Secret new $8.5m Auckland Art Gallery storage to house Picasso, Matisse, Dali

An $8.5 million secret art storage facility is being built by Auckland Council to house a collection worth hundreds of millions of dollars – including a famous Picasso.

The state-of-the-art facility was approved by the council in July last year and “requires complex security and environmental controls” to protect the art collection, worth $370m.

The jewel of the 17,000-item Auckland Art Gallery bounty is a gifted collection of Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and Dali artworks that has not yet arrived in New Zealand.

That collection of 15 paintings was gifted to the Auckland Art Gallery in 2009 by billionaire American philanthropists Julian and Josie Robertson, who had declared a “lifelong love affair with New Zealand”.

The promised Robertson paintings are worth $115m and will remain in New York with the 88-year-old Julian Robertson until they are bequeathed.

The new Auckland art storage facility is at an undisclosed location for security reasons but is being refitted within a building under long-term lease to the council.

“All museums and galleries require extensive storage for items that are not currently on display. An art storage facility requires complex security and environmental controls,” Auckland Art Gallery director Kirsten Lacy said.

“These requirements are set by sector bodies, international best practice as well as contractual arrangements between galleries that loan items to each other.

“These measures ensure the protection and preservation of works owned by the gallery and its lenders, and are required by insurers.”

Accounting for $7.94m of the facility’s hefty price tag is:

– Heating, ventilating, air conditioning plant and reticulation (ductwork)

– Fire protection systems

– Security systems

– Electrical and lighting

– Mechanical lifting platform

– PIR panel (A wall and ceiling product used in coolrooms/climate-controlled spaces)

– Steelwork to support the PIR walls and ceilings

– Contractors, building trades, project management and sub-contractors

– Insurance and construction bonds.

“A key design feature is specialised HVAC systems providing long-term, reliable, highly stable temperature and relative humidity settings to prevent items deteriorating [ie avoiding rot, mould, pests and the deleterious effect of volatile organic compounds],” Lacy said.

Another $576,000 has been spent on metal fabrication on storage screens for the facility in a separate round of funding in October last year.

In April 2018 when the art storage relocation was first reported, gallery director at the time Rhana Devenport said the move was not ideal and would be an enormous and complicated project.

“It will be in the millions to move and it will be in the millions to fit out,” she said.

“It’s not an impossible situation, it will just require a lot of planning and funding. It is also about finding the right venue because there is nothing that exists.”

She said the gallery held the most significant collection of New Zealand art in the world – “on a par with Te Papa but we have got the edge”.

As well as the largest and most important collections of New Zealand artists like Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters, the gallery holds 12 significant collections on loan.

The Julian and Josie Robertson Collection dates from 1875-1951 and includes works by Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Salvador Dali, Georges Braque, Andre Derain, Fernand Leger, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Fantin-Latour.

The two oil paintings by Picasso include one of his most famous Cubist portraits of his mistress Dora Maar, “Femme a la resille” (1938), and a family study, “Mère aux enfants à l’orange” (1951), featuring his children Claude and Paloma.

The collection has already been exhibited in the Auckland Art Gallery in 2011.

Josie Robertson died in 2010. Her husband Julian is worth $6 billion and was once known as the “Wizard of Wall Street” for his success running his hedge fund firm Tiger Management.

Robertson visited New Zealand for the first time in late 1978 with plans to write a novel, which is still in progress.

The current art storage building has 1400sq m of space over two floors that has been used to house the gallery’s collections since about 2004. At any time, about 95 per cent of the collection is in storage and 5 per cent on show at the gallery in the city.

The current storage facility is in Auckland CBD where the gallery paid council CBD rent and part of the impetus for the move was to get better rent outside the CBD, Aitken said in 2018.

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