Du Fresne on Te Papa

January 6th, 2010 at 9:32 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes:

Assuming the Government ever gets around to announcing an appointment, I have some advice for whoever succeeds the late Seddon Bennington as chief executive of – blow it up and start again.

Heh.

The problem with Te Papa is not simply that the architects missed an opportunity to make a dramatic statement – something to rival the Sydney Opera House – on its prime waterfront site. You could excuse that failure if the building worked internally, but it doesn’t.

It’s a haphazard, chaotic jumble, so poorly signposted and lacking in cohesion that every time I leave, I have an unsettling feeling that there must be things I have missed.

I am actually a fan of Te Papa overall, as it has got kids and families going to museums. But that is not to say there are not areas it can do better, and the design of the building is sub-standard.

As if to confirm this, I read last year that Te Papa had decided to close its library because only 5 per cent of visitors bothered going there. I’m hardly surprised. Despite having been to Te Papa many times, I didn’t realise there was a library.

I didn’t realise there was a library either!

As for the art gallery, I heard artist Grahame Sydney comment recently that you needed to be a bloodhound to find it.

So true!

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32 Responses to “Du Fresne on Te Papa”

  1. Swiftman the infidel (329 comments) says:

    Every time I go to Wellington my family take our 7 year old to Te Papa.

    I spend MOST of my time in the library.

    The outer appearance of the building is Soviet-era in class and style.

    The interior layout appears to have been designed by a school teacher.

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  2. wreck1080 (3,529 comments) says:

    I found te papa to be rubbish myself.

    Everyone agrees it is ugly. Why doesn’t New Zealand have any talented artist-architects? Maybe, the high tax rates scare the good ones overseas?

    It is a science exhibition center, not a museum. And, it is difficult to navigate.

    Now, Auckland museum is a real museum.

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  3. ephemera (563 comments) says:

    I once heard that Te Papa turned down the design which was eventually used for The Guggenheim in Bilbao.

    View that visionary building and weep.

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  4. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Well lets face it. The primary purpose of Te Papa is a re-write of history and to reinforce the noble savage pillaging colonialist fantasy. Who needs such worthless crap no matter what the architecture is.

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  5. noodle (151 comments) says:

    Visited once. Got lost and lost interest. A giant architectural wank, inside and out.

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  6. Angus (536 comments) says:

    “The primary purpose of Te Papa is a re-write of history and to reinforce the noble savage pillaging colonialist fantasy.”

    http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/WhatsOn/exhibitions/Pages/BloodEarthFire.aspx

    “You will be immersed in the rapid conversion of this untouched environment into cultivated land, from forests and wetlands to gardens then farms and settlements. But this came at a cost. Hear the haunting lament for extinct species at a memorial wall, along with a re-creation of the call of the extinct huia.”

    Yep.

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  7. jcuknz (648 comments) says:

    The message I get, I was already converted, from the sad business is that if you go bush make sure you have a 406 EPIRB with you and prefereably the one which pin-points your position to abour five feet. Now the technology is here it is criminal to go without one and if you cannot afford to buy then hire. I doubt if I will ever bother to visit Wellington again let alone TePapa.

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  8. Murray (8,835 comments) says:

    Frankly Te Papa is a miserable failure as a museum. Particularly when hugely significant artifacts as the Tamil Bell and the stone bird which a directly relevent to settlement in New Zealand are just dropped in a case with no test whatsoever you have to question their academic integrity.

    The relaity is that it is not museum, it is an art gallery. And not a particularly good. Yet another bit of chrige for the bulk of us who are actually pretty bloody sick of being told to feel bad for being white.

    And where the hell is the library?

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  9. Manolo (12,640 comments) says:

    “The primary purpose of Te Papa is a re-write of history and to reinforce the noble savage..”

    Spot on. After visiting Te papa you could be forgiven for believing the Maori were as advanced as the Egyptians or Mayans or Incas, when we know they were nothing but a collection of warring tribes at odds with each other.

    Te Papa is not a museum, but an amusement park.

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  10. davidp (3,327 comments) says:

    Why does each exterior side of the building look different to the others? Was each side designed by a different architect and they never talked to each other?

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  11. Murray (8,835 comments) says:

    Call them stone age and see what happens Manolo. Even if it is accurate.

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  12. Jack5 (4,230 comments) says:

    Te Papa: the colonial guilt-trippers’ version of Disneyland. Intellectual tinsel, generously funded in Klark-Kullen budgets. Klark wanted this to be a prominent national institution. Part of her vision for NZ.

    What was wrong with museums when they were for learning and passing on knowledge? Who cares that only 15 per cent of the population visited them? Who cares that they were in sturdy, old, plain buildings?

    Now, much lighter in content and much more elaborate in presentation, they have become just another entertainment medium in an age saturated with entertainment.

    I fear similar things are happening with libraries: shelves of Mills & Boon, rows of free internet terminals, and racks of pop DVDs. Nothing wrong with these entertainments, but they are ratepayer funded to compete with little businesses down the road that have to charge.

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  13. Komata (973 comments) says:

    As a Librarian and Historian, I agree completely with Redbaiter, Angus et al. Te Papa was NOT designed to promote our country and its history – warts and all, good and bad. It WAS designed to promote revisionist propaganda and agendas (the ‘Belich’ school of NZ history) with a very careful and deliberate skewing of information to make sure that the general public ‘sheeples’ got the ‘Maori Good’ Pakeha bad’ message, while the ‘entertainment’ has led to comments about the institution being ‘Disneyland – the very poor man’s version’, or, from the really-cynical, the ‘Kiwi’ version of the same fun-fair (or was that last the NZ Parliament ? – can’t remember).

    My own particular specialisation and interest is in New Zealand reef-gold mining (Think the Coromandel Peninsula, Waihi et al) and New Zealand railways, yet to visit Te Papa is to believe that (aside from WW Stewart’s superb models) railways were ‘bothersome and unimportant’, and gold-mining a pestilence of such proportions that it doesn’t even exist – or ever did. (The fact that railways opened-up the country and that New Zealand gold miners gave the world technological break-throughs and inventions that are still in widespread international-use today – as well as the city of Dunedin, is ignored) – and this from the supposed ‘Museum of New Zealand’ representing our country, and an institution that we as taxpayers all contributed towards.

    Effectively, Te Papa is a socialist politically-correct revisionist institution, (complete with obligatory on-site purpose-built marae as a sop to those whom DL et al wanted to ‘butter-up’ and keep on-side). No other museum that I am aware has such a detail. Sadly, the revisionist-aspect is a fate it shares with the New Zealand National Archives (Ask to see the ‘Littlewood’ treaty if you are ever there – and watch the reactions, and listen to the words. . .), and sadly, this is not a policy that is going to change anytime soon. The ‘revisionistas ‘ are too well entrenched.

    And if you are considering writing-in to complain and point out the omissions? Forget it! If it isn’t in line with the ‘new, improved’ New Zealand history, (the socialist version – not the actual facts), you are merely wasting your time. Been there, done that. . .

    The architecture is of course another issue altogether, with certain mean-spirited architectural-type people of my acquaintance noting that Te Papa is built on reclaimed land and that a small localised earthquake in the harbour, closely-followed by a Tsunami (also localised) would be doing the nation an inestemable favour when it removes the architectural eyesore that Te papa is, – especially if certain prominent Labour party politicians were inside at the time. (I am of course merely passing-on the opinions expressed by others. . .)

    One can but dream. . .

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  14. Brian Smaller (3,915 comments) says:

    I fear similar things are happening with libraries: shelves of Mills & Boon, rows of free internet terminals, and racks of pop DVDs. Nothing wrong with these entertainments, but they are ratepayer funded to compete with little businesses down the road that have to charge.

    To be fair to the Hutt Library, I would never have seen two seasons of the Onedin Line if I had to rent it from Blockbuster. They do stock stuff that is not stocked in high st rental stores. And they charge too. $5 a week for a dvd set, $10 for a PS2 game for the boy. I suspect that they pay for themselves very quickly, and most people I see renting dvds are also walking out with books. That has to be a good thing.

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  15. Tim - Wellington (1 comment) says:

    Just went to Christchurch on holiday and was in Auckland earlier this year – both of these museums are so terribly boring! It seems to me that many of the Te Papa haters want traditional, typically uninteresting museums that do not appeal to children at all.

    Te Papa is interesting, contemporary and kids love it. The visitor numbers are huge. Granted the exterior is a bit of a blight on the Wellington waterfront, but inside the exhibitions and general aim of the museum is great. There are so many people that come from around New Zealand to see Te Papa it has to be considered a success.

    And does anyone remember the old museum? Now that was atrocious.

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  16. ephemera (563 comments) says:

    @Komata

    But all the stuff you see when you enter the building is just window-dressing.

    I mean, surely a museum is more than just what is on display or how it is being ‘promoted’?

    Te Papa continues to have some damned good collections and archives which can be accessed for research. It might be lacking a publically accessible history of NZ railways, but that is probably more to do with a lack of curatorial expertise than some socialist agenda or other.

    Lets not forget that the founding chair was Ron Trotter!

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  17. kowtow (6,723 comments) says:

    To me and forever Te Pap will always be Virgin in Condom.

    While many argue artistic merit and freedom of expression my view is and was they would have never displayed say a vishnu or mohammed in a condom ,on a turd ,having a piss or in any other ” inappropriate’ context.

    It also said to me in no uncertain terms that “mainstream” culture ,religion and beliefs are fair game while all else is sacrosanct.

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  18. Murray (8,835 comments) says:

    ephemera you’ve just described something that could be done in a wharehouse.

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  19. ephemera (563 comments) says:

    @kowtow,

    The Virgin in a Condom was actually part of the ‘Pictura Britannica’ exhibition, and was exhibited alongside works by up and coming British artists. Although Te Papa carried it, they were not the ones curating it.

    Te Papa and the national gallery play host to many international exhibitions and events on tour (although I can’t remember one I’ve actually been to)

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  20. Brian Smaller (3,915 comments) says:

    Kowtow – my personal work of art, Shitmo ( a play on Gitmo, Shitty conditions and Islam) would be deemed offensive I suggest.

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  21. kowtow (6,723 comments) says:

    ephemera
    Doesnt matter ,the point is they hosted it. And it wasn’t art either.

    ‘Shitmo’ would be offensive as it would rate 5 stars compared to most prisons in the Middle East .I think ‘Motoons’ has a certain ring to it & they’ll never be exhibited in Te Crapa.

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  22. Peter (1,471 comments) says:

    Te Papa has a library? Really?

    I recall when TePapa was approved, a Wellington advertising company drew up plans for a more iconic “sparkling sea shell” design, with underwater viewing platforms. It would have been a landmark building, worthy of showing off.

    The w*nkers at Te Papa knew better, of course. They wanted a non-descript, Stalinist shed.

    In which to hide a library, apparently.

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  23. malcolm (2,000 comments) says:

    I must be getting old. I still call it Monz.

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  24. ephemera (563 comments) says:

    @Kowtow

    I hate British art myself – particularly Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. I don’t buy into all the conceptual bollocks they spout.

    But I never would have been able to make my mind up for myself had I not attended the exhibition.

    The point of touring an exhibition is to expose as many people as possible to the many different ideas circulating around the contemporary art world.

    You clearly have a firm view of what art is and isn’t, but don’t write off an entire institution just because they hosted something you disagreed with – its unfair to expect them to please everyone all of the time. I actually think this is Te Papa’s weakness – by trying to please everyone, they please no-one.

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  25. Neil (528 comments) says:

    A comment about Te Papa’s drag on NZ history.
    There is no doubt that it is a great supporter of revisionism in NZ history. As many say the Belich version.
    Consider also how Te Papa starves other provincial museums of funding. In most cases not contaminated by big city sickening “liberalism” of the Wellingron elite.
    Perhaps the death of the former curator might be the beginning of an era of reality. I never knew the man but I have heard plenty of criticism of that white elephant Te Papa.

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  26. Lucia Maria (1,994 comments) says:

    I remember the old museum.

    My Dad used to take his six children there frequently, and not only did we enjoy the museum part, but we loved the art gallery upstairs. Most of that art that I used to enjoy looking at as a child has now been hidden, and what did Te Pa do with the ancient Egyptian display?

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  27. Rex Widerstrom (5,129 comments) says:

    The very worst aspect of Te Papa in my experience has been… wait for it… it’s lack of inclusion and contempt toward minorities. Let me elaborate…

    I went there in a group, many from out of town, one of whom was (still is) a particularly good friend of mine and happens to be in a wheelchair. We decided that interactive electronic rides were a must (more like Disneyland than a museum but that’s another point altogether).

    First was some space capsule thing. Couldn’t fit the wheelchair through the door so they parked her in a corner facing the wall. I picked her up and carried her in – no small feat when one had to bend forward to fit through the door.

    Next was a much larger theatre, set out like a cinema but with a moving floor. This would have considered disabled people in its construction, I figured. Nope. She was told to park near the front of the balcony on the immobile floor section, thus denying her the full experience again (and bearing in mind she was on a full price ticket).

    Once again I picked her up and seated her next to me. This went on for the entire time.

    Now this was perhaps a decade ago so things may have changed. I haven’t bothered going back to find out.

    But aside from its overwhelming ugliness, how on earth could these attractions have been built with no thought to how they might be enjoyed by the disabled?! Clearly not only were the designers blind, they were also pig ignorant.

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  28. the deity formerly known as nigel6888 (856 comments) says:

    well I went to Te Papa today. I took my parents who are over from Australia. My father is an award winning wood turner and I was keen for him to see the magnificent furniture collection that Te Papa holds in its permanent displays.

    What do you know. Its not there.

    There is a kiddie floorshow on the bottom which is about bugs and critters ooh er. with silly little signs about how bugs are interesting.

    The middle and upper areas are about how wonderful maori and pacifika are. There is a tiny hall about voyages to NZ, with a few artefacts, but basically nothing there.

    The wonderful case after case of treasured possession and reminders of our heritage are all gone. Instead there is lots of mood lighting and displays aimed at “teaching” us at the reading level of a six year old.

    Plus the building is hard to get around. Why on earth cant there be escalators all the way up? Why are there only 2 lifts? Is it deliberately difficult to find stuff.

    I was so disappointed I walked out. The so-called national museum is now officially worse than the Canberra national museum in its genuflecture to the indigenous peoples, and its whitewashing of the last 200 years of endeavour that has built NZ from forests and swamps into something that almost made it into first world status.

    As in Canberra with the magnificent war museum, there is a silver lining. The Wellington Museum in the old Bond Store is bloody brilliant. Took the wrinklies there and spent a happy couple of hours looking at real stuff, without having some schoolmarm explain how to think about it.

    The families who donated their treasures to the Dominion Museum, later the National Museum so that we could all understand how New Zealand came about, and the triumphs and hardships of settling a harsh land, well they have all been airbrushed from history.

    Te Papa. Its a bloody disgrace.

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  29. the deity formerly known as nigel6888 (856 comments) says:

    ephemera, you are missing the point. Te Papa isnt trying to please everyone. Its trying to please a very small minority of the revisionist luvvies, and covering their tracks with a few blockbuster exhibitions borrowed from other institutions to pump the gate numbers.

    If you want to look at a real museum, have a look at the British Museum, or the Victoria and Albert, or the Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery, or even the Tate Modern. The museums have lots of interesting historical STUFF on display (like what museums are supposed to), with respectful signs saying what it is and where it came from. You are expected to construct your own “narrative”. and strangely enough people can.

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  30. macdo (18 comments) says:

    My formative museum experience was the Horniman Museum in London in the 60s. A mildly chaotic, incompletely labelled collection of amazing things. I went away to read about them after every visit. Then went back to study with some knowledge. Perfect. (Though I had trouble with a back stairway where an unpleasant torture chair lurked – maybe I had too good an imagination but no lack of emotional as well as intellectual response.)

    So Te Papa (and many other museums) fall short of my ideal. There’s still interesting stuff there but the over-explanation is commonplace. Not too stimulating, though some of the discovery areas trigger some questions and a sense of discovery, even in old minds.

    The library has been my favourite part of Te Papa since I found it. Again, a slightly motley collection of books of all ages, some quite old. It’s a little like the closed or stack areas of public libraries, full of books that haven’t been read for a while, and all the more worth looking at for that. Good to know they are there, sad that they won’t be accessible. I hope they will still be there, perhaps they’ll be sold off to support reading awareness.

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  31. Jack5 (4,230 comments) says:

    Tim-Wellington posted at 12.48:

    …Just went to Christchurch on holiday and was in Auckland earlier this year – both of these museums are so terribly boring! It seems to me that many of the Te Papa haters want traditional, typically uninteresting museums that do not appeal to children at all…

    Should museums be like kindergartens, Tim? Does every institution of learning, culture, and knowledge have to be pitched at children? State institutions aimed at children (apart from schools of course) are potentially great tools for various factions to mould society to their political views, of course. The Jesuits did this particularly well for Rome, and communists and the socialists of the right, the fascists, used institutions this way, too.

    Many of us believe Te Papa is painting a distorted, leftist, multiculturalist (in the political sense), revisionist, anti-colonial view — and on taxpayer funds. That as well as being state-funded entertainment.

    If you find the Auckland and Christchurch museums above your grasp, go to the beach instead. Why judge museums the same way you would judge movies, DVDs, casinos, sports events, reality TV?

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  32. noodle (151 comments) says:

    Museums used to be repositories of historical stuff that people wanted to see. er .. they were museums.
    They used to be housed in all manner of buildings and still are.
    Most are still honest and much enjoyed.

    So how on earth did Wgtn end up with a concrete gulag, utterly user unfriendly, overrun by uniformed staff who roll their eyes when asked for directions by lost visitors.And lost they are.
    You would be shot for having a smoke and the prices in the Cafe are extortionate.
    School children and frantic teachers abound, all doing some pc project for whatever passes for examinations this year.

    Why would a sensible adult go there?
    .

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