New Zealand Agri-Business Partner

TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre


Generous heart finds an open home.


   Image:  James Wallace at the TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre. 

When James Wallace was 16, his parents sent him to school in the United States, a move which unexpectedly changed his life. Over the following year, the teenager, who would later inherit the family business - a huge meat-rendering plant near Morrinsville - became an art lover.

He immersed himself in opera, theatre and galleries in Boston and New York, then he hitchhiked around Europe visiting the galleries. "I don't know why my parents allowed it ... at that point [the mid-1950s] people weren't doing those sorts of things," he told the Herald in August. An interview with Wallace is a rare thing - but he was speaking on the eve of a momentous occasion for both himself and Auckland - the opening of the TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre in Pah Homestead in Hillsborough.

The opening of the arts centre fulfils a dream for the man who started collecting New Zealand art soon after graduating from Otago University in the early 60s. His first purchase was a Toss Woollaston watercolour; 5000-plus works later he needed a permanent home for the James Wallace Arts Trust, set up in 1992, which had long outgrown its Queen St premises.

Pah Homestead, bought by Auckland City Council in 2002 as part of its Monte Cecilia Park project, will house the collection for at least the next 30 years.

That's quite a gift to the people of Auckland and its visitors. Wallace's collection, said to be worth $50 million, will be accessible, free, to the public through rotating exhibitions. He will also continue a practice of lending works (again, for free) to hospitals, universities and other galleries; the centre will also host shows from the Hocken Library in Dunedin and touring exhibitions.

"Looking into the collection is an aperture into the culture at any given time - 1977, 1997, 2007," Wellington dealer Peter McLeavey told the Herald. "Through that aperture you can see a great set of works from people who have gone on to be famous ... it is a unique take on the culture." Auckland dealer Ivan Anthony said Wallace displayed a genuine impulse to cultivate society, rather than just accumulate trophies. "He is committed. He sees every show so he is very well informed, and that is a rarity."

Wallace's generosity to the arts community has been forthcoming for many years, on many levels. It's all thanks to that meat-rendering business, the Wallace Corporation, which, as Herald columnist Janet McAllister put it, "turns offal into art".

The Wallace Arts Trust owns an investment in Wallace Corporation which allows the trust to spread about $1.5 million a year across organisations such as the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, Auckland Writers & Readers Festival and Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

But it is the Wallace Arts Awards which have been the most public platform so far for Wallace's generosity. Established 19 years ago, the annual awards give four winners a total prize pool of $160,000 with international residencies. Many works are purchased by the trust each year to add to the collection - now housed at Pah Homestead. Since the arts centre opened on August 15, more than 45,000 visitors have wandered around the Italianate-style house, built in 1877-80, restored by Auckland City Council at a cost of $10 million and fitted out as a gallery with $500,000 of Wallace's money.

That length and breadth of generosity is why we have chosen James Wallace as New Zealander of the Year: Arts.

By  | Email Linda  - Photo Credit / Richard Robinson.

Excerpt from NZ Herald Online
By Linda Herrick  3:02 PM Saturday Dec 11, 2010