Art, Light and the Implications of Arts Funding Cuts
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Tate’s ongoing relationship has brought works from the world’s most renowned artists to New Zealand’s shores for decades. Following their 2017 collaboration, The Body Laid Bare, which featured pieces from the likes of Matisse, Picasso and Man Ray, the two art powerhouses have come together again to bring us Light From Tate: 1700s to Now. Their newest exhibition features over 70 artworks by celebrated artists across the globe from the 18th century to the present day and illuminates the limitless potential of light to inspire, captivate and electrify.
Upon first stepping foot in the exhibition, you’ll find yourself face to face with three works by JMW Turner. As a Turner fan myself, my associations with him relate mostly to light-drenched land and seascapes, though what I found myself standing before far exceeded my expectations. His piece, An Angel Standing in The Sun depicting Archangel Michael wielding a flaming sword was a personal highlight; the hazy, dreamlike treatment of colour and light contrasted against the macabre nature of the piece adds to the overall complexity of the work and accentuates the importance of light in the creation of meaning. To put it plainly, it’s a stunning painting. Pieces from artists of this calibre are rarely seen in Auckland outside the context of major exhibitions and having one in the very first room sets the bar high for the rest of the exhibition. To my delight, the curatorial team didn’t disappoint. The works that followed were all equally entrancing.
As you make your way through the next few rooms you’ll encounter dramatic landscapes, a large-scale installation and various other kaleidoscopic treasures. Amongst these pieces, you’ll find Liliane Lijn’s moving sculpture, Liquid Reflections, an installation based on the artist’s own interest in astronomy and nuclear Physics. Lijn wrote of the piece, “It was my idea to create a visual metaphor of what had seemed for so long to be a paradox – that light behaves simultaneously as particle and as wave. I felt that it could be seen to behave in both ways and that in fact, the two were perhaps merely aspects of a totality.” While my knowledge of all things scientific isn’t yet developed enough to inform my understanding of art, the piece was entrancing. The level of control Lijn exerts over both movement and reflection results in an overwhelming sense of harmony; a feeling you find yourself longing for well after visiting the exhibition.
Venturing deeper into the exhibition, you’ll eventually find yourself in the presence of two Monets. While gazing at, ‘Le Pont Japonais’ and, ‘Poplars on the Epte,’ it feels as if the paintings are coming alive before you. Each stroke seems to communicate a single instant; a fleeting reflection on the water’s surface or a glint of sunlight poking through branches. The artist once said, “for me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment.” We can see this coming through in his art, with his impressionist brushstrokes calling attention to the impermanence and changing nature of our own reality.
The rest of the exhibition moves us towards the modern. Whether you’re staring into Yayoi Kusama’s, The Passing Winter or exploring the shadows of one of the large-scale installations, this section is bound to evoke a sense of joy. Showcasing a variety of works across a myriad mediums, this section is bound to appease art-buffs and novices alike. The sensory nature of light makes every room feel immersive, regardless of the medium or subject matter. As I made my way into the last section of the exhibition it was announced that the gallery was closing. I remember wondering how an hour had passed so quickly; had I not just been in the first room admiring Turner’s masterpieces? The way this exhibition allows one to lose themselves so completely in the art speaks volumes to the talent and dedication of curators Matthew Watts and Sophie Matthieson.
While I would love to spend the rest of this article praising the beauty of this exhibition, I feel it’s necessary to address the elephant in the room; the impending government cuts to the arts budget. You might have seen articles describing Wayne Brown snapping at a reporter in response to a question about arts funding cuts on the exhibition’s opening night. This interaction took place after the mayor’s speech in which he stated that all community sectors are also facing cuts and that arts is not a ‘sacred cow,’ in decisions related to government expenditure. At this stage the draft budget proposes a $20m reduction in general rates funding of regional services, such as community and education programmes, economic development and other social activities. At a very basic level, this means that many arts and culture programs will be either reduced or be forced to find alternative funding.
New Zealand as a whole has had a tumultuous few years. With the lingering implications of Covid and recent devastating weather events, it is clear that government funding needs to prioritise those impacted above all else. I understand that given these circumstances, an art history major whining about cuts to the art and culture budget can seem tone-deaf. People have lost their homes and their jobs and this needs to be addressed first and foremost. However, the arts sector remains a source of income, and joy, for creatives all over Aotearoa and the threat of such extreme cuts poses a threat to their livelihoods too.
On opening night, Wayne Brown insisted upon his belief that ‘arts and culture are an integral part of our community,’ yet the funding that keeps this community flourishing is about to be pulled out from under us. This potential decision has implications for all sectors of the New Zealand arts scene, including Pacific Arts programming, Proud Centres and exhibitions in council art facilities. It can be argued that Wayne Brown’s support of the arts is performative (Just last year he questioned the importance of Auckland Art Gallery, stating, “How do we get to have 122 people looking after a few paintings in a building that nobody goes to? We’ve got billions of dollars of value in the cellar that no one is looking at – do we have to own all that? They are not New Zealand pictures.” But I digress), it is important to acknowledge that funding issues reflect a failing from the government as a whole.
I’ll end my tangent by saying that now is the time to support the arts in any way you’re able. Visit some galleries, buy some art (locally) if you’re able and support the team at the Auckland Art Gallery by visiting Light From Tate, you won’t be disappointed.
Light From Tate: 1700s to Now runs from the March 1st to June 25th, at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
Title Picture: Bridget Riley, Nataraja, 1993. Tate: Purchased 1994. Photo: Tate. © Bridget Riley 2023. All rights reserved.