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Secrets reveal Auckland Museum’s hidden mysteries

Media Release – 19 June 2008

‘Secrets’ reveal Auckland Museum’s hidden mysteries

Some secrets are so good they have to be shared. That is why Auckland Museum is opening the doors on its ‘never been seen’ collection, giving the world an opportunity to discover its hidden treasures.

For the first time in over ten years, the Auckland Museum’s complete collection is back under one roof. To celebrate this ‘quintessentially Auckland’ collection, the public exhibition ‘SECRETS REVEALED: The backstage mysteries of your Museum’ will open on July 12th in the Museum’s Special Exhibitions Hall.

With only 2% of the museums total collection on display at any one time, many of the almost 4 million objects have never been seen by the public. And they each have their own unique story to tell and history to share.

“The heart of this exhibition is really about story telling, not just showcasing this unique collection, but sharing the stories and tales that go with each object,” says Auckland Museum’s new director, Dr Vanda Vitali. “It’s a chance to reveal to Auckland some of the many exceptional items the Museum has currently in storage, and to let the public know how the museum takes care of them”.

The concept development for SECRETS REVEALED, the first New Zealand exhibit under the direction of Dr Vitali, was a collaborative effort involving numerous external creators and Museum staff, all of whom were asked to submit their own stories of their favourite unseen object.

Well known New Zealand identities including Bill Ralston, Michael Hurst, and Finlay McDonald have selected their favourite stories from those put forward by staff which have then been incorporated into the exhibition via elements of sight and sound.

“In every case it was the story behind the object that propelled it into the exhibition. Some of these long hidden treasures had extraordinary tales to tell about their origins, their fate and their significance to the museum,” says Bill Ralston.

“I've always looked at the displays in the museum and wondered what else they've had stored away out the back. Now I realise what we see is only a tiny tip of a huge iceberg of many fantastic collections and objects. All with extraordinary stories to tell about how they came to be.”

Eager to work with Dr Vitali on this distinctive project, some of the world’s most promising designers have been working alongside over 125 museum staff to create a theatrically-inspired display. This unique exhibition is the result of a collaborative effort between Marion Lyonnais for three dimensional design, lightemotion for the exhibition’s innovative lighting displays, sound by Digicake and graphics by Sanders and Radiation. This harmonious blend of creative and inventive designers has created an integrated, immersive experience for visitors.

“Our brief was to design a highly visual feast for our visitors, one that indulges the senses and brings the collection to life. Through combining a distinctive blend of creative elements, we are highlighting not just the objects themselves but the emotions associated with these items and their stories,” says exhibit designer Marion Lyonnais, who’s work has included prestigious international projects such as the Museum of Automobile in Turin (Italy), and the famous 1913 Gallery in Los Angeles (USA).

The exhibition simultaneously profiles the objects and their wonderful stories, as well as the unique process each object goes through, from when it first arrives at the museum through to storage consignment or display in the museums galleries. This intriguing process is profiled in greater detail giving a fuller understanding of the history of the collection.

“Our research and curatorial teams had a great time searching through the collection for highlights - the rare, odd or visually stunning treasures that we care for and that are rarely out on display,” says Dr Tom Trnski, Research Manager at Auckland Museum. “But what sets our collections objects apart are the stories attached to them and the curatorial teams had fun writing these stories to bring the objects to life. The Secrets exhibition is a great opportunity for people to see the vast range of objects in our collections and to hear their stories”.

The exhibition also highlights the benefits these objects have for the Museum’s research fields, and contains a section helping explain how these objects assist in promoting greater understanding and knowledge of our world.



“Hi there, my name is Jerry Jaxon and some people may say I’m the new kid on this block, but I have to say, I’ve been round the block a few times and I know a thing or two!

Here in the Museum I’m dressed in my Air Force uniform, but my former wardrobe was quite extensive as had to rub shoulders with all the important people. I must say that the work I did during World War II was pretty important so I’m quite happy to stay in uniform, and you know what they say about men in uniform!

Now, during WWII I had a very important role – can you guess? Well my task - was keeping people happy!! I had a regular slot at the Auckland 1ZB studio, but I also travelled around the country (in Dunedin I even received an honorary diploma). And, I became a bit of a pin-up boy – I was right alongside Betty Grable.

Modest, no, that’s not a word I’m familiar with, but I have to admit that I didn’t do this all by myself. George Tollerton was always on hand, or should I say that he lent me a hand, and generally I felt quite speechless without him. We had some great times together, and to be truthful I miss him dreadfully. But, that’s enough looking back. Here I am at the Museum and I’m ready to cheer you up”

“I’m the moose with no name. They found me in a museum storeroom in 1985. I had no label, no number, nothing. Obviously I got here somehow. I was probably shot and mounted as a hunting trophy in Alaska or Canada – as the largest member of the deer family I guess I’m quite a prize. So you’d think someone might remember how I ended up on the other side of the world in a museum. But no – there is no record of my arrival or my history. I’m the one that got away, slipped through the net, evaded detection ... which just goes to show, even the best bureaucracy has its off days.”


Once these fragile costumes – “body masks” – from West Irian were inhabited by real people. They were used at festivals, funerals and feasts. What stories might they tell? One story we do know is that they form part of the museum’s world class ethnology collection thanks to the generosity of an Australian artefact dealer who gifted them, along with other rare items, in 2002. Given the sale of such artefacts was his livelihood it was a remarkable act – and an example of how much the museum relies on donors and benefactors for its collections.


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this Dresden jug might need a lot of beholding to be found beautiful. Once a part of the permanent ceramics display it appealed and appalled in equal measure. To children it was the epitome of the sort of grand, ornate and expensive-looking things a real museum should have. To many adults, however, it was the height of Rococo revival hideousness. Maybe it really does belong back in storage, what do you think?

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