While I may not be an expert critic, it’s no secret that I’m an art museum lover. So when I said I needed to dedicate an entire post to the Auckland Art Gallery, it was with with good reason – it’s HUGE, and has such an amazing collection it would have dwarfed my puny little post trying to describe the entire city in one go. So, just because (and just in case you ever end up in Auckland in the pouring rain, wondering what to do), here’s an introduction to my favorite part of the City of Sails:
The Auckland Art Museum was built in 1888 and remains the largest art institution in New Zealand. It sits in the center of the city, right next to Albert Park and paces away from the university, and houses upwards of 15000 works in its five stories. The building itself is a beautiful, graceful modern structure of glass and wood, and right outside the entrance a fountain pool with a giant man-made branch of shocking pohutukawa sits like a bright red beacon, as if it had just fallen from some nearby supernatural tree.
While I may not approach art in a very academic way, I like pieces that evoke an emotional response without any need for explanation. I won’t bother adding a lot of my own detail here, but here were a few of my favorite pieces from inside the museum, with a little bit of information taken from their wall placards to explain the context (to see them, simply hover over each photograph):
Universe, by Len Lye, couldn’t really be done justice through a photograph, so I took a video instead. As the sign nearby explained, “The 6.7 meter steel band of Universe is softened and manipulated by electromagnets hidden in the sculpture’s base. In motion, this work is as much a musical instrument as a sculpture. Universe’s vibrations evoke planetary orbits and dancing electrons, telescoping macro and micro together in a ‘figure of motion.’”
One of my favorite pieces was a large installation called Optical Spaces by Belgian artist Luc Peire. The installation consisted of a huge white box in the center of a room, guarded by a docent who offered to let you step inside (as long as your removed your shoes first). Inside, atmospheric alien music played while you took a few moments to adjust to the reality-warping stripes extending from floor to ceiling, which seemed to extend infinitely above, below, and around you due to the mirrored floor and ceiling. According to the placard outside, “Piere made three optical ‘Environments’ between 1967 and 1973 as the ultimate expansion of his ideas on vertical illusion. First exhibited the year before man landed on the moon, Peire’s work encapsulates some of the fascination with and fear of unknown space.
Piere began to develop his abstract artistic language in the mid-1950s as he sought to capture the vertical lines of human perception. The plain exterior of Environment III’s Formica box was constructed according to the dimensions of French architect Le Corbusier’s Modulor, a system described by him as a ‘range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale.’ The cube’s mirrored floor and ceiling create an illusion of endless vertical space, of extension into infinity. To accompany the eerie sensation of standing in the cube, Peire commissioned Flemish composer of electronic music Louis De Meester to write a composition. Called Opus 297 (environment), De Meester’s piece is an electronic ‘tone picture’ in a succession of glissando and sinus tones.”
Leaving the museum you get one final surprise in the joyous installation of Choi Jeong Hwa’s Flower Chandelier, hanging directly above the main foyer. It sits above the atrium and literally breathes, puffing its giant inflatable blooms in and out, and makes you smile in spite of yourself. The museum describes them as “exuberant inflatable flowers [drawn] from Pop art’s tongue-in-cheek rebellion and celebration of popular culture. Flower Chandelier initiates a conversation with [nearby] Albert Park’s gardens, turning the Gallery’s atrium into a gigantic greenhouse. [It] is a gift for Auckland which grew out of contemporary Korea: like the extravagant fake crystal chandeliers that decorate many newly built Korean apartments, it is a joyful Pop spectacle.”