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Extending the Museum’s World View

Extending the Museum’s World View

Two new galleries open at Auckland Museum

The rich world of arts and material culture that exists outside of New Zealand, the Pacific and the Western traditions increases its scope on September 19 when two new permanent galleries open at Auckland Museum. Ancient Worlds showcases the Museum’s fascinating collection of ancient artefacts and Arts of Asia gives a permanent home to its Asian decorative art and art collection – widely considered one of the finest and most comprehensive in New Zealand.


Drawn from Auckland Museums own collections this gallery illustrates part of the depth and variety of ancient civilisations and cultures from all over the world. A focus of this gallery is Ancient Egypt from the pre-dynastic period to the Roman and Christian (Coptic) eras, including the display of the Museums very own Mummy which will finally be given a permanent home. The gallery will also house significant collections from the great civilisations of the past notably Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, India, China and Central and South America.

The Ancient Worlds gallery is an introduction to the tools and arts of all these regions and is designed for all New Zealanders who want to know more about these aspects of the human past.

Nigel Prickett, the Museum’s Curator of Archaeology says that  “Ancient Worlds shows how much all of the world’s people have in common. Tools needed to butcher game, harvest crops, catch fish and work fibres and timber must meet the same requirements everywhere. But the artistic creativity of different societies has led these civilisations in radically different directions. Part of the range of the creativity we have inherited from the past is illustrated in Ancient Worlds.”

Most of what we know of our ancestors for almost all of human existence is told by arts and artifacts left to us. These date back to 2.5-million-year-old stone tools found in Africa when food was obtained by hunting animals and gathering wild plants.

The first domestication of plants and animals took place ca 11–9000 BC in Southwest Asia, probably triggered by the end of the Ice Age not long before. Other places soon followed. The Agricultural or Neolithic Revolution was based on maintaining and harvesting plants and animals for future food supplies. The increase of available food led to population growth.

Five or six thousand years ago in a few places where conditions allowed, Neolithic farmers first gave way to more complex societies. It was especially the development of irrigation that allowed for intensive farming and thus further population growth, leading to new social and political structures. Egypt is the greatest example. New features of these societies were cities and writing, and a complex division of labour which included artists who created many of the items shown here for privileged political, religious and merchant classes.


The Arts of Asia gallery features an outstanding selection of objects from the Museum’s Asian decorative arts collection, widely considered one of the finest and most comprehensive collections in New Zealand. It features some 7,000 objects from the Neolithic period to the present day.

The gallery itself covers the period from ca 1000 AD and includes the arts of China, Japan and Korea, Indonesia and Thailand, Turkey and Iran, and India, Nepal and Tibet.

Arts of Asia considers the rich diversity found within existing traditions, the import and export of objects and ideas, and the development of symbols, motifs, and language in the material arts. Most of the works on display are functional wares, informed by an aesthetic that emanates from the natural world and seeks to achieve a balance between humankind, nature and the cosmos.

The Arts of Asia gallery will include, for the first time,  textiles and garments such as a fine Japanese temple hanging, an elegant Chinese dragon robe (longpao) as well as contemporary garments by Rei Kawakubo of the Japanese designers ‘Comme des Garçons’.

Museum decorative arts curator Louis Le Vaillant adds “We hope this gallery provides an occasion to highlight the material creativity of Asian decorative arts and design centred on beautiful objects made for social, domestic, ritual or contemplative use."



September 19, Level 1, Auckland Museum

Free with Entry Donation

For more information, visit www.aucklandmuseum.com




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