Wellington Scoop

Death of a remarkable woman

Tribute from the NZ Portrait Gallery
It is with great sadness that we record the death of our remarkable and much loved first Director, Avenal McKinnon MNZM, in Wellington on 12 March.

Avenal became Director of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in May 2005 at a time when the founding Trust had no physical gallery, a collection of only six artworks, no computers, and no assured funding. Prior to then, the Gallery had been almost totally dependent on its dedicated founders and Friends to find temporary premises for occasional exhibitions, run a competition for schools, and raise 100% of its funding.

With a degree in English literature from the University of Canterbury and post-graduate study at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, Avenal was the perfect choice to lead the professionalisation of the young Gallery. Initially appointed on a part-time basis for one year, she willingly accepted the challenge of working with a supportive Board to find a permanent home for the Gallery to present a programme of high quality exhibitions and expand the collection.

By her retirement in December 2014, Avenal had succeeded beyond expectations. In just under a decade the Portrait Gallery had established itself as a fully professional national body with a permanent home in a heritage building on Wellington Waterfront, exhibitions in demand from regional galleries and museums, a collection of over 200 works, and growing recognition and respect from the wider sector and public. Much of this was due to Avenal’s tireless efforts.

With her deep love for art and boundless enthusiasm, she nurtured and encouraged the careers of many artists, discovered ‘lost’ portraits for display or acquisition, created a programme of exciting and innovative exhibitions, and attracted and built a network of loyal supporters, private donors and institutional funders.

She worked particularly closely with Denis and Verna Adam to develop and promote New Zealand’s premier portraiture prize, the biennial Adam Portraiture Award, that has launched the careers of many emerging artists.

An expert on Frances Hodgkins, Avenal also found time to write articles on the artist’s work.

She was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to the arts, in the 2015 New Year Honours.

Avenal was a wonderfully warm, vibrant and optimistic person who led and inspired others with her vision of understanding and bringing to life the stories of those who have shaped our nation. She will be enormously missed by the whole Gallery community.

We send our deepest sympathy to her husband John, her children Sasha, Matthew and Sophie, and all members of her family in their profound loss.

DomPost: Love of art in her blood

1 comment:

  1. Sunny Amey, 20. March 2021, 10:52

    Avenal was a remarkable woman, with so many strengths and abilities. She made time for everyone, was loving and lovable.
    She contributed so much to our community, will be missed, but so remembered.
    Haere ra.


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