by Julia Holderness and Petrena Fishburn for SCAPE Public Art Season 2017
In 1959 Barbara and André Brooke established Christchurch’s first contemporary dealer art gallery at 91 Cashel Street, showing New Zealand painting, ceramics, drawing, sculpture and textiles. It positioned NZ contemporary art (engaging with Western ideas of Modernism) as a desirable, exciting and important part of local culture. They promoted the NZ artist as a respectable and professional practitioner and showed June Black, Helen Brown, John Coley, Rudi Gopas, Louise Henderson, Quentin MacFarlane, Colin McCahon, Milan Mrkusich, Don Peebles, Olivia Spencer Bower, and Toss Woollaston, among other artists. The Brookes cultivated a sophisticated, social atmosphere at Gallery 91, serving freshly percolated European coffee, and were open late into the evenings. They had lively openings and also offered a rich programme of public events, such as artist talks, lectures and slide evenings. As the first contemporary dealer in Christchurch, Gallery 91 lasted for just 10 months. Through examination, re-making, and re-presentation of archival material and testimonies, Auckland-based artist Holderness and Timaru-based art historian Fishburn offer a consideration of the legacy of Gallery 91 and how it helped to shape the Canterbury art scene. Among her other ventures in support of contemporary NZ artists, Barbara Brooke went on to found the Brooke Gifford Gallery with Judith Gifford in 1975, one of Christchurch’s longest running dealer galleries (which closed subsequent to the 2010/11 earthquakes).
Hear an audio work via the SCAPE Public Art App geotagged to 91 Cashel Street, and visit Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu to see work drawing on images and ephemera from Gallery 91.
Auckland based artist Julia Holderness completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury in 2002 and a Master of Art & Design (Honours) at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in 2015. She is currently undertaking a practice led PhD (Visual Arts) at AUT. Exploring appropriation and artistic influence, her current PhD project conflates several design archives as sources for contemporary fabrication and re-presentation. Producing domestic wares within art narratives, these art histories combine both factual and fabricated versions of the story. Her practice and outputs are often collaborative and she works alongside both historic and current artists.
Petrena’s master’s thesis focused on Barbara Brooke, a Canterbury arts administrator, arts magazine editor, and an early dealer gallery founder and director who was ‘the ultimate supporter and promoter of contemporary New Zealand art in the period after WWII. She was a woman who helped establish the careers of many New Zealand artists.’
After submitting her master’s thesis in 2014, Petrena is currently collaborating with the Auckland artist, Julia Holderness, to bring part of this thesis to life. The pair are creating an installation about Gallery 91 – the first contemporary dealer gallery in Christchurch that was founded by Barbara Brooke and her husband Andre in 1959 – for SCAPE Public Art in October 2017.