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New visual arts festival coming to Wellington

Main image: Kereama Taepa, Tiki 2-5, 2021, digital print. Image courtesy of the artist

A new festival encourages public to come face to face with leading contemporary art with Wellington dealer and public galleries collaborating on portrait festival.

Nine Wellington dealer galleries and six public galleries have joined together in a unique collaboration to establish a new visual arts festival celebrating New Zealand portraiture past and present. Taking place over four days, 27-30 May 2021, Face to Face: Portrait Festival will bring together some of Aotearoa’s most celebrated artists – including Billy Apple, Yvonne Todd and Star Gossage – with early and mid-career artists Ayesha Green, Sam Mitchell, Claudia Kogachi and others.

Founded with the aim of demystifying and increasing access to contemporary art, Face to Face encourages the public to venture into the city’s visual arts precinct to uncover and learn more about one of society’s most enduring art forms.

Bird Watcher by Joanna Braithwate, courtesy of the artist and Bowen Galleries

Through a programme of free exhibitions, collection tours, talks, studio visits and performances the public will be able to go behind the scenes, meet with artists and curators and discover galleries, that – despite long histories, dating back more than 20 years – they might not have visited before.

A highlight of the Festival is a Late Night event on Saturday 29 May. Taking cues from international events such as Art Night in London, the dealer galleries will stay open late (5-9pm) and host performances by an exciting line-up of Wellington’s best musicians and performers. Programmed by the award-winning team behind CubaDupa, the performances – curated to reflect the individual exhibitions – are a collaborative initiative to foster stronger links across Aotearoa’s creative community. Armed with a map and a schedule of performances the public will be able to walk freely between the galleries experiencing something new at each one.

Michelle Estall, Echo, 2021. Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award Finalist

Face to Face coincides with the New Zealand Portrait Gallery’s inaugural Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award, which encourages emerging Māori artists to create portraits of their tūpuna (ancestors), and includes programming dedicated to investigating Māori portraiture traditions – both historical and contemporary.

Launching at a time when questions of identity and representation are at the forefront of our collective cultural psyche, Face to Face will delve into questions surrounding historical and contemporary portraiture. What is the role of portraiture in the age of smartphones and digital technologies, when everyone can take a portrait? Whose portraits are celebrated? What counts as portraiture? How can portraiture be used as a symbol of power? And, in the words of Art History Associate Professor, Erin Griffey, how do official portraits function to articulate and justify ideals of leadership? These questions and more will be explored in the weekend talks series with discussions by artists, academics, writers, critics and curators.

Sam Mitchell, Louise Henderson 1902-1994, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Bartley & Company Art
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