Te Papa Pays Tribute to a Pioneering Art Scholar and Valued Mentor

13 October 2014

It is with great sadness that Te Papa acknowledges the death of Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (CNZM), the national museum’s Head of Arts & Visual Culture.

One of New Zealand’s leading art historians, Professor Mane-Wheoki was a scholar, curator and committed advocate for the arts. He had a significant impact on Te Papa and its staff, who have regarded him with the utmost respect and affection. As an Honorary Research Associate from 2012, and on his return in 2013 as Head of Arts and Visual Culture, Professor Mane-Wheoki worked tirelessly to ensure Te Papa’s position as a leading cultural and arts institution.

Arapata Hakiwai, Te Papa’s Acting Chief Executive and Kaihautū, says, “Jonathan helped to shape Te Papa as we know it today, and this is evident in the lasting impact he has had on his colleagues. We will always be grateful for his inspired leadership and wisdom. Jonathan was a generous and valued mentor with a passion for art history in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he never failed to convey the true richness and breadth of this country’s artistic heritage. Generations to come will benefit from his passionate engagement with art and architecture.”

Professor Mane-Wheoki’s vision for the national art collection had its genesis when he first joined Te Papa in 2004 as the Director of Art and Collection Services. He immediately set about establishing ways of giving the national collection more prominence. This resulted in Toi Te Papa Art of the Nation, an exhibition that highlighted Aotearoa New Zealand’s art histories, from its earliest examples to its latest developments. In addition to championing Māori art, Professor Mane-Wheoki was also passionate about New Zealand’s rich collections of historical European fine and decorative arts. Upon his return in 2013, he supported the museum’s art team to produce Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa, an exhibition based on regular seasonal changes that enable the museum to showcase even more of the collection.

Earlier this year, his life-long contribution to art was acknowledged on his appointment as Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM). He said at the time that the award acknowledged the significance of the arts in our lives, and he paid tribute to “all the creative artists, art historians, curators and museum professionals, and aficionados who have been so important throughout my long life.”

Professor Mane-Wheoki was a pioneering art scholar who consistently paved the way for others to demonstrate and develop their own leadership, creating opportunities for many to excel in their chosen fields. His work made a decisive difference for many contemporary Māori artists and curators; and how Māori art is received, understood and appreciated today.

Evan Williams, Te Papa’s Board Chairman, says “Jonathan was an exceptional advocate for the arts at Te Papa and played an instrumental role in further developing the strategic direction for the museum’s art programme. Visitors will continue to benefit from his passionate belief in public access to the national collection, the steps he took to develop it, and his ability to build a team of talented art curators, of whom he was incredibly proud, and who continue to share his dedication and vision.”

Always willing to give his time and expertise, Professor Mane-Wheoki served on a wide range of national and international bodies, including the Arts Council of Creative New Zealand, New Zealand Venice Biennale Selection Panels, the Humanities Panel and Council of the Marsden Fund, the Council and Humanities and Social Sciences Panel of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and the Advisory Council of the Centre Culturel Tjibaou in Noumea.

His service to the arts communities began in 1962 with his appointment to the Auckland Arts Festival Executive. He was a governor of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and a member of the Board of the Auckland Philharmonia, the Maori Advisory Panel of the Hundertwasser Arts Centre, Haerewa (the Maori Advisory Committee) of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, the Programmes Committee of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery. He was also an Honorary Life member of the Friends of the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Friends of Te Papa, and a patron of the Auckland Theatre Company.

In 2012, Professor Mane-Wheoki was awarded the Royal Society’s Pou Aronui award in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to the Humanities”, and he was also a recipient of a Marsden Fund Grant for a research project on Māori art history. In 2008, the University of Canterbury awarded him an honorary doctorate, in recognition of his longstanding work exploring and promoting contemporary Māori art.

Media contact

Cherie McQuilkin, Communications Adviser

+64 29 601 0010 or +64 4 381 7071