12 Jan 2017

Controversial artwork unwrapped on Auckland wharf

9:38 am on 12 January 2017

A controversial $1.5 million art piece - closely resembling a state house - has been unwrapped at Queens Wharf.

Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse on Queens Wharf.

Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse has been unveiled on Queens Wharf. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Once the final touches are completed, Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse will be officially unveiled next month.

The two-storey weatherboard house is life-sized but dwarfed by The Cloud next to it.

Auckland Council arts and culture manager Kaye Glamuzina said it depicts an "ordinary house in Mt Eden" - a suburb about 5km from the site.

Ten celestial blown-glass chandeliers were yet to be erected inside.

They will be on 24 hours a day, representing the stars in the sky followed by early navigators.

Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse on Queens Wharf.

The public will be able to peer through the windows and climb the stairs. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

The public won't be able to go inside the art piece, but can peer through the windows and climb the stairs to look out across the Waitemata harbour.

Ms Glamuzina said the art was for both Aucklanders and visitors to the city.

"I think public art always has people who love work and don't love work.

"I would not expect every single person who sees this work to love it immediately. I do expect that people will have a reaction to it and feel something.

"I think it will be a work unlike anything you've ever seen before."

Michael Parekowhai - The Lighthouse

Photo: Auckland Council

Auckland Art Gallery principal curator Zara Stanhope said people would interact with the piece in all sorts of different ways.

"Public art is a great thing because people come across it in their daily lives and sometimes by chance. They're not necessarily prepared to be thinking that they're going to be looking at a piece of artwork in front of them as they're walking along the wharf," Ms Stanhope said.

"That's one of the great opportunities for artists working in public space, but possibly also sometimes the biggest challenge."

Ms Stanhope said the artist was a prolific creative practitioner and an international figure.

Mr Parekowhai's work was commissioned using $1 million gifted to the council for an art piece by real estate agent Barfoot & Thompson, and another $500,000 by an anonymous donor.

Its resource consent was granted in 2015 with 34 submissions, with 28 in support, three in opposition and three neutral.

Ms Glamuzina said she had been at the site most days since its unwrapping and had received positive feedback.

But people who RNZ News spoke to in Otara - 20km from the city - weren't huge fans of the work.

One woman said it was "disturbing" and "really bad".

A man said he wasn't sure how he felt about it but "it's a touchy subject because of the housing crisis".

One woman who had previously lived in a state house said people need to put it in perspective and recognise that it's just art.

Ms Glamuzina said the official unveiling of The Lighthouse was yet to be finalised but it was likely to take place in the first half of next month.

But, she said, there was still some finishing work to do, including the construction of the jetty which surrounded The Lighthouse and installing the light art works inside.

She said it would be very beautiful when it was finished and would "gain support very quickly".

Michael Parekowhai - The Lighthouse

Photo: Auckland Council