17 Dec 2020

Thursday 17 December 2020

Exploring the bond between The Wallace Arts Trust and King’s


The King’s College art collection is varied and plentiful, expertly curated and displayed throughout the buildings on campus. The works reach the campus in myriad ways, whether created by students, donated or bequested.

In addition to the College’s own collection, more than 100 pieces are on loan to the school from the Wallace Arts Trust.

The relationship between the College and the Trust is long-standing, and sees up to
$1 million worth of art on display at King’s at any one time.

Old Collegian and art collector Sir James Wallace (School, 1951–55) began collecting the works of New Zealand artists in the mid-1960s, particularly those of emerging artists. By transferring the collection to a charitable trust in 1992, Sir James created a vehicle for his support of the arts in New Zealand. He has continued to fund the Trust and grow the collection, which today amasses more than 9,000 works.

Check out the full Summer 2020 issue of the King's Courier

Sir James describes the collection as his gift to New Zealand. Ensuring that the gift is shared with and enjoyed by as many New Zealanders as possible is Art Loans Manager Aleksandra Petrovic.

More than 1,700 works are currently on loan, and Miss Petrovic says that each loan is a collaborative process.

“I try to get a feeling about what the organisation is about, and how they would like to reflect the ethos, the community, or, for King’s, its students,” she says.

When former Visual Art and Design Head of Department Chas Foxall first approached Sir James about King’s College becoming a loan site, he had the curriculum in mind.

“We tried to gear the artwork to what the students were doing. It is a good resource and reference for their practical work,” he says. “And the curator is very helpful in that respect.”

Reminiscing about her own secondary school art studies, Miss Petrovic is cognisant of the value of a student being able to view an original work.

“Dealing with artist models and having to look at a variety of sources, it’s always really nice if you can look at an artwork in person as opposed to through reproduction because it’s a completely different experience,” she says.

Far from a one-size-fits-all approach, Miss Petrovic starts the selection process with a list of options two to three times as large as what ends up at the loan site. And the loan to King’s College has an added consideration.

“Sir James is an Old Collegian, and he has such a strong attachment to the school. I try to communicate that with the artworks that have been placed, and where they’ve been placed,” she says. “There are pre-existing tangents of philanthropy between Sir James and the College, such as the Choral Scholarship. I attempt to think of ways to link the selection process of what I’m looking at with these pre-existing relationships.”

The Art Department currently plays host to works ranging from photography to charcoal sketches to acrylic paintings, showcasing works by artists such as John Reynolds and Marti Friedlander. Visitors meeting in the Head of Admissions’ office are greeted by a graphite sketch by Old Collegian Don Binney (Peart, 1953-57), while students accessing the Counselling Centre can contemplate a watercolour by Thomas McCormack while they wait.

But as the name suggests, transience is a key element of the loans programme: generally, works on loan are replaced with others from the Wallace Collection at least every few years. The emotional ties that a loan site forms to a work can catch Miss Petrovic by surprise.

“In some instances, we’ve placed artworks on loan and the people who’ve been the recipients have become so attached to them that they almost never want to let them go.

“I think that’s the best feeling – when you know you’ve hit the nail on the head [with that loan],” she says.

With appreciation of a work can come a new confidence in engaging with art, a widening of accessibility that Aleksandra and the Trust actively encourage.

“It [having access to art] can open their eyes, and that way they suddenly feel a bit braver and a bit more educated. It’s about that feeling that you don’t know, and that it’s too scary.

“I try and eliminate that by talking to the people when we install the artworks about why they’re being put up, why they’ve been selected, and about the Trust,” she says.

The time comes for loan works to be removed from walls and replaced with others, but this needn’t be the end of the road for fledgling art appreciators.

“I’ve had a couple of instances where I’ve placed works in environments that aren’t the target demographic of art galleries and particularly dealer galleries. People have been fascinated by the works placed there, looked the artist up and gone to their shows,” Miss Petrovic says.

In that sense, Sir James’ gift to New Zealand is one that truly keeps on giving, by sparking appreciation for art that can last a lifetime. 

A look at a loan

In addition to understanding the loan site’s values, the Wallace Arts Trust keeps a weather eye on practical considerations.

Location: In high-traffic areas such as corridors, glazed or framed works are preferred to canvases because of the potential for people to brush up against them.

Wall material: Whether it’s gib or masonry, the wall needs to be strong enough to hold the work.

Security: There is a security fitting behind each work, requiring use of a specific tool to remove it from the wall.

Safety: The safety of the loan site’s people and the work itself are considered – minimising risk for the organisation is key.

Insurance cover: The organisation adds the works on loan to their insurance policy. The Trust works to this insurance cover limit and loans as many works as practical so that the loan has the most positive impact that it can.