27 Sep 2016

Suter Gallery to re-open after $12 million renovation

1:41 pm on 27 September 2016

It has been decades in the planning, but the final countdown is now on for the re-opening this Sunday of one of the country's oldest public art galleries.

The Suter Art Gallery, one of New Zealand's oldest public art galleries, will re-open in Nelson this weekend following a $12 million renovation.

Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, originally built in 1899, will be re-opening this weekend. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

The finishing touches are being made to a $12 million overhaul of Nelson's Suter Art Gallery, and its board chair, Craig Potton, said the project has been a long time coming.

"But now that it's come I'm just like an eight year-old walking around with a grin on my face.

"This is ... everything we wanted, so we've got the venues in place for the future now - for here," Mr Potton said.

The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, opened in 1899, is now a modern exhibition and collection space which holds some nationally significant art works.

The building, in the central city, is a blend of old and brand new, and has been strengthened to meet new earthquake standards.

Director Julie Catchpole said the new design has been centred around the original gallery space, and featured three cube galleries in a row through the core of the building.

One of New Zealand's oldest public art galleries, the Suter, will re-open in Nelson this weekend following a $12 million renovation.

The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū director Julie Catchpole explains how some heritage aspects have been preserved. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

It has also brought back a much richer connection to the gallery's landscape setting beside Nelson's Victorian Queens Gardens, she said.

"In this rebuild the gallery's been taken back to somewhat how it would have been at the turn of the 20th Century," she said.

The project has received funding from local and central government, the Suter's trust board and from community fundraising and grants.

Ms Catchpole said the beginnings of the redevelopment stretched back to the gallery's centennial in 1999 when the management and governance team launched Project 2000.

"I came into the project at a point where the previous design had come to a grinding halt. We were in the trough, and now we've built up to this wave and it's super exciting to see it happen," she said.

One of New Zealand's oldest public art galleries, the Suter, will re-open in Nelson this weekend following a $12 million renovation.

Julie Catchpole with Craig Potton in the foyer of the refurbished gallery. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Mr Potton credited the primary exhibition space with forming his love of art.

"For me it's been a journey that started in this very room. This old gallery was where my mum used to be a volunteer, on a Wednesday afternoon once a month and I'd come in from school, freezing cold on a winter's day and she'd be sitting in here saying, 'I had a lovely day today - six people came though and loved the art'."

The gallery was founded as a memorial to Andrew Burn Suter, Bishop of Nelson, from 1866 to 1891. It opened on 31 May, 1899. At the time, there were only two other art galleries in New Zealand.

Ms Catchpole said despite the challenges of getting to this stage, the public embraced it once they saw what could be achieved.

"I think that makes a difference when people are putting money in - they see it's one of those 'centre to the heart of Nelson' buildings and it's here for the long-haul."

The boardwalk outside the Suter.

The boardwalk outside the Suter. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Paintings by Angus, McCahon and Woollaston to be displayed

Ms Catchpole was almost more excited about the new temperature controlled storage room, which was a critical part of the re-build led by Nelson architectural firm Jerram Tocker Barron with input from Warren and Mahoney Architects.

The storage area featured rows of vertical racks holding the region's art treasures, while the works of Woollaston, McCahon, Heaphy and Angus once more hang proudly from the gallery walls.

Mr Potton said fund raising allowed the purchase of a painting by Rita Angus.

"It's extraordinary for us, in particular, because it's called The Apple Pickers and it is set out in the Riverside Community in the Motueka Valley.

One of New Zealand's oldest public art galleries, the Suter, will re-open in Nelson this weekend following a $12 million renovation.

Ms Catchpole in the new storage area. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

"We had to have it, but the wonderful thing was the apple growers in Nelson gave very generously towards the acquisition of that, and it wasn't cheap."

Ms Catchpole said the Suter, now 50 percent larger, was well positioned to hold the types of exhibitions it could not have done previously.

Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy will reopen the Suter on Sunday in one of her first official functions, the Nelson City Council said.

A free community day will also mark the gallery's re-opening.