19 Jul 2023

A retrospective exhibition honouring one of New Zealand’s most decorated and best-loved contemporary artists, Dame Robin White, is going on display at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

From Saturday 22 July to 5 November, Robin White: Te Whanaketanga | Something is Happening Here will showcase around 50 iconic, diverse and innovative works created by White (b. 1946, Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) in the last of four shows across Aotearoa.  

The exhibition – developed by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa – profiles White’s celebrated 50-year career in contemporary art and demonstrates the cultural significance of her work in Aotearoa and beyond.  

Co-curators Dr Sarah Farrar, Head of Curatorial and Learning at Auckland Art Gallery, and Dr Nina Tonga, Curator Contemporary Art at Te Papa, sourced the collection from public art galleries, as well as many generous private owners throughout the country.  

Dr Farrar says White’s series of regional-realist paintings in the 1970s drew acclaim for their stylised depiction of ‘everyday’, small-town Kiwi life.  “Inspired by her surroundings, White’s iconic paintings feature local landscapes, distinctive buildings, and communities and people close to her.”  

Included in the exhibition are famous early works like Sam Hunt at the Portobello Pub, Mangaweka, Mere and Siulolovao, Otago Peninsula and the self-portrait This is me at Kaitangata 

The collection also includes drawings, wood-block prints, woven works and tapa, bringing together – in the words of the artist – a “family reunion” of works. 

Dr Tonga says White’s versatility as a contemporary artist speaks for itself in the exhibition.  “The multiple series of large-scale tapa cloth White developed with local Fijian and Tongan artists are extraordinary. Her exploration into different art forms and her collaborative and innovative practice have been significantly influenced by the places she’s lived, worked and travelled across the Pacific.”  

Director of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū Blair Jackson says the exhibition presents a rare opportunity for people to experience White’s extensive and varied collection of works first-hand and learn more about an incredible New Zealand artist.  

“Dame Robin White will be joined by Dr Nina Tonga and Dr Sarah Farrar on the opening day for two artist talk sessions, which will be very special,” says Mr Jackson.  

Commemorating the exhibition is the publication Robin White: Something is Happening Here, which was published by Te Papa Press and Auckland Art Gallery and released in May 2022.  

Robin White: Te Whanaketanga | Something is Happening Here opens Saturday 22 July and is free to visit. The artist talk sessions are on opening day at 11am and 1pm, and the exhibition is the August Feature Tour. Learn more at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

Image above: Robin White Fish and Chips, Maketu 1975. Oil on canvas. Collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1975