E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
I specifically acknowledge: Sir James Wallace, the Wallace Art Awards judges and Fulbright Wallace Award judges, former Governor-General Dame Cath Tizard and the Hon Phil Goff, MP for Mount Roskill.
Tēnā koutou katoa.
Thank you for inviting me and Janine here this evening. I am delighted to present this year’s Wallace Art Awards. We really enjoyed a tour of the Wallace Art Centre last year so we have been looking forward to this.
Sir James said in his letter of invitation that all the Governor-Generals of the last 21 years have officiated at one of these ceremonies so as you can imagine, I had no hesitation in continuing that tradition although I use the word ‘tradition’ cautiously given the company assembled tonight. Someone once said traditions “are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening”1 and it seems to me that without the unexpected, art would be much less interesting.
From the cave dwellers who worked out that with a charred stick they could make lines on a cave wall to the 20th century artists like Marcel Duchamp who declared everyday objects like snow shovels and bicycle wheels to be art, the biggest innovations have come from people looking past the traditional to see things in new ways and to challenge the status quo.
There’s something very New Zealand in that. As a young country, we are not weighed down by tradition or any particular line of thinking. We can take our influences from anywhere and everywhere – Europe, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific and of course from Maori culture. We meld them into something that is uniquely ours, that tells our stories and references what is important to us. It’s something that New Zealand poet Denis Glover evokes so memorably in his poem Home Thoughts when he says “I think of what will yet be seen in Johnsonville and Geraldine.”
The work and effort you put into this may not always be appreciated. The great artist Degas once said: “Painting is easy for those that do not know how, but very difficult for those that do.” You may have experienced it yourselves. You’re in a gallery peacefully looking at the work, suddenly you hear the stage whisper “My five year old could do that.” Everyone’s a critic!
Seriously though, while the slings and arrows may be unpleasant and even unwarranted, it does underline that that even if art is not necessarily understood, it should still evoke some sort of response. I was struck by a story I read recently about an art collector at an exhibition who was drawn back time and time again to one particularly beautiful painting. The one she bought however was the neighbouring painting that annoyed her in a way she couldn’t quite understand. Her reasoning – she might get tired of the beautiful painting but the disturbing one would challenge her and encourage her to look more deeply.
And that’s what the Wallace Art Awards have done for more than two decades - looked deeply at New Zealand art, acknowledging and celebrating excellence and artistic enterprise. I commend the judges for their hard work during the judging process. Whittling the 475 works submitted down to 83 must have been a gargantuan task.
I also offer my congratulations to the finalists. The act of creation is not always easy and while there must be times the work happens effortlessly, sometimes it is more difficult. Taking an idea and turning it into a reality can often be a long, hard process and the end result is not always success. Your work has not just become a reality but it has been judged as belonging among the best. You can feel proud of your achievement.
And to the four major winners tonight; the residencies you have been awarded represent a major opportunity to broaden your horizons and to further your career. Use it wisely, let the experience shape you, welcome the challenges, embrace the unexpected and let it inform your art.
Finally to all of you, whether you are an artist, arts administrator or an arts lover, bear in mind the words of a young school student in the United States who when asked what art was, said “art is an adventure that never ends.” I hope your adventures in art continue to inspire and enrich.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa