Guy Ngan: Wool House, 1983

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Seascape
Medium: Cast aluminium, 19 panels
Dimensions: H2940 x W2120 x D70mm
Date: 1983
Original location: Wool House (New Zealand Wool Board Building), cnr Customhouse Quay, Featherston & Brandon Sts, CBD, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: Stephenson & Turner
Current location: Collection of Ron Sang
Heritage status: None known


Seascape is an abstract work made out of 19 panels of cast aluminium. Originally installed in the New Zealand Wool Board building known as “Wool House” in Wellington’s CBD, the work was later removed and put into storage. Some years later, architect Ron Sang acquired the piece and relocated it to his home in Epsom, Auckland, where it remains.

Guy Ngan: Data General, 1984

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Data General
Medium: Stainless Steel with reflective adhesive
Dimensions: Unknown
Date: 1984
Original location: Data General entrance lobby, 76 Boulcott St (off Plimmer Steps), CBD, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: Unknown
Current location: Lost
Heritage status: None known.


Ngan’s Data General mural extended along the corridors of a commercial building in central Wellington. Somewhat optically challenging as an artwork, rectangles of 3M reflective adhesive dance up and down the walls, punctuated by stainless steel strips. Horizontal and vertical lines collide, enhanced by fluorescent lighting strips on a reflective ceiling. Ngan’s idea was to bring in some light to an otherwise dark entrance way.

Ngan would later experiment with reflective surfaces in his mural for the National Bank in Hamilton.

Guy Ngan: National Bank Hamilton, 1985

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: National Bank Hamilton
Medium: TBC (possibly red paint with white reflective material)
Dimensions: TBC
Date: 1985
Original location: National Bank Branch, Ground Floor, 527-529 Victoria St, CBD, Kirikiriroa Hamilton
Architect: TBC
Current location: Unknown
Heritage status: TBC


The site is now an ANZ bank branch.

Very little is known about this work, or its fate. Please contact us if you have any information.

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: 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: 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

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.

Guy Ngan: Naenae Post Office, 1959

Artist: Guy Ngan
Title: Untitled
Medium: Linoleum
Dimensions: Approx. H5400mm x W6400mm
Date: 1959
Original location: Naenae Post Office, Hillary Court, Naenae, Lower Hutt
Architect: Walter Frederic Charles Vine, with Gordon Wilson (Supervising Architect), Ministry of Works and Development
Current location: Presumed destroyed
Heritage status: No known protection


Mid-century New Zealand was marked by the end of both the depression and WWII. An urgent need for housing struck the country and inspired the government to implement a plan to construct thousands of houses. Lower Hutt was one beneficiary of the plan and several suburbs—and their respective community centres—sprung up including those of Epuni, Taita, and Naenae.

Designed by Viennese émigré architect Ernst Plischke, Naenae’s Hillary Court opened in 1954, with the Naenae Post Office as the centrepiece of what may have been New Zealand’s first pedestrianised shopping mall.

The design of the Post Office building was handled by architect Walter Frederic Charles Vine, under the supervision of Government Architect Gordon Wilson. During this time Guy Ngan was employed full-time at the Ministry of Works Architectural Division as a design consultant. In this capacity he was invited to to create a site-specific work for the main public-facing area. Hon Michael Mocham, Post Master General, laid the foundation and opening plaques. The contractor was J M Construction, and the building was officially opened on 4 December 1959.

This artwork is unique in Ngan’s oeuvre as it is the only known linoleum work he completed (most of his public murals and sculptures were constructed from concrete, aluminium, and tile); it is a colourful work (also rare for his public artworks); and it is the only known two-dimensional public artwork that Ngan made for the Hutt Valley. Linoleum was a popular mid-century flooring product, created primarily from linseed oil, albeit with traces of lead. Highly durable, it was applied in a range of commercial and domestic settings. Renowned as a thrifty creative, it is possible that Ngan made this mural from offcuts of linoleum.

The Naenae branch of the Post Office closed in 2016, however the mural had already disappeared by this time, possibly when additions, alterations, and general “redecoration throughout” occurred to the building in 1984.

NaenaePostOfficePVCFlooringMural_1959
Image: Guy Ngan, courtesy of the Ngan family