Auckland Art Museum

Well, this was a cool building and decent museum, with mostly New Zealand paintings. Auckland Art Museum The picture there to the left is a large artwork hanging from the roof of the foyer.  The flowers are puffy fabric, big, and open and close individually by a (somewhat jerky) robotic mechanism.  Actually pretty cute.

Many of the painters in this museum – guys you never heard of – had gone to Europe to learn and hob-nob with the giants of the day, such as the Impressionists and Cubists, and returned to NZ with these new ideas, but my reaction to the NZ art, with two exceptions, was rather negative – the art was nice, but didn’t seem to add anything new.  I’ll present a few (very few!) of the old-style pictures I liked, and then show the two exceptions.  A short post!

OK, I lost the title and painter on this upper left one.  The subject is a (defeated) wounded soldier being treated in a sympathetic town.  I liked the setting – the beams/tree trunks of the barn, the Dutch-master-like treatment of the black dress and lace.  Very romantic, don’t you think?  The image on the right is by Edmund Leighton, “Un Gage d’Amour”, 1881.  An Englishman, not a Kiwi.  Nicely done, really.  Romantic theme.  Am I a sap, or what?

The bottom left is a very large painting of a child funeral by Frank Bramley, “For such is the kingdom of heaven”, 1891, an Englishman rather than a Kiwi.  Hmm.  Is there a pattern here?  The painting very much reminded me of John Singer Sargent from about the same time.  The last image (engraving) on the right is by Albrecht Dürer, “The virgin and child with a monkey”.  Yeah, not a NZ artist.  Definitely a pattern.  I love Dürer.  The work is fabulous.  The monkey?  I dunno, whatever sells, I guess.

OK, let’s do 2 NZ artists.  der, Auckland Art MuseumThe first guy is not a professional painter; watercolor was just a hobby. This is John Kinder, “The Wairoa near Lake Tarawera with MissionChapel of Te Mu”, 1886.  There were a bunch of these paintings, and they were wonderful.   Kinder is important historically because he captured early times of European NZ settlement.  He’s an interesting guy – a top-notch mathematics student, he switched studies to become an Anglican ordained deacon.   After a decade of strict application of high church religious observances at his first position in England, the town asked for him to be removed.  Oops.  So that’s when you hop in your canoe and set off for the horizon, and he accepted a position as headmaster at the Church of England Grammar School in Auckland.  He did well, and he did a lot of paintings, thank you.  The other NZ painter I liked is a lady, A. Lois White, and the pictures were from the more modern 1930’s and ’40’s (Picasso time); and like many then, she was a Socialist.  The first line drawing is a subject common for that time protesting Nazism and Capitalism; I thought it well done, and might it apply today to capitalism?  My how some things don’t change.   The next three I loved because I found them different; such an interesting use of repetition!  And space-filling!  And hints of art noveau?

The line drawing is “Study for collapse”, 1944.  The upper right is “Funeral march”, 1936.  Lower left, “Pattern inspired by rain”, 1941 (and I like the subject matter).  Last, “Jonah and the great fish”, 1945.

That’s all for now.  Next post, we’re leaving Auckland for the great beyond.  WoooHoooo!!!

Auckland Museum (Mostly Maori)

Kia ora.  Humor me to continue briefly about Maori influence.  Captain Cook named a bunch of bays (eg, Doubtless Bay, from a ship log entry – “doubtless, a bay”).  Other than that, at least for the North Island, names are mostly Maori.  Impossible, multi-syllable, thousands of very similar names.  Names like Whanganui, Waingaro, Waitangi, Waitiki, Whangarei, Whangamumu, Whatuwhiwhi, Whangaroa.  Those cities being located just in the small arm of the North Island above Auckland – and there are more like that.  And there are lots lots lots more going south – Whakahoro, Whitianga, Waikaremoana …. my brain shuts off.  Oh, and to make it more interesting?  Whangarei is pronounced “Fahn-ga-ray”.  Confusion reigns, and no, it is not just the “W”‘s.  So when reading a guide book and you see a city name, you are guaranteed to have no bloomin’ idea where in the island they’re talking about.  My brain thinks all the cities have the same name.

OK, onward to the Auckland Museum, which, among other things, contains the world’s finest collections of Maori and Pacific art and craft.  The carved wood art is amazing.  Intricate, often full of difficult fenestration, and full of Maori meaning, the art is incredible at any level.  It was applied to buildings, to gateways, to walking sticks, to canoes, to paddles, to boxes, to musical instruments, to bailing buckets for the canoes …. Let me share some examples; I’ll start with a storage shed for food and items of value to the tribe.AustraliaMuseumStorage1  Not too shabby – the sides and back are also carved the same way.  Some details:

Carved panels were used for building decoration indoors and out, and as gateways.  A pretty example below:

Carved Panel

Of course, carved boxes to store valuables (like your favorite feathers):

OK, small things to big things, let me show you a war canoe.  It was built in 1836 from a single log; it is 25 meters long and can hold 100 warriors.  The vertical image is the very tall canoe’s tail.

Some examples of carved ship prows (and a canoe paddle):

Musical instruments were interesting.  There were no stringed instruments prior to European arrival, just drums and wind instruments; examples shown below:

As you might expect, bowls were carved (or shaped, the last one from a single piece of bark):

We’re getting near the end!  Stay with me just a while longer, the best is last.  Let me show you some of their fiber arts, done by the women.  Below is a kiwi feather cloak, each feather woven into the fabric.  A fiber mat and 2 skirts.  And fiber baskets.

OK, for me the most spectacular was the meeting house, shown below:Meeting House

The meeting house is constructed of wood panels and woven fiber mats.  Each panel

typically represents a story from that tribe or sub-tribe, often regarding ancestors.  Support poles are typically images of ancestors.  The meeting house had many functions.  It was a place for the tribe to receive visitors, to do business, to entertain or have parties, or for weddings or funerals.

Truly spectacular, I thought.

Museums are tiring.  The receptionist told us the museum would take us 2-3 hours to see; we spent 5 hours and did not come close to seeing everything (a diverse museum, it had for instance an Edmund Hillary wing with his gear, pictures, and a large mock-up of Everest on which was projected in a time sequence his team’s daily progress up the mountain.   Cool!  And some pretty incredible fossils, like this one. Fossil But enough for now!





Except for this one last item from the museum, a stuffed Kiwi.  Aren’t they cute?  For those of you old enough to remember (are any of you old enough to remember?) Al Capp’s Shmoo, don’t they look like a Shmoo with feathers and beak?   We hope to see one while we’re here, but Shmoo – I mean kiwi – being in the forest and nocturnal, I dunno.Kiwi

The Maori

Kia Ora, welcome.  Hey, every now and then you gotta pay for looking at the beauty.  It’s not just about gorgeous, it’s also about context.  To be in NZ one has to know a little of its history, and that means the Maori, the original human inhabitants.  They arrived in canoes in the 1200’s.  I mean, how do you just hop in a canoe and paddle off to the horizon?  Your boss piss you off?   They found quite a bonanza here; in addition to sea-food and seals, there were Moa, Moaostrich-like birds that can weigh over 500 lbs (wiped out within 100 years).  Being isolated then (as now) they developed a unique culture with their own language (all spoken, no written).  Also distinctive crafts and performing arts (they were great wood carvers!).  Like the American Indians they were clannish, with a tribal organization and reverence for ancestors (whose images they would capture in wood carvings, displayed like heraldry).  And so, human nature being what it is, with time tribal societies engaged in endemic warfare and developed a prominent warrior culture.

A remarkable part of Maori life was body decoration – tattoos.  This was done by a skilled and respected Tohunga-ta-moko, who would take a sharp tool and cut the skin in a design, then add ink to the wound, making the design permanent Mauri Painting(painting by Lindauer, late 1800’s).  Women would do this mostly to their chin and lips.  Men would do this to their entire face, as well as other parts of their body.  To some degree this practice (now as a conventional tatoo) continues with the Maori today.  So let’s take a look at a drawing of a Maori person in the 1800’s, and at some Maori carvings from before that.

In the middle image, our man holds a war club.  Of course, for capturing ancestors in wood, the tatoos Mauri Ancestorsprovided instant recognition (from the look of the ancestors portrayed in this image, they seem to have been caught in a rather compromising position).

Back to the warrior culture, the Maoris were fierce.  There are stories of Maori coming upon an inhabited island, being welcomed, handshakes all around, and then pouncing on the inhabitants and killing them all.  Genocide R us.  Before battle warriors would perform a dance, a haka, to declare their prowess and intimidate their enemies.  The haka uses fierce facial expressions, grimaces, weapon waving, showing the whites of eyes, grunts and cries, and – pointedly – sticking the tongue out and down.  The display of the tongue in the haka is an indication to the enemy that they will not only be defeated and killed, but eaten.  That message is seen in many of the Maori wood carvings.

Along with the warrior culture came fortified hill forts (pa) and some of the largest war canoes ever built (and carved).  Mauri PaThere are many, many many small hills in NZ, and terraced remains of pas are everywhere.  One of the interesting (to me) aspects of the model pa shown here is the gate in the middle of the picture.  The pa gate uses an uphill entrance and right angle turns, something we saw in Moorish forts a continent (and 5 centuries) away (and that I’ll show you as I backfill posts from Spain).

And then the Europeans (pakeha) came; Captain Cook mapped NZ from the sea in 1769.  Whalers came, and traders, and there were generally positive and amicable relations (the Maori language became written, for example), but things slowly deteriorated due to the usual problems of Old World diseases, alcohol, land grabs, a huge demand for firearms for inter-tribal conflicts, rough whalers, escaped convicts from Australia, prostitution, etc, all leading to a crumbling tribal structure.  Missionaries came, intent on converting Maori to Christianity.  Settlers came, with land issues and mistreatment of the Maori.  Finally in 1840 there was the seminal event in NZ history; partly to prevent French expansion, the British Crown sought to convince the Maori to become British subjects with all the protections of citizenship, including land ownership.  The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the 5 major tribes of the North Island in 1840, purportedly guaranteeing Maori control of their lands, rights and possessions in return for their loss of sovereignty.  Small problem – the treaty was in English, with a Maori “translation”, but the two did not say the same thing, particularly regarding land and resource ownership.  Then the usual happened, with more settlers and land grabs, leading to the NZ wars of 1860.  After a year the Maori were subdued, and with it much of their lifestyle.  Unlike the American Indians, however, there are no barren deserts in NZ to send the natives to.  Maori were somewhat integrated, and over the years have had some of their grievances addressed.  Maori lag behind their countrymen in many categories, and currently there are as yet unsettled wrangles over cultural identity, land and resource rights.  A positive sign for the future is an increasing Kiwi pride and appreciation of the country’s Maori heritage.  I’ll share some of the amazing Maori art in the next post (with a LOT fewer words!  Sorry about the length of this post).


Auckland2It’s an interesting city.  San Francisco on steroids, it sits on 50 or so extinct volcanoes that are 100-200 meters high; except for the wharf area, you are walking up or down, steeply.  One out of 3 Kiwis live here (but total NZ population is only 4.5 million – half the population of New York City).  Polyglot; it is the world’s largest Polynesian city.  Lots of skyscrapers, many quite interesting.  I did not take many pictures of Auckland buildings.  I was more interested in their parks and the wild stuff they do.  That central needle, the Skytower, is the height of the Eiffel tower.  There at the biggest bulge of the tower you can tether yourself to a ring and walk around the building on a narrow, flat, no hand-rail walkway, or even throw yourself off.  Or at the ground level downtown right there on a street corner you can get hurled upward in a cage tethered by rubber bands attached to two towers.  Pictures below.

Alas, all this is at some monetary cost and we were still reeling from the high cost of living.  Breakfast is $30, lunch is $50-$60, dinner is at least $80 with a glass of wine.  So I didn’t throw myself off a building.  Probably a mistake, I should do this on the way back through.

Also interesting are Auckland’s parks.  They’re plentiful and fabulous.  I mean, this is downtown Auckland!

Finally, NZ is so environmentally committed!  The picture below is a coffee cup.  It’s a pretty heavy cardboard, works great.  One can not find styrofoam anything here.  To use diesel fuel, there is a tax of $50/1000km for the carbon offset.  Hotels ask you to separate recyclables.  Pretty cool.Coffee cup