Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua has more than 8000 pieces in its enviable collection. We set Director Greg Anderson the tricky task of choosing two favourites.
Henry Sarjeant’s will explicitly requires that the Sarjeant Gallery purchase or acquire works ‘…on account of their intrinsic value as works of High Art only and not because they are specimens of local or colonial art, so that the said gallery shall be furnished with Works of the Highest Art in all its branches as a means of inspiration for ourselves and those who come after us.’ With well over 8,000 artworks in the Sarjeant Gallery’s collection spanning approximately four hundred years of art history and a survey of New Zealand art from 1840 to the present day, my predecessors have thoughtfully and diversely fulfilled Henry’s wishes.
Choosing just two pieces to talk about is certainly a challenge given the breadth and depth of material we have to hand. However the two I’ve chosen illustrate very different media and have come into the collection during the course of my time here. Each has significance to the collection or gallery in different ways and appeals to me for different reasons.
Portrait of Gordon H. Brown, painted by Colin McCahon in 1968, was purchased for the collection in 2007 and shows us the Sarjeant’s first professional director. Brown was a renowned art historian, critic, and McCahon expert. He ushered in a new era of changing exhibition programmes and a move away from the static nature of the Sarjeant’s earlier existence. We are fortunate to have one of the great artist’s few portraits as a result of Brown’s close relationship with him; and further, as a result of Gordon’s continued affection for the Sarjeant, to have now been gifted his personal library of over 10,000 volumes.
Sunset Strip (Liquor Locker) by Ed Ruscha is a piece I acquired in 2009 thanks to the Sarjeant Gallery Trust. The work is by one of the world’s best known artists and has featured in several exhibitions at the Sarjeant since its purchase. It is part of the artist’s Sunset Strip Portfolio comprising photographs of the Los Angeles urban environment, and specifically the banal commercialism of Sunset Strip. The photograph is very at home within the Sarjeant’s collection, the most significant collection of New Zealand and international photography outside of Auckland and Wellington.
First published ArtZone #80