Who Got the Gig? Alice Hutchison
The Tauranga Art Gallery is an important art hub for its local community, and delivers an impressive array of both historic and contemporary art exhibitions. Recently they acquired a new director, Alice Hutchison. From her new sun-filled Bay of Plenty office, overlooking an impressive view of sparkling water, she agrees to have a chat with me about her plans for the gallery, and her background that demonstrates she is a great fit for Tauranga Art Gallery.
While Alice grew up in Auckland, for the majority of her career she has lived overseas — most recently in Los Angeles. “I'm so pleased to have made the transition back to New Zealand. I grew up in Auckland, went to Auckland Girls’ Grammar and later studied at the University of Auckland. I left NZ when I was 23… I think I’m back here for good now.”
Currently, Alice is overseeing the production of Mega World, Tauranga Art Gallery’s signature show for 2019, looking at the expansive universe of illustration in all its forms, which opens officially on the 30th of March. The first instalment of Mega World is Anti-heroes I, a group exhibition curated by Craig McClure involving internationally renowned cartoonists such as Canadian Ryan Heshka. “I arrived in Tauranga just in time to focus on making sure our international shipments arrived on schedule… I was a little anxious knowing it may well be knee-deep in snow in New York, getting through customs … But all the elements, including the impressive hand-stencilled wall mural, were skilfully handled with our great team here and the show looks absolutely stunning!”
Alice’s personal contacts and the international networks she has built during her career were already put to use to benefit Tauranga Art Gallery at a critical time when Mega World had yet to secure “the main star.” A fortuitous studio visit was confirmed with an artist the day she flew from LA to NZ: “I invited pervasive Los Angeles-based artist Gary Baseman to be part of Mega World. Having curated his big sprawling survey in Los Angeles a few years ago, I knew his work in detail and despite a commitment in London, he with the help of his manager Denise, agreed to participate in our show. Baseman will be doing a whole new site-specific installation featuring his well-known collectible creatures, which will be a first for New Zealand.” Baseman’s exhibition is called Imaginary Friends and showcases characters he has created using multiple artistic media, including illustration, vinyl toys, fashion, and animation, to represent a range of relatable human conditions.
Alice talked to The Big Idea about how she is planning the next cycle of exhibitions which features and highlights a spectrum of artists from Tauranga who are making an international impact. New York-based Jess Johnson, an accomplished contemporary artist and a finalist for the 2018 Walters Prize will exhibit in July. Jess Johnson and Simon Ward created an immersive video installation and virtual reality experience called Terminus that was on show last year at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. “Fortunately, thanks also to a mutual friend who has written extensively on her work, I was able to meet with Jess while she was in Auckland for the McCahon residency. As she has multiple international commitments, she suggested that we could work with the designer and technicians from her Australian show and adapt it for Tauranga. This will be the only New Zealand venue and we are really thrilled!”
Alice has exciting ideas for various programmes that she plans to implement at the Tauranga Art Gallery to increase community engagement and encourage participation from sectors of the community who might feel excluded from art galleries: “…public programmes that enrich exhibition experiences in a wider range of media: performances, dance, off-site screening series, adult workshops and master classes, an upcoming zine fest, book signings ... I want to find different ways that we can reach out to diverse community groups and continue to make the gallery a welcoming place for everyone — augmenting collaborations with external partners and building on our valuable existing partnerships.”
Alice feels fortunate to have made a life and career from the basis of an art history degree — with the help of a entrepreneurial and adventurous streak.
Before moving overseas, Alice completed her Master of Arts in Art History and Italian at The University of Auckland. She talks of some inspiring lecturers, including Tony Green, Roger Horrocks and Anne Goldson. “I really can't speak highly enough of a good art history course; it was life changing.” Alice explains that studying art history has been foundational for everything that she has done in her career and has been pivotal for her success as a curator and director. “I not only studied the history of New Zealand art, but also delved into the history of ancient civilisations around the world. It's amazing when you consider that visual art has been part of our cultures around the world for hundreds and thousands of years. The original language is visual and it was the primary means of communication — this is why art continues to have value…it transcends language and culture.”
Alice says she is fortunate to have made a life and career from the basis of an art history degree — with the help of a entrepreneurial and adventurous streak. “Working in a public art gallery often starts with an internship, then getting experience working with collections and artists, getting your writing published — this was how we started in the 90’s. It’s now oriented around Instagram. For a new graduate today it is particularly competitive and hard to get your foot in the door. It requires energy, fresh ideas, commitment and a little sacrifice. Professional roles as a curator are rare; there’s only so many public galleries in the country and it depends on areas of specialisation too. I'm still as enthusiastic about emerging artists and exploring our local histories as I was in the beginning. It's a lifelong commitment as well as a very exciting journey.”
"I'm still as enthusiastic about emerging artists and exploring our local histories as I was in the beginning. It's a lifelong commitment as well as a very exciting journey.”
One highlight was bringing the exhibition Aniwaniwa, a collaborative piece by contemporary Māori artists Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena, to the 2007 Venice Biennale. “We did it off our own backs, and it was a huge risk, but it was really the most amazing thing to bring to fruition. It was incredible to have 40,000 people visit, from different parts of the world, in order to experience something from our culture.”
Another great career moment came, in 2017 when Alice was invited to write for an exhibition survey in Florence, Italy with internationally revered contemporary video artist Bill Viola — whom she met and worked with in Long Beach, CA. “I went to Florence for the opening and it was such a great honour, and I couldn't quite believe that I was a part of it. It was a dream come true… to be in this ancient Italian palazzo, the cradle of the Renaissance. That really consolidated the value of studying art history, learning about the Renaissance artists and being able to give a contemporary perspective on that.”
The Bay of Plenty has been generating a lot of interesting developments for the arts recently. At The Big Idea we’ve noticed that Tauranga is frequently stepping into the spotlight and we think this needs recognition. Keep watching — we’ll be able to give you the lowdown soon.