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New Zealand art rocks New York City

New Zealand art rocks New York City

A large crowd of some of New York’s most influential art aficionados gathered at the prestigious Asia Society Museum this week to view the first major presentation in an American museum of contemporary art from New Zealand and other Pacific nations.

More than 400 dignitaries and other guests attended the opening of Paradise Now? Contemporary Art from the Pacific, making it one of the largest responses the museum has ever had to a contemporary art opening.

American art historian Helen Jessup, who has curated a number of exhibitions, described the show as “fantastic” in its range and diversity. “I think it’s very international. It expresses a living culture that is fusing traditional and contemporary art.”

The exhibition, which challenges the traditional notion of the Pacific as a paradise, has received major backing from Creative New Zealand, with grants totalling $164,000. It showcases 45 works by 15 artists, including 11 from New Zealand: Niki Hastings-McFall, John Ioane, Michael Parekowhai, Michel Tuffery, Lisa Reihana, John Pule, Sofia Tekela-Smith, Ruth Watson and Shane Cotton (who all attended the opening), Peter Peryer and Bill Hammond.

Hastings-McFall said she’s been “overwhelmed” by the positive response to her work and the intense interest from journalists. “It’s very exciting for us, being here and talking to these people. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have my work exhibited at a prestigious American museum and to reach a huge, influential audience.” A number of key American media attended the press preview including: The New York Times, Daily News, New Yorker, Art Forum, Art in America, Time Out New York, National Public Radio, Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine. The evening began with a powhiri, performed by New York-based members of Mäori cultural group Kahurangi. The opening was attended by H.E. John Wood, New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, Elizabeth Ellis, Chair of Creative New Zealand’s Te Waka Toi, and Murray Shaw, Chair of Creative New Zealand’s Arts Board.

Vishakha N. Desai, Senior Vice-president of the Asia Society, said the ceremony helped make the opening “the best ever”. Many guests agreed, and used words like “amazing” and “spectacular” to describe the works.

Investment New Zealand, the Government’s investment promotion agency, is using the exhibition to attract high-level executives, investors and policy-makers to New Zealand’s Creative Economy, a business briefing on 24 February, where Creative New Zealand Chair Peter Biggs will be presenting a paper.

Targeted at New York’s business, entertainment, advertising, information technology and multi-media communities, the briefing will focus on New Zealand’s creative industries. It will feature presentations and discussions on New Zealand’s expanding film and screen production sector, and advanced multi-media and software development.

The business briefing is part of New Zealand and the Pacific Century, a series of Asia Society spring programmes about New Zealand. The programme includes artists’ talks, performances and a film series.

The curator of Paradise Now? is Melissa Chiu, Curator, Contemporary Art, Asia Society Museum, along with New Zealand curatorial advisers Dr Karen Stevenson (University of Canterbury); Ngahiraka Mason (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tämaki); Caroline Vercoe (University of Auckland); and Jim Vivieaere (Auckland artist and curator).

The Asia Society is the leading institution in the United States dedicated to enhancing public understanding of the Asia-Pacific region. Paradise Now? runs at the Asia Society Museum until 9 May 2004.

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