Thought a trip to Auckland Art Gallery wasn’t going to factor into your weekend plans? Think again.
If you’re an Aucklander (or have visited Auckland recently) and haven’t made a visit to Auckland Art Gallery a priority, we kind of have to ask: where have you been?! One of Auckland’s many not-so-hidden gems, the exhibitions are world-class, the workshops are hands-on and the building is just a stone’s throw away from the universities, making it the ideal hangout spot for students.
We sent along two of the most cultured millennials we know: Miss FQ features editor Jessica-Belle Greer, whose high sense of personal style and incredible eye is oft-imitated, never duplicated; and the other being the uber-talented and always on-the-pulse Harriet Keown, part of our Miss FQ Collective and a digital content producer in her day-to-day job. Safe to say, their thoughts on the gallery had us clearing our schedule for a visit ourselves.
It maybe no coincidence the two exhibitions they visited (Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys and Guerrilla Girls: Reinventing the ‘F’ Word – Feminism!) both have notable female trailblazer stories and a powerful message about the strength and collective force of women.
They shared their thoughts with us on each exhibition—see a snapshot (and get ready to purchase your own tickets!) after reading the below:
The exhibition, in a nutshell, is about… one of my favourite New Zealanders, the artist Frances Hodgkins. She was a true original, born in Dunedin 150 years ago, before going on to travel the world, surviving two world wars, to paint.
I went along with… my friend Megan – we’d both been wanting to go to Auckland Art Gallery for a while and this was the perfect excuse to catch-up and have some “girl time”, while also feeling like we were being a little cultured.
My first reaction was… I was lucky enough to interview senior curator Mary Kisler and Karen Walker (who has released a limited-edition travel collection featuring some of her favourite Frances Hodgkins artworks) before the exhibition opened and we talked at length about how Frances was such a modern woman. I was definitely thinking about this as I walked around the rooms – it was amazing to see her bold strokes up close. Her colours are so sumptuous too.
By the end, I felt… quite emotional, if I’m honest! Seeing how such a strong-willed creative followed her calling and forged her own path as a single woman, especially when it wasn’t as common (she first set off overseas in 1901), was heartening and it makes me wonder what future New Zealand women will go on to do.
What inspired me most was… getting to see Frances’ work in the context of the time she was working. From seeing her paintings beside those of artists that inspired her, including Picasso and Monet, to getting to read the stories of the quirky friends she painted, I feel like I got a much better understanding of Frances’ world.
I was surprised to find out… just how big the exhibition was. There were over 150 paintings, along with photographs, letters and interactive displays. It was a really immersive and moving experience.
It cost me $14 to go. Plus an extra $10, which I spent at the gift shop on a Penguin Little Black Classics book. There were plenty of other things I would have liked to have taken with me (including an all-gold cocktail shaker and Curio Noir mini perfume, but I had to rein it in). While the Frances Hodgkins exhibition is ticketed, entry to the rest of the gallery is free for New Zealand residents.
I would recommend this exhibition because… Frances was an exceptional woman and artist but was only recognised, truly, for her career in her later years. For me, it’s really special to see her work recognised on the sesquicentenary of her birth in this country. The grand setting of Auckland Art Gallery, with a beautiful permanent art collection on display in other rooms, makes me feel really lucky that we have a public place like this. I would encourage everyone to make the most of it!
The exhibition, in a nutshell, is about… Frances Hodgkins, one of New Zealand’s most significant artists and a true heroine of female empowerment. The exhibition follows Frances’s travels through Europe, Britain and Morocco in the early 1900s, showing her development as a modernist artist throughout an era of huge social and cultural change.
I went along with… my flatmate and we spent over an hour at the Frances Hodgkins exhibition, only leaving because the gallery was closing! We could have easily spent hours making our way through the beautifully curated galleries as it was the perfect activity for a Sunday afternoon.
My first reaction was… feeling Frances’ beautiful watercolours of Morocco, France and Venice immediately transport me to where she was standing. From the depictions of port-side markets in Marseille to the Virgin Suicides-esque scenes of women playing in the fields of Brittany, these artworks are like a portal to another world – a particularly good feeling at this time of the year, when it feels like everyone I know is in Europe!
By the end I felt… in absolute awe of Frances Hodgkins and her evolution as an artist. The exhibition truly communicates her ever-changing style of painting and her path to becoming a role model and mentor for younger artists, with works from Picasso, Monet and Matisse helping show how she was influenced in each phase of her work.
My favourite part of the exhibition was…. There was a quote of Frances’s on one of the description panels saying, “I personally hate all systems – but then, I am a rebel.” I love to think of this independent, non-conforming woman boldly finding her way through a very unpredictable art scene, and often creating her own path as she went. I think she would be a true millennial hustler if she was alive today.
I was surprised to find out… how much time Frances spent overseas. I went to school in Dunedin, so the fact that Frances also grew up there always gave me a huge sense of pride, but I was never aware that she was such a woman of the world. It’s pretty incredible thinking of her heading out into the unknown in the early 1900s – what a pioneer.
It cost me… $14 to go, but it’s only $12 if you are a student.
I would recommend spending time at Auckland Art Gallery because… It is rich with senses of culture, history, exploration, and female independence – all the ingredients needed for the most inspiring weekend outing. The exhibition ends with a pop-up store filled with the Frances Hodgkins: Framed by Karen Walker range, an exclusive collection of silk shirts, scarves and travel accessories inspired by pieces of Frances’s art – so you can take a piece of Frances Hodgkins home with you!
The exhibition, in a nutshell, is about… a feminist art activism group that started in New York in the mid-80s and are still active all over the world today. I would love to know more about the main members – but they wear gorilla masks as a cheeky way to stay anonymous!
I went along with… As my friend Megan and I were leaving the Frances Hodgkins showcase, the Guerrilla Girls exhibition rooms caught our eyes and we made a pact to come back and see it together. We caught-up over coffee at the gallery café first, and boosted by caffeine and our catch-up chats, we made our way into the exhibition.
My first reaction was… wow! As soon as you walk in there is one of my favourite GG designs covering an entire wall – it’s a yellow graphic print of a reclining Renaissance nude wearing a big grizzly guerrilla mask, posing alongside the question: ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 5% of artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.’
By the end, I felt… It’s easy to become overwhelmed, if not cynical, when thinking about the current state of women’s rights, and the fact that people have been fighting for equal rights for all for far too long. While the topic is a tough one, the riot of colours and genuinely witty responses of the Guerrilla Girls was a refreshing experience. They’ve taken on the historic boys club of the art world, and beyond, with such humour and style.
What inspired me most was… how thought-provoking the statements were and how it challenged Megan and I to question what feminism really means to us. As we were walking around, we were asked questions by a couple of men at the exhibition (including one security guard) and it was inspiring to see some unlikely-looking feminists sharing the experience with us too.
I was surprised to find out… the Guerrilla Girls are the original meme. They were ‘going viral’ and creating a storm before social media was born with their punchy posters (and dogged determination). I was surprised to realise I had seen a few of their statements plastered across Instagram before. Even if you don’t realise it, their influence abounds.
It cost me $0 to go. The exhibition is free if you are a New Zealander. What are you waiting for?
I would recommend spending time at Auckland Art Gallery because… it’s such a serene and safe place to go and learn about others’ experiences and to reflect on your own – and I think it is so important to have this physical sense of community when in reality I spend most of my time behind the screen. Go for the ‘gram, stay for real life!
The exhibition in a nutshell is about… an anonymous feminist collective, the Guerrilla Girls, and their mission to expose gender discrimination of women in art, politics, film and music. The exhibition follows their work over the last 30 years, showing their witty, satirical messages and iconic gorilla masks through posters, photos and documentaries.
I went along with… my boyfriend which was… incredibly eye-opening for both of us. As much as it is confrontational, the punchy, graffiti-style art is easy to digest and super interactive – we both loved leaving our mark on the chalkboard at the end of the exhibition, which was filled with visitors’ own experiences and complaints of gender discrimination.
My first reaction was… A resounding “woah.” This exhibition is in-your-face in the best way, with its hard-hitting stats and sharp-witted humour. It’s hugely impactful and so effective at getting the Guerrilla Girls’ message heard.
By the end I felt… This exhibition is a dramatic contrast to the Frances Hodgkins exhibition, but it is equally enriching. The members of the Guerrilla Girls apparently all work as artists or in art institutions, but their anonymity means the group’s message is the focus rather than individual personalities, which is so refreshing in today’s society where activism can sometimes seem a bit performative. I left feeling hugely inspired by this collective of badass women and their dedication to fighting the good fight without an inch of personal recognition.
My favourite part of the exhibition was…. A poster saying, “It’s just as bad at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki,” which was followed by their own (not-so-flash) statistics of female representation. This voluntary act of self-reflection was a really surprising feature, and I’m hopeful it will lead to more a more equal playing field in future exhibitions.
I was surprised to find out… that the Met has actually regressed in its representation of women. I was certain when I saw the statistics from 1989 at the beginning of the exhibition (with 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections being women) that things would have improved, but shocked to find out at the end of the exhibition that only 4% of featured artists were women in 2011. Talk about going backwards – I was so confident that 22 years would have given them plenty of time to get their act together.
It cost me… $0 to go – this exhibition is free with gallery entry.
I would recommend this exhibition because… Being not so much art as it is a protest or “creative complaining”, this exhibition has a very different vibe to the rest of the art gallery and makes for a bold, fun and humourous shift from other exhibitions. Make the most of the free entry and spend your time reading each and every one of the Guerrilla Girls’ posters. End your outing with a takeaway coffee and a souvenir poster from the gift shop in hand!
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, closes Sun 1 Sep 2019 – find out more and book tickets here.
Guerrilla Girls: Reinventing the ‘F’ Word – Feminism!, closes Tue 15 Oct 2019 – find out more and book tickets here.