Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Return Home

In 1986 the internationally acclaimed museum exhibition Te Maori returned to New Zealand after receiving great acclaim from audiences in several US Museums.

It was the first blockbuster exhibition ever to be dispatched from this country's shores and fittingly, featured Maori Taonga (treasures) drawn from throughout NZ.

The decision was made to extend the exhibition for a further two years and display it in the country's major galleries and museum, hence the title Te Maori - Te Hokianga Mai (The Return Home).  It proved to be even more successful in its home country, with some 920,000 visiting it in the four carefully selected venues.

I had the pleasure of being a 'cultural roadie' for those two years, travelling to the venues in Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland with our small installation team (pictured above). That's me at the top of the ladder, the 'hired muscle' holding the heavy end!

Ross Ritchie is a highly respected New Zealand painter and was at that time the chief exhibition designer for the Auckland city Art Gallery.  Dave Rapp worked with Ross and was a lighting specialist.  Murray Lyndon was from the then National Museum in Buckle Street, Wellington and a virtuoso at making display mounts. Karl Peters, an expatriate Dutchman was the senior Conservator at the Auckland Museum and Helen Telford represented the Dunedin venue - the Otago Museum. She was the Exhibitions Officer at the Dunedin Public Art gallery and I held a similar position at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch.

It is fair to save that we had a lot of fun together, staying in The Establishment hotels up and down the country (the exhibition was sponsored by Lion Breweries who owned this hotel chain) and eating in their Cobb and Co restaurants.  We go to know their menu so well most of us could recite in with our eyes closed.  In Dunedin and independent survey was being conducted of diners and one of the questions was "How many times have you ordered our Hot Fudge Sundae?.  In response I wrote "96 times" which was probably an understatement but no doubt skewed the results significantly.

As with any touring group, relationships at home suffered any new ones were formed along the way.  Ross teamed up with Wendy , a museum colleague from Dunedin, Dave and Helen became an item, Karel Peters forged a relationship with the US curator Carol O'Biso who was staying NZ during the exhibition period and I  (who was single at the time) met my wife in Wellington when we were based there.

We used to joke that Murray (who was gay) was the only one in a stable relationship; with Phil.  Tragically that too disintegrated and Murray died of Aids a few years later.

Ross (foreground) and I (at rear) in typical 'serious pose'. Dave Rapp is at left. We were having an
evening meal at the home of the Exhibitions Manager of the Dunedin Museum and his Japanese wife
Other memories include our stay at the old St George Hotel in Wellington.  It its time it had been a showstopper but by the time we got there the rooms were somewhat shabby from decade of sports team use. I hardly slept as my room on one of the higher floors fronted Boulcott Street and an infamous House of Ill Repute at #11.  I was constantly woken up by the ladies of the night screaming at their customers, night fights and police sirens.

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