There was a time when you disembarked at Auckland’s international airport that New Zealand was presented as a contemporary creative culture thanks to some pushing by Hamish Keith. Today the large murals painted by Ralph Hotere, Pat Hanly and Robert Ellis are long gone. OK, it was around 1 AM and it wasn’t the best series of flights we’ve ever had, but these days the international passenger entry – “designed to capture the essence of what makes us uniquely kiwi” – is plain scary. There’s a corridor of large photographs of people-less New Zealand, a few photographed artefacts from Te Papa, a bizarre wall of fake windows with photographs of clouds (come on, we’ve been looking at nothing else for the last 11 hours) and an exceptionally ugly traditional carved gateway. Did we mention the National Programme-like bird soundtrack? Well, there’s one of those too. The cultural highlight has got to be when you pass through the chirruping Maori carving into the booze section of the duty free stores to be greeted by the nearest thing you’ll see to a Pakeha Haka as a tribe of salespeople step forward and challenge you to buy something before you hit Customs. Contemporary art certainly isn’t the only way to show off our sophistication to visitors, but when you look at the alternatives, it is a good one.
Image: Mood photo collaged by OTN from a photograph by Wesley Fryer