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Ruby: A 40 Year Love Affair with The Dowse

Past Exhibition
14 May – 14 Aug 2011
Free

“The public will forgive you as long as you are not boring” —James Mack, Director 1981–88
Dowse Art Gallery, c. 1971. Source Unknown

Dowse Art Gallery, c. 1971. Source Unknown

Ruby installed shot. Photo: John Lake

Ruby installed shot. Photo: John Lake

Ruby installed shot. Photo: John Lake

Ruby installed shot. Photo: John Lake

Dowse Art Gallery, c. 1976

Dowse Art Gallery, c. 1976

It’s forty years since The Dowse Art Gallery was opened by the Governor General, Sir Arthur Porritt and quickly found its way into the hearts of New Zealanders.

Ruby: A 40 Year Love Affair with The Dowse opens on 14 May and showcases a selection of much loved highlights from the collection. It also acknowledges the vision of the six young men who took on the role of Dowse Director. Named for Mayor Percy Dowse and his wife Mary, The Dowse was part of a plan for ‘a progressive and contemporary city’. Significantly, it was Mary, and the Hutt Art Society, who championed the gallery but sadly neither Mary nor Percy Dowse lived to see the doors open.

Along with James Mack, David Millar, Jim Barr, Bob Maysmor, Tim Walker and current director Cam McCracken have all stamped their mark on The Dowse. Ruby presents a snapshot of the vision of each of the directors and their dedicated teams, with highlights from the collection and stories from each of the four decades. The show includes fine art paintings, jewellery and ceramics by artists as diverse as Colin McCahon, Seung Yul Oh, Humphrey Ikin, Terry Stringer, Warrick Freeman, Gretchen Albrecht and Toss Woollaston.

34 year old David Millar was the first Dowse Director and was required to be hands-on with marketing, installation and even cleaning. In 1972, he purchased The Dowse’s first ceramic, Mirek Smisek’s Salt Glazed Branch Pot, prompting the Dowse’s future role as a significant collector of decorative arts. Jim Barr became Director in 1976, aged 29, and sought to ‘educate’ visitors, encouraging them to accept contemporary art. The Dowse in the 1970s was not shy of controversy, as seen in the debate that surrounded Colin McCahon’s Wall of Death. A Councillor claimed he could ‘knock one up just like it in his lunch hour’. TV One challenged him to paint one similar… live.

From 1981, James Mack represented a major shift in the collection focus away from fine arts towards the decorative arts.  Bob Maysmor arrived 1988 and continued collecting and exhibiting craft and extended the collection policy to include furniture. Tim Walker was Director from 1998 - 2008. His focus was on attracting new audiences through community engagement and the celebration of creativity.  Today The Dowse, under the direction of Cam McCracken, is a vibrant, dynamic organisation which pairs an internationally recognised contemporary programme with meaningful community engagement. As The Dowse enters a new era of sustainability,touching every aspect of how we work, the organisation is again leading the way as a gallery of the future.

The Dowse Art Gallery’s opening ceremony included events like spinning, weaving and pottery demonstrations, films and folk singing as well as a lecture by Hamish Keith, “The State and Future of New Zealand Art’, attended by over 6,000 people. The building was designed by Ronald Muston of Structon Group Architects at a cost of $208, 917, with land provided by the Council.