Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

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Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Exterior of Te Papa, 2016-01-25.jpg
Wellington, New Zealand map.svg
Disc Plain red.svg
Museum location
Location Wellington, New Zealand
Coordinates Coordinates: 41°17′26″S174°46′56″E / 41.290589°S 174.782154°E / -41.290589; 174.782154
Visitors1.5 million (2017) [1]
Director Courtney Johnston
Website Official website

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand's national museum, located in Wellington. Known as Te Papa, or 'Our Place', it opened in 1998 after the merging of the National Museum and the National Art Gallery. [2] More than 1.5 million people visit every year.


Te Papa Tongarewa translates literally to 'Container of Treasures'. A fuller interpretation is ‘our container of treasured things and people that spring from mother earth here in New Zealand’. Te Papa's philosophy emphasises the living face behind its cultural treasures, many of which retain deep ancestral links to the indigenous Māori people. The Museum recognises the partnership that was created by the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, te Tiriti o Waitangi, in 1840. [3]


New Zealand Dominion Museum

New Zealand Dominion Museum building Wellington Dominion Museum 01.JPG
New Zealand Dominion Museum building

The first predecessor of Te Papa was the Colonial Museum, founded in 1865, with James Hector as founding director. It was built on Museum Street. [4] Halfway through the 1930s the museum moved to the new Dominion Museum building in Buckle Street, where the National Art Gallery of New Zealand was also housed.

The National Art Gallery was opened in 1936 and occupied the first floor of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum building on Buckle Street, Wellington. It was originally populated with a collection donated by Academy of Fine Arts. The Gallery was formed with the passing of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum Act in 1930.

Both the Dominion Museum and Gallery were overseen by a single board of trustees. The official opening was by the Governor General in 1934. [5]

The early holding consisted largely of donations and bequests, including those from Harold Beauchamp, T. Lindsay Buick, Archdeacon Smythe, N. Chevalier, J. C. Richmond, William Swainson, Bishop Monrad, John Ilott and Rex Nan Kivell. [6]

Eru D. Gore was secretary-manager from 1936 till his death in 1948 when Stewart Bell Maclennan was appointed the first director. This was the first appointment in New Zealand of a full-time art gallery director. Past directors of the gallery include:

Te Papa

South-western view Flickr - brewbooks - i 110505 048.jpg
South-western view

Te Papa was established in 1992 by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992. [7] Part of the remit for Te Papa was to explore the national identity of New Zealand. [8]

The official opening took place on 14 February 1998, in a ceremony led by Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, Sir Peter Blake, and two children. The first chief executive of the Museum was Cheryll Sotheran. Māori traditional instrumentalist Richard Nunns co-led the musicians at a dawn ceremony on opening day. [9]

The museum is run by a board appointed by the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Board members have included: Wira Gardiner, Fiona Campbell, Sue Piper, Judith Tizard, John Judge, Miria Pomare, Michael Bassett, Christopher Parkin, Sandra Lee, Ngātata Love, Ronald Trotter, Glenys Coughlan, Judith Binney, Philip Carter, and Wendy Lai. [10]

The museum had one million visitors in the first five months of operation, and between 1 and 1.3 million visits have been made in each subsequent year. In 2004, more space was devoted to exhibiting works from the New Zealand art collection in a long-term exhibition called Toi Te Papa: Art of the Nation. [11] Filmmakers Gaylene Preston and Anna Cottrell documented the development of Te Papa in their film Getting to Our Place. [12]

CEOs of Te Papa include:

The museum has sometimes been the center of controversy. The siting of significant collections at the water's edge on reclaimed land next to one of the world's most active faults has resulted in concern by some people. There has been criticism of the 'sideshow' nature of some exhibits, primarily the Time Warp section, which has closed. There has also been criticism that some exhibits were not given due reverence. For example, a major work by Colin McCahon was at one stage juxtaposed with a 1950s refrigerator in a New Zealand culture exhibition. [18]

New Zealand art commentator Hamish Keith has been a consistent critic of Te Papa at different times referring to it as a "theme park", the "cultural equivalent to a fast-food outlet" and "not even a de facto national gallery", [19] but seemed to moderate his opinion later when making a case for exhibition space on the Auckland waterfront. [20]

Staff restructuring at Te Papa since 2012 has generated significant controversy. [21] [22] [23] In October 2018, Te Papa management promised to review restructuring plans, indicating that plans would be scaled back. [24] In February 2019, the Collection Manager of Fishes Andrew Stewart and the Collection Manager of Molluscs Bruce Marshall were made redundant. [25] [26] [27] Numerous museum experts and scientists in New Zealand and worldwide criticised the move, with researchers including Steve O'Shea advocating a boycott. [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] In March 2019, the redundancies were delayed. [37] In April 2019, the Museum reversed the decision for Andrew Stewart, offering him an alternative job. [38] [39] [40] Between April and May 2019, Te Papa advertised a research position for a molluscan curator and awarded the job to an alternative candidate to Bruce Marshall. [37] [41] [42] The advertisement and decision to not offer the job to Bruce Marshall was criticised harshly by outside experts, [37] [41] prompting moa expert Trevor Worthy to end his 30-year research association with the museum in protest. [43]

Current building

Main entrance Museum of New Zealand - 2013.04 - panoramio.jpg
Main entrance

The main Te Papa building is on the waterfront in Wellington, on Cable Street. Inside the building are six floors of exhibitions, cafés and gift shops dedicated to New Zealand's culture and environment. The museum also incorporates outdoor areas with artificial caves, native bushes and wetlands. A second building on Tory Street is a scientific research facility and storage area, and is not open to the public.

Te Papa was designed by Jasmax Architects [44] and built by Fletcher Construction. [45] The 36,000-square-metre (390,000 sq ft) building had cost NZ$300 million by its opening in 1998. Earthquake strengthening of the Cable Street building was achieved through the New Zealand-developed technology of base isolation [46] – essentially seating the entire building on supports made from lead, steel and rubber that slow down the effect of an earthquake.

The site was previously occupied by a modern five-storey hotel. This was jacked off its foundations onto numerous rail bogies and transported 200 metres (660 ft) down and across the road to a new site, where it is now the Museum Hotel.


The History Collection includes many dresses and textiles, the oldest of which date back to the sixteenth century. The History Collection also includes the New Zealand Post Archive with around 20,000 stamps and related objects, and the Pacific Collection with about 13,000 historic and contemporary items from the Pacific Islands.

There are significant collections of fossils and archaeozoology; a herbarium of about 250,000 dried specimen; a collection of about 70,000 specimen of New Zealand birds; significant amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

The museum has the world's largest specimen of the rare colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). It weighs 495 kilograms (1,091 lb) and is 4.2 metres (14 ft) long. [47] The squid arrived at the museum in March 2007 after being captured by New Zealand fisherman in the Ross Sea off Antarctica. [48] The cultural collections include collections on photography, Māori taonga (cultural treasures), and Pacific cultures.

The Museum of New Zealand is also home to the Elgar Collection a valuable collection of English and French furniture and paintings the oldest of which date back to the seventeenth century. In 1946 the Dominion Museum one of Te Papa's predecessors received a bequest of some Fernside Homestead’s finest antiques from Ella Elgar’s will. Until 1992 these antiques were displayed in period rooms at the Museum but today objects from the Elgar Collection can be seen in many exhibitions at the museum. [49]


The Archives are located in a separate building at Tory Street and are open for researchers on appointment. There are two categories of archive collections: the museum archive and the collected archives.

The Museum Archive goes back to the founding of the Colonial Museum in 1865 and that comprise the archives of James Hector. The archives of the National Art Gallery of New Zealand are also part of these archives. The Collected Archives fall into two groups:

  1. Art-related records and other archival papers in specialist areas; for instance the archives of Toss Woollaston, Lois White and Leonard Mitchell)
  2. A wide variety of archival material, that include the diary of Felton Mathew, Surveyor General at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, and battle plans and correspondences related to World War I; for instance the Gallipoli diary of Captain E.P. Cox. [50]


Te Aka Matua Library, previously a publicly accessible library, is now open only to researchers by appointment between 10am-5pm, Monday-Friday. The library is a major research and reference resource, with particular strengths in New Zealand, Māori, natural history, art, photography and museum studies. It is located on the fourth floor of the main building. [51]


Mahuki [52] is Te Papa's innovation accelerator. It is an in-residence programme in which 10 teams develop solutions to challenges facing cultural institutions. [53]


Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibition Gallipoli- The Scale of Our War.jpg
Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibition

Te Papa has a mixture of long term exhibitions of cultural objects, hands-on and interactive exhibitions, cultural spaces and touring exhibitions. The long term exhibitions of cultural objects focus on New Zealand history, Māori culture and New Zealand's natural world. The hands-on and interactive exhibitions focus on engaging particularly young visitors and include both indoor areas and out-door areas built and planted for the purpose. The key cultural space is the Te Hono ki Hawaiki marae with very impressive whakairo. [54]

All permanent exhibitions are free. Many of the touring exhibition are ticketed, but there are occasional free days. [55]

In March 1998, a 7 centimetres (2.8 in) high statue of the Virgin Mary sheathed in a condom called Virgin in a Condom was exhibited, an art work by Tania Kovats which attracted protests by Christians. [56]

Te Taiao Nature, a 1,400-square-metre exhibition focusing on New Zealand's natural world, opened on 11 May 2019. [57]

See also

Related Research Articles

Shona Rapira Davies is a sculptor and painter of Ngati Wai ki Aotea tribal descent. Currently residing in Wellington New Zealand.

Dame Cheryll Beatrice Sotheran was a New Zealand museum professional. She was the founding chief executive of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and was credited with the successful completion of the museum, considered the largest international museum project of the 1990s.

Shigeyuki (Yuki) Kihara is a contemporary visual and performance artist and the first New Zealander to hold a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Titled Shigeyuki Kihara: Living Photographs, the exhibition opened from 7 October 2008 to 1 February 2009. Kihara's self-portrait photographs in the exhibitions included nudes in poses that portrayed colonial images of Polynesian people as sexual objects. Much of Kihara's work challenges cultural stereotypes and dominant norms of sexuality and gender found across the globe. Kihara is also a fa'afafine, the third gender of Samoa. Born in Samoa, Kihara's mother is Samoan and their father Japanese. Kihara immigrated to Wellington, New Zealand at the age of fifteen to further their studies. They trained in fashion design at Wellington Polytech. In 1995, while still a student, Kihara's Graffiti Dress – Bombacific was purchased by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Kihara's exhibition Teuanoa'i: Adorn to Excess was composed of twenty six t-shirts that took large corporations' logos and "[reappropriated them] to subvert the system of power, which governs the lives of Indigenous peoples today. The work also reflect the pride, angst and frustration amongst Pacific island youth living in an urban environment, which is what I was when I first started making them back in 1996."

Diggeress Rangituatahi Te Kanawa was a New Zealand Māori tohunga raranga of Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Kinohaku descent. At the time of her death she was regarded as New Zealand's most renowned weaver.

William Franklin Culbert was a New Zealand artist, notable for his use of light in painting, photography, sculpture and installation work, as well as his use of found and recycled materials.

Fiona Pardington New Zealand photographer

Fiona Dorothy Pardington is a New Zealand artist, her principal medium being photography.

Dowse Art Museum Lower Hutt art museum

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Lisa Walker is a contemporary New Zealand jeweller.

Kohai Grace is a New Zealand weaver. Her iwi are Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Porou, Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Raukawa.

Jenny Gwynndd Harper is a New Zealand academic and museum professional. She was most recently the director of Christchurch Art Gallery.

Judy Darragh is a New Zealand artist who uses found objects to create sculptural assemblages. She has also worked in paint and film. Darragh is represented in a number of public collections in New Zealand. In 2004, The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa held a major retrospective of her work titled Judy Darragh: So... You Made It?

Suzanne Goldberg New Zealand artist

Suzanne Goldberg (1940–1999) was a New Zealand painter, born in Auckland, New Zealand.

Saffronn Te Ratana is a visual artist of Māori descent, born in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Te Ratana went to Palmerston Intermediate Normal School, followed by Palmerston North Girls’ High School.

Barbara Tuck is a New Zealand artist. Her works are held in the collections of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Adrienne Martyn is a New Zealand art photographer. Her work has been collected by numerous art galleries, museums and libraries in New Zealand including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Dowse Art Museum, the Auckland Art Gallery, the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Hocken Library.

Bruce Anders Marshall is a New Zealand taxonomist and malacologist. He is an expert on New Zealand mollusca and has named hundreds of species and genera.

Ava Seymour is a New Zealand artist born in Palmerston North in 1967. She attended the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE in Prahran in 1988. Seymour was based in Berlin for two years, where she began producing her photocollages. She returned to New Zealand in 1994 and had her first exhibition in 1995. In 2001, Seymour was appointed a Frances Hodgkins Fellow. During this fellowship, she focused on Central Otago imagery. In 2009, Seymour received a McCahon House Artist residency, during which she developed work that was included in The Kauri Project: A Delicate Balance at Te Uru Contemporary Gallery, April 2015.

Judith Ann Patience is a New Zealand artist specialising in weaving. Her work is held in the permanent collections of the Christchurch Art Gallery, the National Art Gallery, New Zealand and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Mary-Louise Browne is a New Zealand artist. Her works are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.

Courtney Johnston

Courtney Johnston is a New Zealand museum professional, a national radio correspondent, and the chief executive of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.


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