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Te Papa acquisition brings new appreciation

Te Papa acquisition brings new appreciation for unearthed public artwork

When Barry Thomas commandeered a vacant lot on the corner of Willis and Manners Street to make a temporary public art statement in 1978, there was no thought given to it becoming a permanent part of the nation’s memory bank of art.

Indeed it’s taken a long 34 years for the extant records of his cultural act of planting the vacant lot with 180 cabbages to be acquired by Te Papa for the national collection.

“I can still remember that moment of cutting through a wire fence to this dormant and empty lot, waiting for a truckload of top soil to be delivered in broad daylight and planting the cabbages,” says Thomas.

“Seeding that soil with something organic brought an emancipated form of the quarter acre plot into the city. It laid a meme-like challenge to the complacency of the time.

"It was unexpected, and this created an unexpected set of responses – from the attention of the media, to people claiming and occupying the site as their own, through to it becoming a venue for a spontaneous arts festival and perhaps the first unintentional urban garden in the Southern hemisphere”.

Now that this anteceding act has been captured as an important moment in New Zealand’s art and social history, Thomas welcomes the creative emergence three decades later of more deliberative public artspace projects in New Zealand such as Letting Space, The Performance Arcade and Gap Filler, being celebrated at the City Gallery in Wellington on Saturday 3 November.

“The deeply profound influences I was discovering in 1978 are still with me, lived out through concepts like my radical art advertisements in the pavement cracks of culture. Anything that can’t be confined by convention, or defined by an academic, or curated to death… that’s what matters. And that’s what a ‘Vacant lot of cabbages’ achieved”.
• For the Te Papa blog entry on this latest acquisition, and images see

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