Long-term art exhibition unveiled

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Historic works showcased . . . Dunedin Public Art Gallery curators Lucy Hammonds (left) and Lauren Gutsell are delighted to be sharing the gallery's historic collection with the public in the new exhibition "Style & Substance – A Journey Through The Collection", which opened on Friday. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

After months of careful selection and planning, Dunedin Public Art Gallery has unveiled a new long-term, collection-based exhibition.

Curated by Lucy Hammonds and Lauren Gutsell, “Style & Substance – A Journey Through The Collection” takes a focused look at the gallery’s historical collection, showcasing works from the 15th to mid-20th centuries.

Ms Hammonds said the exhibition, which opened this month, explored the historic art history hierarchy of subject matter, established by the French Royal Academy in the 17th century.

“Under this hierarchy, the subject matter of the work measured its value, with portraiture and depictions of the human form as the most prestigious,” she said.

The 120 works on display in the ground floor gallery spaces are divided into six themes – history painting, portraiture, genre painting, landscape, still life and animal painting.

“We will have panels explaining the themes and labels for each work, so hopefully people will get a good sense of the genres.”

Ms Gutsell said the “Style & Substance” exhibition also showcased the “richness and depth” of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery collection and featured some of its top public favourites.

“People love to see these works on display, and some of them haven’t been out for a while, so they will be welcomed back.”

Curating a large-scale, long-term exhibition such as “Style & Substance” was an organic process, which began with a central concept and long lists of potential works.

“We slowly whittle it down until we have about 120 works, which is what the space can hold,” she said.

The “Style & Substance” exhibition was an opportunity to celebrate the “very fine” gallery collection, and also to explore its international and New Zealand aspects side-by-side, Ms Hammonds said.

Founded in 1884 by Dunedin art lovers intent on creating an important art collection for the city, and led by William Matthew Hodgkins, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery was New Zealand’s first public art gallery.

Since then, the collection has grown in scope and significance, through bequests and careful purchases, and features works from the Renaissance through to the present day.

“The gallery continues to be well supported by the community, which loves its history and leadership,” she said.

“It is a privilege for us to be able to make these works freely available to a wide audience, so we wanted to make it exciting and very special.”