rooftop garden to the gold cupola, compounded by difficulties getting technicians from Auckland to complete the work, Biss said.

Wairau Māori Art Gallery Charitable Trust chairwoman Elizabeth Ellis said the delay would be worth the wait for visitors.

The Wairau Māori Art Gallery will be New Zealand’s first public gallery dedicated solely to profiling Māori artists and curators, and will showcase the best of Māori art, she said.