Public art

Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse

Michael Parekowhai, Aluminium and sparrow, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2000
Michael Parekowhai's Aluminium and sparrow. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2000

A major artwork for Auckland

To celebrate 90 years of successful business in Auckland, Barfoot and Thompson gifted $2 million to the city in 2016. One million was for a commission of a major artwork for Auckland. This is the largest monetary gift for a single artwork in New Zealand’s history.

The balance of the gift was donated to the Holy Trinity Cathedral refurbishment project ($500,000) and Starship Children's Hospital ($500,000).

Auckland Council has a public art policy and budget to ensure that public art is commissioned and located in Auckland. Public art is an important part of any thriving community.

Objectives for the commission, which were site specific to Queens Wharf and its attributes as a place, were developed with Barfoot and Thompson, its arts advisors, the council and Waterfront Auckland.

The artist, Michael Parekowhai, developed detailed designs for the sculpture for completion next year.

Former Mayor Len Brown pledged support for the project on behalf of Auckland. This included making a commitment to:

  • the location of the artwork at Queens Wharf
  • timely delivery
  • help with securing extra funding if necessary.

The artwork aligns to the objectives of the council's aspirations, the Auckland Plan, Public Art Policy and the City Centre Masterplan.

Council agreed to Barfoot and Thompson's recommendation of Mr Parekowhai. It was endorsed by council's Advisory Panel for Public Art.

The objectives for the work are that it:

  • be eye-catching and with the scale and power to draw people to Queens Wharf
  • be accessible, dynamic and interactive
  • have wide appeal and draw repeat visits to the Auckland waterfront
  • be the best of its kind
  • complement Queens Wharf's visual and exposed natural environment
  • welcome people to Auckland and the waterfront, including those disembarking from cruise vessels
  • be integral to defining the identity of 'the people's wharf'.

The artwork budget is $1.5 million. The council's existing public arts fund has underwritten $500,000 in addition to the $1 million gift from Barfoot and Thompson. Fundraising efforts are continuing to replace that underwritten from external sources.

This type of expenditure is consistent with other public art projects over recent years. It is part of the budget set aside each year for the commissioning of public art by the council's Arts, Culture and Events Committee.

In June 2014 the council's Arts, Culture and Events Committee noted that this artwork will be a regionally significant work that will form part of the council's public art collection. They resolved to delegate authority to staff to complete the planning and delivery of the artwork.

The committee adopted the public art work programme for the financial year 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015. The Parekowhai commission was included as part of the work programme.

About the artwork

Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse on Queens Wharf
Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse

The concept for the artwork is a 'lighthouse' for the tip of Queens Wharf. This signifies a safe harbour and welcome, and includes the Māori value ahi kā – the home fires are burning. It welcomes all people to Auckland and its waterfront, including those disembarking from cruise ships and other vessels.

The lighthouse has taken the form of a one-to-one size model of a 'typical' New Zealand house filled with light.

Stairs lead to a viewing platform to allow people multiple views of the interior.

The house, or shell, will be engineered in metal and wood with windows in an original scaled form. The front and back doors will have glass panes for viewing inside the structure.

The artist

Michael Parekowhai was born in Porirua in 1968. His Māori whakapapa is Ngā Ariki and Ngāti Whakarongō. Parekowhai gained his BFA (1990) and his MFA (2000) from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland.

In 2001 Michael was awarded an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate. Michael Parekowhai is Associate Professor in Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. His exhibition history spans almost two decades. He lives and works in Auckland.

Read more on the Auckland University website.

The location

Queens Wharf is home to the artwork. It is an appropriate place because the work represents a beacon at the wharf's end. It isn't an impenetrable fortress of a traditional lighthouse but like a house.

Opened to the public in 2010, Queens Wharf earned the name 'the People's Wharf'.

Located at the foot of Auckland's CBD, jutting out into the Waitematā, it is the perfect vantage point to observe the harbour, to fish, to reflect and to witness the bustle of cruise ship arrivals and departures.

It is home to the heritage 'Shed 10' which, now refurbished, serves as Auckland's primary cruise ship terminal welcoming and farewelling visitors to Auckland.

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