Guy Ngan: Either Possible or Necessary
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To be objective in selecting a work for your place of work is especially important. This is where we come into contact with other people on an average of eight hours a day on at least five days of the week. To have an appropriate work in your office is more important than to have a great work of art.
- Guy Ngan, Visual Arts and Daily Bread, 1983
Speaking in 1983, in his capacity as director of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Guy Ngan offered this simple provocation. The future of visual art, as a function of social structures, lay in its appropriate integration with our everyday lives. Ngan, a sculptor, painter, woodcarver, printmaker, educator, and architectural designer, dedicated his career to this vision.
Ngan’s sculpture, Star, has adorned the façade of the former Newton Post Office since 1973, a space in which Artspace Aotearoa occupies today. Radiating outwards from Star, Either Possible or Necessary begins with Ngan’s own voice and vision. A collection of sculpture, painting, and prints within the gallery walls connects to Ngan’s prolific contributions to public sculpture in Tāmaki Makaurau and across Aotearoa. The exhibition is an attempt to bring out Ngan’s complex views on identity, architecture, and public space.
Many of Ngan’s sculptures have been lost, moved, or destroyed. In response to these changing conditions, Either Possible or Necessary centres the principles of research and recovery. Working with Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, Stella Brennan, and Mark Harvey, Artspace Aotearoa will navigate the histories of material, place, and dislocation attached to Ngan’s public works in Tāmaki Makaurau. Recovering the histories of these works will restore their impact on the visual face of Auckland, and brings Ngan’s belief in the integration of art and everyday life into focus.
Either Possible or Necessary runs concurrently with the Dowse Art Museum’s exhibition on Guy Ngan, Habitation (18 May - 15 September 2019).
Guy Ngan 顏國 鍇 (1926 – 2017) was a second generation Chinese-New Zealander born in Wellington. In 1928, his parents, frustrated by the way they were often treated, moved with their two sons from Newtown, Wellington to Guangzhou, China. As the ninth child of fifteen in a family of three wives, Ngan and his brother lived in one of his father’s three homes, where his interest in the arts was encouraged with books and painting materials, while he received a traditional Chinese education. With the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, in 1938 Ngan’s parents sent their two sons back to New Zealand.
From the age of fourteen, Ngan supported himself through woodcarving and furniture-making, learning from cabinet maker Billy Gee. At 16, he began night school at Wellington Technical College with sculptor Alex Fraser. Under the advice of Fraser, Ngan travelled to London in 1951 to continue his education at Goldsmiths College while working for well-known sculptor John Skeaping. He went on to attend the Royal College of Art, graduating in 1954 as a Designer of the School of Wood, Metals and Plastics and then, under a scholarship, spent three months at the British School in Rome. After working in the UK and travelling to Scandinavia and North America, Ngan returned to New Zealand, having been enticed back by Gordon Wilson, the Government Architect. Here he was employed in the Ministry of Works Architectural Division, where he spent four years, followed by ten years as an Associate Partner for Australian based architects Stephenson & Turner.
Over his time working in architecture, Ngan continued to develop his artistic practice, and in 1970, he became a full-time artist and designer, launching solo exhibitions at galleries including The Dowse (1972), Antipodes Gallery, Wellington (1974), New Vision Gallery, Auckland (1976), the Hastings Cultural Centre (1979) and the Southland Museum and Art Gallery (1979). Ngan built and designed his family home from the 1950s-80s. From 1944 to 2012, he created over forty public woodcarvings, sculptures and murals across New Zealand, with work also commissioned for the Asian Development Bank, Manila; Air New Zealand Tahiti; and the United Nations Building, New York. He exhibited frequently at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington, where he had been a member since the 1940s, and also Director from 1976-86, championing the creative endeavours of his fellow artists. In 1983, he received an OBE for services to the arts and in 2006, he had a solo exhibition entitled Guy Ngan: Journey: Aluminium Panel, Tiki Hands, and Anchor Stones at City Gallery Wellington. In 2012, at age 86, Ngan was inducted into the Massey University College of Creative Arts Hall of Fame.
Co-curated by Remco de Blaaij and Lachlan Taylor