February 22, 2012

Wellington sojourn

A well-deserved outing to the southern tip of the North Island to attend our niece's wedding in Martinborough saw us also for a few days in Wellington. Staying at a funky urban hotel studio apartment near the centre was a convenient base to explore from. Wellington succeeds in looking cool with its trolley buses, urban wastelands, funky shops in decades-old, slightly decaying street malls and a large dollop of cultural venues. Its waterfront is the envy of Auckland, mainly because all its harbour activities are well away from the city centre, which leaves a large chunk for pedestrians, skaters, cyclists, kayakers and assorted tourists. A lovely touch is having free wi-fi access to go with the fabulous view.

The Museum of Wellington City & The Sea is cute and compact, and it's just how I like my museums. Lots of historical artifacts and tit bits about Wellington and its harbour's past, including a harrowing display of things salvaged from the Wahine sinking in 1968.

Further down the waterfront is the rather malformed national monstrosity of Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. Supposed to represent the nation and its history, culture and art, it is a mishmash of fairground-type displays, serious social and natural history and a jumble of art from most eras, styles and origins. We had a look at the giant squid they fished up and dissected and is now displayed as a grayish corpse in formaldehyde, reminiscent of Damien Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living".
We had seen the natural and social history sections during previous visits so we escaped to the top floor for a proper look at their art collection. A large gallery is devoted to "Collecting Contemporary", things acquired over the last six years but what a disappointment that was. There is certainly nothing there I would have spent cash on. A number of works are not what they are supposed to be or have been conceived as: Maddie Leach's ice rink installation had the ice rink missing and Jim Allen's "Small Worlds" could only be looked at from afar instead of walked through as was the artist's intention and the work's very raison d'être. Without it it has no meaning and no value for the viewer. For god's sake, they're only plastic strips hanging down, not something irreplaceable should a philistine touch the sacred art!
And then there was the truly gross collection of photographs we had been confronted with at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne last year in the New Zealand contemporary art exhibition.

But not all our tax dollars were spent on kitsch and flash art. In a small side room, an absolutely lovely collection of etchings and prints from the Bishop Monrad collection were on show. Most of them are landscapes and religiously themed, but there was one (pictured left) of a "Bacchanal with a wine vat" that caught my eye: a boys-only drinking party like they don't throw anymore these days! Wellington was worth the trip for that one alone.

Then it was time for some fresh air, and it only takes a short ride into the hills above Wellington to escape the city completely. Ewen's early ancestor, Job Wilton, bought a large piece of land to farm but had the foresight to reserve some of it and it is now Otari Wilton Bush, the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to New Zealand native plants.

Lastly, we legged it to Parliament to see the maiden speeches of the seven new Green MPs, including our Waiheke MP Denise Roche, and the first profoundly deaf member Mojo Mathers, who actually spoke excellent English (as in non-NuZuldish). Of course we applauded in sign language:

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