Guy Ngan: Windermere Apartments, 1975

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Aluminium, light fittings
Dimensions: H970 x W2480 x D200mm
Date: 1975
Original location: Windermere Apartments Foyer, 6 The Promenade, Takapuna, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: TBC
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: No known protection


Ngan’s wall sculpture for Takapuna’s Windermere Apartments was perfectly designed to fit in harmony with the apartment’s sleek modern interior. Fully functional, it is an exceptional example of Ngan’s technique of creating wall sculptures with built-in lighting.

The work features five lake-like holes, perhaps a reference to the apartment’s name (Windermere is one of several lakes in England’s Lake District National Park) and the proximity of the apartment building to Lake Pupuke: a renowned geographic feature of the area.

Guy Ngan: Birkenhead Post Office, 1981

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Aluminium
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1981
Original location: Birkenhead Post Office, 22 Mokoia Rd, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: Ron Sang
Current location: Unknown
Heritage status: TBC


The Birkenhead Post Office was originally designed and built by Mark-Brown Fairhead in 1975. Ron Sang was later commissioned by the Ministry of Works to undertake alterations, and it was at this stage that he commissioned Guy Ngan to complete his koru-inspired feature wall artwork. Work by Don Driver, and Dinah Priestley & Tony Burton were also included in the development.

This work is no longer in place, its fate unknown. If you have any information, please let us know.

Guy Ngan: NZ Wire, 1980

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Stained & varnished chipboard, wire, screws, rods (aluminium or acrylic tbc)
Dimensions: W3045mm x H1000mm x D350mm
Date: 1980
Original location: NZ Wire (now Pacific Steel), 5 Beach Rd, Favona, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: TBC
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: TBC


Little is known about the commissioning circumstances behind this work. If you have any information, please let us know.

Guy Ngan: BNZ Onehunga East, 1977

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Paint on wood
Dimensions: 27.43m x 1.22m (90ft x 4ft)
Date: 1977
Original location: Bank of New Zealand, Onehunga East Branch, 146 Neilson St (cnr of Victoria), Onehunga, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: Ron Sang
Current location: Missing
Heritage status: No known protection


This striking frieze spanned two large walls in the Bank of New Zealand’s Onehunga East branch, opened in 1977. Designed by Ron Sang, a December 1977 article in the BNZ’s Staff News magazine describes the décor of the space as featuring “a specially commissioned bright green carpet, brown and orange furniture and fittings and strong orange enamelled ducting of the air-conditioning system”. Ngan’s mural, painted on wooden panels, was likely to have been in keeping with this vibrant colour scheme.

Alongside Ngan’s mural, a number of other artworks were featured as part of the branch fitout including “two colourful smaller murals woven of wool, one by Guy Ngan’s wife, Jean, and the other by Wellington weaver, Jenny Hunt, of Days Bay”, and two pots by Doreen Blumhardt.

We haven’t been able to pin down what happened to Guy Ngan’s frieze for the BNZ Onehunga East branch. Please contact us if you have any information.

Thanks to BNZ heritage for their assistance with this research.

Guy Ngan: BNZ Queen St, 1973

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Woodcarving: Kahikatea; Mural: TBC
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1973
Original location: Bank of New Zealand, Queen St Branch, Cnr Queen & Victoria Sts, CBD, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: TBC
Current location: Missing
Heritage status: No known protection


Guy Ngan created both a kahikatea carving and mural for a temporary BNZ branch on Queen St, which had been set up while the main branch was undergoing alterations. The carving was inspired by the Auckland landscape with its volcanic cones and craters. The mural consisted of at least four panels and was installed directly opposite the woodcarving.

We haven’t been able to pin down what happened to Guy Ngan’s kahikatea carving and mural for the BNZ Queen St branch. Please contact us if you have any information.

Thanks to BNZ heritage for their assistance with this research.

Guy Ngan: Newton Post Office (Star), 1973

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Star
Medium: Bronze
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1973
Original location: Newton Post Office, 300 Karangahape Rd, Newton, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: Mark-Brown Fairhead & Sang, commissioned by Ministry of Works & Development
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: No known protection


The Newton Post Office was commissioned by the Ministry of Works and designed by architects Mark-Brown Fairhead and Sang. Wellington-based artist Guy Ngan created Star, to adorn its façade, and it has remained in situ since 1973. It exists as companion piece to Ngan’s Newton Post Office Mural (1973), which is now in the collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

The piece was originally backed with brown tiles, but these were removed due to deterioration.

Guy Ngan: Newton Post Office (mural), 1973

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Newton Post Office Mural
Medium: Aluminium panels (41 pieces) with built-in lighting
Dimensions: H2900mm x W7250mm
Date: 1973
Original location: Newton Post Office, 300 Karangahape Rd, Newton, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: Mark-Brown Fairhead & Sang, commissioned by Ministry of Works & Development
Current location: Collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Heritage status: Collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki [Accession no. 2005/3.1-41]


In the Sixties and Seventies Guy Ngan was a public art insider, an artist working with architectural practices and the Ministry of Works. A Wellingtonian, he designed many pieces for buildings in the capital, including a large tapestry in the Beehive. In a period of expansionist “think big” government spending, his public work was caught up in a bureaucratisation of modernist precepts and forms.

Ngan’s mural was made for Auckland’s Karangahape Road Post Office, commissioned by the Ministry of Works and designed by architects Mark-Brown Fairhead and Sang. 3 metres tall and 7 metres wide, it is made of interlocking cast aluminium panels arranged in a 4 by 10 grid. The work was constructed using a novel “lost polystyrene” process. The panels were initially carved from expanded polystyrene – the ubiquitous lightweight packing material. Aluminum was then poured into moulds encasing the carvings, vapourising them in a noxious puff. The fine porous texture of the sawn and sanded polystyrene remains visible on the mural’s soft grey surface. In a fascinating doubling of materials, the light, fragile and disposable polystyrene is replaced by silvery aluminium. Aluminium itself is a paradigmatic modern metal; displayed in ingots next to the Crown Jewels in the Paris Exhibition of 1855 and not producible in commercial quantities till 1886. Its lightness and strength made it a post-war stalwart of the aerospace industry. Ngan’s first use of Aluminium was in a mural for the Invercargill Centenary in 1971. Comalco, the artwork’s commissioner, operate New Zealand’s only Aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point in Southland. The smelter began operations that same year.

Depicting postal and telegraphic communication, the Post Office Mural’s semi-abstraction typifies modernist-inspired public art of the period. From the left, wavy lines emanating from a postmark bearing the words “Newton 1973” in Eurostyle font (favourite of late modernist architects everywhere) diverge into what could read as roads or telephone lines. The lines snake through a cluster of lozenge forms – houses, stylised letters or perhaps packets of information – before shooting out beyond the abstracted conurbation.

Near the centre of the mural, a broad strip of parallel lines moving from the top swoops down over an inbuilt light, before merging with a narrower horizontal band and another broad strip from the bottom of the mural. The converging sweep of lines then encircle a domed light, forming a motif that is part stylised koru, part motorway interchange.

The sinuous lines cutting between the clustered hollow lozenge forms recall a feature of the Newton landscape under construction at the same time as the Post Office building – the sweeping camber of ‘spaghetti junction’, Auckland’s most vexed piece of roading. Contemporary aerial views show the new motorway interchange cutting through the old central suburbs in just the way the sweeping lines zoom through the mural’s clustered forms, before trailing off into the aluminium countryside. To extend the reading of the mural in terms of this very new and dominant feature of the local landscape, the vertical band which loops over the first inbuilt light could be seen as referencing the Karagahape motorway overbridge. Just a block down the road from the Post Office, the bridge was constructed as part of the same major roading development (and also under the auspices of the Ministry of Works).

The mural evokes a sense of movement, while its abstraction allows a multiple reading of its moving, sweeping lines: as roads, as phone cables and as lines of flow. In its evocation of two modes of communication — post and telegraphy — the mural works at the cusp of the twentieth century’s major communicational shift – from object transfer to information transfer, from physical to electronic information.

Ngan’s mural was positioned in the building’s street level public area, filling an entire curtain wall. It was lit from above by spotlights in orange plastic dome fittings and skirted at its base by heavy-duty black plastic; the two lights built into the surface added focal illumination. The mural was decommissioned when the building was remodeled following the Post Office’s Rogernomic restructuring and the subsequent subleasing of parts of the building in the late 1980s. It remained in basement storage for a decade, only resurfacing in 1999 when I included it in my Artspace show, Nostalgia for the Future. Artspace is situated on the first floor of the Post Office building, so it seemed a highly appropriate context for a work designed in conjunction with the building’s construction.

In the 1970s a critic condemned the Post Office Mural as depthless décor, but today Ngan’s futuristic artwork seems stylish and dynamic, a social artefact representing a free-spending, infrastructure-happy governmental culture.

– Stella Brennan

Read this essay, and see more of Stella Brennan’s work at http://stella.net.nz

Guy Ngan: Teal Park, 1971

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Teal Park Rocks
Medium: Basalt blocks
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1971
Original location: Teal Park, Tamaki Drive, Mechanics Bay/Judges Bay, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Architect: n/a
Current location: In situ
Heritage status: Listed by Auckland Council

Named after Air New Zealand’s predecessor, Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, Teal Park was established to commemorate Air New Zealand’s 30th Anniversary.

The park was developed as joint venture between the Harbour Board and Air New Zealand, with the Harbour Board providing the land and rock for the sculpture, and Air New Zealand commissioning Guy Ngan to design the park’s layout.

Referred to by Ngan as a “stone sculpture garden”, the assembly of the blocks was overseen by Harbour Board design engineer Mr Colin Pask who worked from a model provided by Ngan. The basalt rock sculpture is made from stone that was once part of the old Graving Dock that stood at the bottom of Albert and Hobson Sts.

Teal park was officially opened in May 1971. The sculpture was originally twice as tall (15ft high), however it was deemed a health and safety issue, so the height had to be reduced.

A plaque, which has been attached to the sculpture since the park opened, states:

The name of this park and the basalt blocks used in the central feature are both linked with the history of Auckland
On 1st April 1940 Tasman Empire Airways Limited now Air New Zealand pioneered the first commercial Trans Tasman Air Service from Mechanics Bay some 300 yards West of this site
The Basalt Blocks were originally built into the Auckland Dock in 1878 between what are now Hobson and Albert Streets later these blocks became part of the Eastern tide wall
When the seabed in this locality was reclaimed for the container terminal in 1968 the blocks were recovered and now stand as a tangible link with the history of the Port of Auckland

This park is provided by the Auckland Harbour Board the design of the feature was sponsored by Air New Zealand to commemorate their 30th Anniversary

Milan Mrkusich: Chelsea House, 1960

Artist: Milan Mrkusich
Title:
Medium: Glass mosaic
Dimensions:
Date: 1960
Original location: Chelsea House, 85 Fort Street, Auckland
Architect:
Current location: In its original location
Heritage status: None at present however there is an information plaque located next to the work

Milan Mrkusich was commissioned to design a mural for the lobby of Fort Street’s Chelsea Sugar Refinery Building, known as Chelsea House. In 1960, as a response he created a large-scale mosaic mural. Mrkusich’s dynamic mural features an abstract arrangement of blocks of brightly coloured glass mosaic tiles. The full-height mural follows the undulating curve of the interior wall.

The mural was later covered up by an internal false wall. In 2016 Chelsea House was redeveloped and the mural was uncovered. It is now prominently displayed in the building’s foyer and visible from the footpath. The owner has also installed a plaque with information about the artwork and artist in the foyer.

E. Mervyn Taylor: COMPAC terminal, Te Ika-a-Maui

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Te Ika-a-Maui
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: H2625mm x W3430mm
Date: 1962
Original location: Commonwealth Pacific Cable Terminal, 1 Akoranga Drive, Northcote, Auckland
Architect: F. G. F. Sheppard, Government Architect
Current location: Research Library, Level One, Takapuna Library, 9 The Strand, Takapuna, Auckland. Property of Spark NZ
Heritage status: On loan to Auckland Council, registered as a “considered item”


In 1961, E. Mervyn Taylor was commissioned by the New Zealand Post Office to develop a mural for the new Commonwealth Pacific Cable terminal in Northcote, Auckland. The terminal was to house the major new COMPAC telephone cable system that provided New Zealand with a much-needed reliable international telephone connectivity.

Taylor responded to the idea of the cable with a metaphor distinct to Aotearoa: the traditional Māori creation story of the demi-god Māui fishing up the North Island, also known as Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui). A press release about the mural at the time stated, “there was an analogy, [Taylor] thought, between the ‘fishing up’ of New Zealand by Maui and its modern counterpart where the new cable again draws New Zealand out of the Pacific into the telephone systems of the world.”[1]

Created in ceramic tiles, visitors to the terminal could experience Māui and his brothers in close quarters as the mural occupied a full wall within a relatively small foyer area. Over time tiles began falling off the wall and the mural was removed and stored in cardboard boxes in an adjacent office.

In 2014 Taylor’s mural was rediscovered in boxes by artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, during a commission for public art platform Letting Space with marketing agency JWT. The resulting project, Te Ika-a-Akoranga, included the restoration, digitisation, and photographic reconstruction of the mural in JWT’s Queen Street Auckland offices.

Following this, the Spark Foundation arranged further restoration work on the mural. Replica tiles were created to fill the gaps left by sixteen missing tiles, and the fully-restored work was exhibited at City Gallery Wellington in 2018 as part of Holloway-Smith’s project The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour.

Five years after its initial rediscovery it resumed its intended status as a public artwork when it was installed in Takapuna Library in March 2019. It remains there for the foreseeable future.

[1] “New Zealand Murals,” Daily News, July 9, 1962.

Further reading: