Twenty-nine years ago, Austrian émigré Friedensreich Hundertwasser came up with his idea for a new gallery for Whangārei. In February, the Hundertwasser Art Centre opened its doors, and it delivers everything you would expect from the quixotic artist– architect. The eye-catching architecture—in the quirky style he made famous with his public toilets at Kawakawa—combines Viennese decorative opulence with counterculture organicism. It has a gilded dome and an afforested roof.
Sadly, the artist, who died in 2000, would not get to see his vision realised. The Centre is attracting rave reviews from the aficionados who travelled to Whangārei for the opening weekend. University of Auckland’s Convenor of Museums and Cultural Heritage, Linda Tyler, says: ‘From the glorious gold dome on the top down to the recycled bricks and timbers of the floor the building is a Gesamtkunstwerk—a total work of art.’
The Centre’s second-floor galleries provide a striking setting for the opening show of his own work, curated by the Hundertwasser Foundation in Vienna. It presents him as a painter, architect, ecological activist, and philosopher. His work in all these areas developed from his core beliefs in the power of nature and individual creativity.
The Centre’s ground floor is home to the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, Aotearoa’s first public gallery dedicated exclusively to Māori art. Propelled by a mission to present Māori art curated by Māori curators, it honours Hundertwasser’s vision for a Centre with Māori embedded in its design. The opening show, conceived by go-to Māori curator Nigel Borell, features nine artists who whakapapa to Te Taitokerau Northland. The show’s title, Puhi Ariki, refers to the plumes that adorn sailing waka. Borell says the works are presented as an offering—as plumage to adorn the Gallery as a new waka.