Guy Ngan 顏國 鍇 (1926 – 2017) was a second generation Chinese-New Zealander born in Wellington. In 1928, his parents moved with their two sons from Newtown, Wellington to Guangzhou, China. 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. At 17, he began night school at Wellington Technical College with sculptor Alex Fraser. In 1951 he travelled to London, continuing his education at Goldsmiths College, the Royal College of Art and, under a scholarship, 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 from 1956-1960, followed by ten years as an Associate Partner for Australian based architects Stephenson & Turner.
Ngan continued to develop his artistic practice during this time, and in 1970 he became a full time artist and designer, completing solo exhibitions at galleries throughout New Zealand. 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 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 had a solo exhibition 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. In 2019, two major retrospective exhibitions of his work took place: Guy Ngan: Habitation at The Dowse Art Museum and Guy Ngan: Either Possible or Necessary at Artspace Aotearoa.
Guy Ngan Public Art Hunt
07 June – 17 August 2019
Guy Ngan believed that ‘buildings should reflect our feelings’ and one of his biggest inspirations was modernist architecture. As he stated, “Up to now, sculpture and carving have usually been put in buildings as an afterthought, but they should have unity and be part of the whole structure.”
Producing over forty public murals, sculptures, and friezes over the course of his career, Guy Ngan created some of the most distinctive public art in Aotearoa. However, knowledge of the fate of many of these works is patchy at best. Some have been lost, moved, or destroyed. Some may be hidden in boxes or concealed behind walls. Others—undocumented and their authorship forgotten—may be hiding in plain sight. During the exhibition Guy Ngan: Either Possible or Necessary, Artspace Aotearoa and Bronwyn Holloway-Smith facilitated a collaborative public effort to research and record these works in the New Zealand Public Art Heritage Register.