Parekowhai: Détour | Pacific Sisters: He Toa Tāera Fashion Activists

Michael Parekowhai, Détour, 2018, installation view; Michael Parekowhai, Constable Plum Bob, 2018, and Hoodwinked, 2018, fibreglass, automotive paint, with Colin McCahon, Northland Panels, 1958. Photo: Maarten Holl 

Art has been a sensitive topic for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa since it opened twenty years ago in 1998. This point of contention might now be resolved with the recent opening of Toi Art, a major architectural renovation that provides a new wing of gallery spaces spanning Te Papa’s fourth and fifth floors. Toi Art features a number of exhibitions with new commissions, of these Michael Parekowhai’s Détour and He Toa Tāera Fashion Activists by the Pacific Sisters are particularly strong. The occasion is added to by the launch of a new publication on Te Papa’s history.

Widely considered as the return of the national art gallery and promoted by Te Papa staff as “a building within a building,” Toi Art is marketed and architecturally conceived as a distinct entity. It is unmistakably a traditional white cube placed within a postmodern black box. For those who were part of establishing Te Papa in the 1990s this shift might represent a regression from the original Te Papa ethos of being an organisation that allows for greater interdisciplinary integration of art, social and natural history collections.

This original vision proved controversial due to the considerable art sector backlash to Te Papa’s inaugural exhibition . . .