After 45 years as its own gallery, in 2015 the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery was joined with the Len Lye Centre. GBAG, as it is affectionately known, celebrates its 50th birthday this weekend.
In 1970, John Leuthart visited the newly opened Govett-Brewster Art Gallery on a school trip – now 50 years later he’s celebrating the gallery’s golden birthday as chairman of the Govett-Brewster Foundation.
Leuthart’s love affair with the New Plymouth gallery began on that very first day and his passion for it remains undimmed.
“We were taken down there and I thought as a young student it was extraordinary, bold, contemporary, inspiring and exciting place,” he said.
“It then became nationally well-known and nationally sought after and has, of course, always been at the front of contemporary art practice.
“Wether you like art or not, or whether you’re excited by it, we have an icon that is nationally recognised and internationally known.”
In 2015 Leuthart became chairman of the Govett-Brewster foundation. That same year, after 30 years in the making, the Len Lye Centre was opened as an extension to the gallery.
Although he thought many people would find Len Lye’s works more exciting than the contemporary art at GBAG, as it’s affectionately known, they complimented each other.
“It’s the combination of both which make it really special,” he said.
The development of the West End Precinct over the years had brought out the best in the area and made it a world-class attraction, he said.
Photographer Ann Shelton, who has had multiple exhibitions at Govett-Brewster and was the artist in residence in 2004, believed the new co-directors Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh were leading the gallery in the right direction, leading into the next 50 years.
“It’s got this incredible visionary, feminist founder Monica Brewster and that’s a really exciting thing. For the gallery to be founded and staked on this woman’s vision is really, really important,” she said.
“I see them (Burns and Lundh) modelling a democratic, empathetic and diverse approach to running the gallery.”
It was always a big deal for Shelton to have her work on display at Govett-Brewster.
“The gallery has been foundational for me in what I’ve been able to do and what I’ve made,” she said.
Artist Joyce Campbell said the gallery had also had a big impact on her career as an artist, when she had residency in 2002.
She was a young artist and moved from Los Angeles to New Plymouth to take up the residency ,where she learnt to work with liquids and colloidal silver, which she continues to use in her works today.
Having an art gallery, such as Govett-Brewster, in the provinces was important for art and culture in the country and it was a milestone to reach 50 years, she said.
“There is this rich, amazingly sophisticated programme in the provinces and that’s really, really important. Otherwise basically Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch suck it all up,” Campbell said.
On Saturday, New Plymouth’s Queen St will transform into a street party of art and entertainment from 3pm-9pm to celebrate the gallery’s 50th birthday.
A giant cake, artist talks, interactive art, music and food and drinks will be at the party, as well as the worldwide premiere of Len Lye’s sculpture Sky Snakes.
Sky Snakes is an installation of seven, 4.5 metre, ceiling-hanging chains which rotate and spin creating wave patterns.
“They hang from the ceiling and spin to create dancing harmonic wave patterns of light and movement.
“This is the international debut of the seven Sky Snakes, and it’s a great exhibition to help mark the Govett-Brewster’s 50 th anniversary celebration,” co-directors Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh said in a written statement.