The Sarjeant Gallery has a vast collection of more than 5500 works in its care and among those is a significant body of work by the Wanganui-born painter Edith Collier (1885–1964). In 1985, the Collier family placed a significant portion of the artist’s work on long-term loan to the Sarjeant Gallery and from that time her work has regularly featured in the gallery’s programming. Since 1997, a dedicated gallery space has been focused on showing this rich collection, and over the last thirteen years there have been many different curatorial approaches taken in considering Collier’s work.
Although transistor radios are becoming a thing of the past, most people can remember the childhood wonder of turning the dial and discovering a spectrum of threads of noise: voices talking, singing and white noise in between, not quite knowing where the frequency came from or how; it was just there and available, public and private at the same time. Similarly, the collection of any art gallery is the same: there are endless frequencies to pick up on – in the Sarjeant’s case, more than 5500 of them. Each work has its own narratives that fade away, amplify and evolve over the years. This exhibition spans two gallery spaces and takes examples of work by Edith Collier and places them alongside others that somehow belong to the same frequency; sometimes the connection is obvious, sometimes not. By viewing a broad range of works by Collier we can also see how the artist’s style evolved and was informed by her overseas life and artistic experiences in Britain and Ireland from 1913 to 1921. The works in the first part of the exhibition investigate elements of architecture and landscape, while in the North Gallery the portrait looms large. The exhibition features a broad spectrum of works, including photography, drawings and paintings and includes one of the gallery’s most beloved works, Curiosity, by Eugen von Blaas, as well as a recent acquisition of a painting by Miranda Parkes, who was artist-in-residence at Tylee Cottage in 2009.