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.

E. Mervyn Taylor: Broadcasting House, Time and Space

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Time and Space
Medium: Carved kauri panel
Dimensions: H800mm x W1850mm
Date: 1963
Original location: Entrance foyer, Broadcasting House, 34 Bowen Street, Wellington
Architect: Gordon Wilson, Ministry of Works (Supervising Government Architect)
Current location: RNZ boardroom, Radio New Zealand House, 155 The Terrace, Wellington
Heritage status: No known protection

E. Mervyn Taylor’s “Time and Space” (1963) was originally commissioned for Broadcasting House, Wellington. Led by Government Architect Gordon Wilson, the new state-of-the-art building was, at the time, New Zealand’s most technologically advanced building. Wilson ‘argued for the employment of established artists for projects in new buildings, including schools’ and, walking the talk, many of his projects included commissioned artworks.

Through low relief carvings of the sun and moon surrounded by zodiac signs, Taylor imagined radio waves penetrating the ‘heavens’, alluding to some of his previous engravings particularly those concerning Māori myths and legends. Kauri was selected due to its warm sheen and colour, contrasting with the rimu timber paneling in the building’s foyer, and Taylor spent a total of 700 hours completing the work.

This significant piece was nearly lost after a National-led government made plans to demolish Broadcasting House and replace it with a new ministerial office building. A 196,000-signature petition and public pressure resulted in plans for the ‘Parliamentary Palace’ being shelved, but a new plan surfaced to move the Beehive building and complete the original Parliament Buildings. Broadcasting House was vacated in July 1997 and demolition commenced in mid-September. Two weeks later a mysterious fire broke out in the building. After an eight-hour battle by sixty firefighters this important part of New Zealand’s modern architectural and technological history was destroyed.

Thankfully Taylor’s work was saved due to the foresight of Sharon Crosbie, then Chief Executive of Radio New Zealand. Who ensured Time and Space was retrieved, conserved, and professionally hung in the boardroom of Radio New Zealand House, 155 The Terrace, where it now hangs more than twenty years later.

Text adapted from Ken Davis and Rose Evans’ essay “On The Politics of Time and Space” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

E. Mervyn Taylor: New Zealand Meat Board Director’s Room, Untitled

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Untitled
Medium: Incised tōtara panel
Dimensions: Approx. H1380mm x W1210mm
Date: 1958
Original location: New Zealand Meat Producers’ Board boardroom. Massey House, 126-132 Lambton Quay, Wellington.
Architect: Plischke & Firth
Current location: Unknown
Heritage status: No known protection

Help us find it. Please contact us with any leads…

In 1958, E. Mervyn Taylor delved into the iconography of the New Zealand vernacular to create a wall panel for the Meat Producers Board in Wellington’s most glamorous new building, Massey House, designed by Viennese expatriate architect Ernst Plischke (1903–92). Meat was money in 1950s New Zealand, and in his choice of imagery Taylor emphasised the prosperity that meat exports were bringing to New Zealand.

Surviving photographs of the panel, and pencil rubbings that Taylor took from it, show that he was able to experiment skillfully with multiple scenes in the same composition while satisfying the client’s demands for a coherent narrative. Resplendent in its nationalism (and sanitised in its view of meat processing), Taylor’s panel was intended to take pride of place in the Plischke-designed interior scheme for the seventh floor of Massey House on Lambton Quay.

According to an Evening Post article, the mural ‘was commissioned by the Meat Producers’ Export Board through the architectural practice of Plishke [sic] and Firth’, and completed by Mervyn Taylor for installation in April 1958, six months after Massey House was finished.

After many sales and refurbishments of Massey House over the past sixty years, the Massey House mural is now considered one of Taylor’s missing works. The artwork’s characteristics are best understood from the negative in the Evening Post archives which shows the finished panel upright on the floor, leaning against a workbench in an attic. Cropped to eliminate the extraneous background details, the Evening Post reproduced this photograph to accompany a story on the Massey House commission. In it the writer describes the panel’s content and style: ‘The finished work resembles a large woodcut, and fine technique has been used. The incised lines have been coloured off-white to contrast with the rich polished surface of totara.’

Bryan James reports that Taylor took two months to produce a preliminary sketch for Massey House, and then a further two months to complete the piece for installation, being rewarded with a payment of £200 (a third of his income for the year) for the work.

Taylor’s Massey House mural is a bucolic, prosperous and busy artwork designed using recognisable elements of the New Zealand vernacular to promote nationalistic pride: mountains, cabbage trees, colonial buildings, sheep and cattle. His work as art editor and illustrator for the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education and his concomitant involvement in wood engraving developed his style and incising technique. However, the composite of scenes in this design and their vertical orientation are unique in his oeuvre, and represent a singular response to the story of selling New Zealand’s meat successfully to the world.

Text adapted from Linda Tyler’s essay “From Paddock to Port” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).