Since 1992, the James Wallace Arts Trust — based out of the Pah Homestead — has been operating a Loans Programme that has seen over 1,500 of its more than 8,000-strong collection lent out of to more than 90 institutions such as schools, hospitals and theatres. For the past 18 months, Aleksandra Petrovic has been at the helm of the Wallace Arts Trust Loans Programme.
“The programme was born from two driving forces,” she says. “Firstly, the collection had grown to such a size that housing it under one roof was becoming increasingly difficult, and secondly by Sir James’s desire that the works are seen and appreciated by the public.”
Since its inception, the project has “grown organically”. “The earliest loan site that we had was the Auckland Philharmonia,” Aleksandra adds. “And they’re still a loan site all these years later. They do get a rotation of works, but given the size and scope of the programme, there are limitations.”
Any kind of institution may be eligible to loan works from the Trust, and it works closely with the client in assigning the most appropriate pieces for the site. “We lend out all sorts of media: photography, prints, sculpture, paintings, and video,” says Aleksandra. “We never dictate to the loan site, it’s a collaborative process.”
It’s also, occasionally, a learning process, too. “With hospitals, you must be mindful about the works that go there — they must be pleasant, offering a sense of calm, and possibly even escape,” Aleksandra tells me. “Something that you deem innocuous may act as a trigger for someone going through a tragic time in their life. A recent example that none of us picked up on was when a ward nurse said that the brush strokes in a particular work looked like crosses. That was a legitimate concern — sometimes things slip through.”
Through “deference and respect”, Aleksandra says that she always discusses any new loans with Sir James, and shows him photos of the instillations as well as feedback from the sites: “It brings him a lot of joy.”
All artists in the collection are affiliated with New Zealand — either through birth or residence — while Sir James has endeavoured to support artists through the early stages of their career. Aleksandra, who studied fine arts at Elam, also has some drawings in the collection. “When I took the role here, I already knew about my pieces that had been acquired a few years ago,” she says. “It was like a little reunion. It was great to see them again.”
Did it bring back the moment of their creation?
“Yes it did. I try to not over think them because if you’re someone of the creative persuasion you can totally start being too tough on yourself. Your ideas and perceptions change over time and what you did five or 10 years ago can seem less mature, so you can become quite self-critical, which I try not to be.”
Aleksandra still draws “at night and at the weekends”, and as for her day job, one of the most rewarding perks is the feedback, especially from those who may not otherwise have believed they would be particularly moved by art.
“We’ve had some wonderful feedback from teachers about how the works have inspired their students to think outside the box, to reassess what art is,” says Aleksandra. “And we’ll get other visitors at the Pah who have seen our works in a foyer somewhere and compliment us on the selection.”
It’s common for those who have not studied art, or do not move in those circles, to be intimidated by it, so the programme also offers the layperson a way into that world. “I enjoy helping others understand and approach art,” says Aleksandra. “It’s one of the things that I learnt very early on — that it was important that many of the loan sites were not traditional art spaces, and those who inhabit those sites are not usually familiar with art.”
Aleksandra makes a point of providing “vibrant details” such as biographies and upcoming exhibitions of shows of the artists to accompany the works being lent out. “It’s been thrilling to hear about people who follow up, Googling information and seeking out shows,” she says. “And what makes it even more satisfying, in that it is often the very first time that they stepped foot in a gallery.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces
Otahuhu College (TOP – BOTTOM): Daniel Maclaren, Untitled, oil and shellac on canvas, 1800 x 1300mm | Kyle Yao, Figure with Colour Composition, charcoal and oils on canvas, 1340 x 1250mm | Kenneth Merrick, Foible, mixed media on canvas, 1700 x 2300mm | Sam Foley, Intersection, Canongate and Maori Rd, oil on canvas with digital projection, 1120 x 1600mm
Government House: Gregor Kregar, Shelter Sculpture, acrylic sheet and aluminium, 2440 x 2440 x 1830mm