Over a period of seven decades, the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery (Incorporated) were a loyal, effectual and positive force whose work materially assisted Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and helped shape its place in New Zealand’s cultural landscape. Created at the initiative of the Gallery’s first director, Dr Eric Westbrook, assistant director and influential painter Colin McCahon, and others, the Friends supported and promoted the interests of the Gallery from 1954 to 2018. The Friends’ support took many forms, ranging from the acquisition of artworks to general promotion, advocacy and engagement.
In addition to a busy calendar of Friends’ events, which included artist studio visits and talks by critics and curators, the Friends established the Walter Auburn Memorial Lecture series and the Pat Hanly Art Student Awards. Dr Walter Auburn was a collector of old master prints who donated a significant number of works to the Gallery in 1981. To honour this, in 1982 then Gallery director, Rodney Wilson, established a Walter Auburn Memorial Lecture series. Fourteen highly esteemed academics, gallery directors, curators and artists participated in the series, providing audiences with invaluable insights into art and culture. In 2002 the Friends established the Pat Hanly Art Students Awards to engage with and encourage students to realise their potential in the visual arts. The yearly event, now held by the Gallery’s Learning and Outreach team, recognises final-year Auckland school students and encourages them to pursue studies in art at tertiary level.
The Friends also contributed extraordinarily to the Gallery’s collection, acquiring and supporting the restoration of exactly 101 artworks. Highlights from this gifting include major works by New Zealand artists Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, Pat Hanly, Toss Woollaston and Tony Fomison. These artworks represent a most generous and important contribution to the Gallery’s collection, and played an important role in helping build the collection’s standing as foremost in New Zealand.