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Colin McCahon's Gate III at COCA Toi Moroki

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Colin McCahon’s Gate III, 1970 returns to Ōtautahi Christchurch 49 years after it featured in the Auckland City Art Gallery’s touring exhibition Ten Big Paintings, a commissioned exhibition of large-scale paintings by leading artists in Aotearoa.  Gate III represents the ambitions of contemporary art at that time in its scale and themes that encompassed nuclear protest in the Pacific.  Acquired by Victoria University of Wellington it has been on permanent display since 1972 and is currently toured, courtesy of the Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi.  In discussion with co-curator, Sophie Thorn she backgrounds the history of McCahon’s Gate III.

‘This was a moment when New Zealand art really came into its own. The Ten Big Paintings exhibition was a vote of confidence in the abilities of living New Zealand artists to paint at scale. But in saying that, looking at the all-male line up of artists in the exhibition from a 2020 perspective shows how far we have come since, we wouldn’t tolerate that today.’

A Way Through– Colin McCahon’s Gate III is broken into three themes.  The first is the occasion of Gate III’s painting and why it was painted and how it came into the University’s collection.’

‘It was painted when McCahon was still teaching at Elam.  He writes to David Armitage at the Auckland City Art Gallery about needing to wait until the students have gone for the summer before he can see the whole thing in its entirety because it is so big.’

‘The second theme addresses where Gate III fits within McCahon’s work.  He uses the painting to revisit an idea he had in 1961, when writing to John Caselberg, about a free-standing 32-foot painting with a message about nuclear warfare, calling it The Gate Series.’

‘The third context is the painting’s anti-nuclear message. We draw attention to the fact his brother Jim McCahon, was a nuclear scientist and nuclear safety officer.  Victoria, McCahon’s daughter remembers Jim coming around with photographs that they would all pore over, images of nuclear blasts going off: these giant domes of light.’

‘At Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery we hung the painting low as a nod to how it was installed inTen Big Paintings. At this height you could really see his brush strokes; you really felt the presence of the painter.  Something this big you could almost step into it.  That is what he wrote about, with it being a way through, like a gate or threshold.  This is not one to walk by, it is one to be in.’


Colin McCahon, A Way Through –Colin McCahon’s Gate III

CoCA Toi Moroki, 66 Gloucester Street

29 August to 8 November 2020


Colin McCahon, Gate III, 1970, acrylic on canvas, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, purchased with the assistance of The Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, 1972. Installation view A way through – Colin McCahon’s Gate III at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery, Auckland 24 August – 20 October 2019. Photo: Samuel Hartnett

Colin McCahon's Gate III at COCA Toi Moroki

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