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Former Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy is a tireless supporter of and advocate for New Zealand art. In the 2022 New Year Honours she was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).
Prior to her departure from Government House last September, she spoke with Sarah Lang about the paintings on the walls of Government House, and which she’d leave behind.
A particular favourite is Government House Gardens, hanging in the Blundell Room, by Karl Maughan, who paints full-bloom flowers and foliage in vibrant colours.
“David and I were having dinner with Karl and his wife Emily Perkins,” Dame Patsy recalls. “He said ‘I’ve always wanted to paint your garden’, so he did. This painting looks like summer. That’s a pohutukawa in the background, but it’s mainly hydrangeas.” The couple will gift it to the house when they leave. “I think it probably belongs here.”
During her five-year term, which ended in September 2021, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and her husband Sir David Gascoigne championed the arts in New Zealand however and whenever they could, an opportunity she describes as “a great luxury” of the role. “David and I have had the opportunity to showcase arts talent, and to support the performing arts, visual artists, and writers,” says Dame Patsy, who was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts and business.
“The more I’ve learned about the visual arts, the broader my tastes have become. David and I have a modest collection of art of our own. I particularly love art unique to our country, and contemporary Māori art is very exciting.” She also likes works with strong historical links.
In 2016, the Office of the Governor-General formed a partnership with Massey University to foster the development of Māori and Pasifika visual arts and creative practices. Each year, they choose an annual Mātairangi Mahi Toi Māori Artist in Residence. The latest, musician Troy Kingi, spent three months in a cottage at Government House to write and record a new album.
Dame Patsy believes New Zealand should have a place on the international art stage. In 2017, she was New Zealand’s first Governor-General to attend the opening of the Venice Biennale. It featured Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, which included a panoramic cinematic video work that reimagines the French scenic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, depicting early French explorers.
Dame Patsy and Lisa arrived in style. Wearing ceremonial Māori cloaks, they boarded Venice’s largest gondola (which Dame Patsy calls “the Italian form of a waka”) and were rowed by 18 oarsmen to a historic maritime building in the biennale’s central exhibition area. “That was a wonderful occasion, and probably one of the highlights of my term.”
Another highlight has been curating the art in Government House. “We had a big changeout of the art about a year into my term,” Patsy says. “I think Government House should have art that reflects, if not every major artist, then every major art movement.”
Certain artworks are there permanently (some having been donated), and some have been borrowed. Museums, other institutions, and friends loaned Dame Patsy major works including a Shane Cotton, a Gretchen Albrecht, a Don Binney, and a Colin McCahon.
And what happens once their term ends? “David and I will continue to be strong supporters of the arts in our personal capacity, as we did previously.” They’ll be leaving the house, but not the arts community.