Whaling Wall, Auckland Maritime Museum

Whaling Wall, Auckland Maritime Museum

I do like this photo by Dive NZ magazine:The Whaling Wall mural on the Auckland Maritime Museum was a popular spot for school visits, and judging from this image, an amusing learning experience too: how many kids can you fit inside a whale? (they really are that big)

There has been a scurry in the news recently about the Whaling Wall mural. The mural was painted by artist Robert Wyland with volunteers and endorsed by Sir Peter Blake during the 1999 America’s Cup sailing race. It has been painted over.

The mural is number 84 of 100 large and impressive ‘Whaling Walls’ painted around the world by Wyland. The murals are part of work by the Wyland Foundation which aims to promote, protect, and preserve the world’s oceans, waterways, and marine life, through community education and public art. Some of the murals cover the sides of skyscrapers. The Auckland wall included a life size blue whale swimming with humpback, blue, pilot and killer whales and dolphins.

It would seem the story of whales in New Zealand/Aotearoa, and our role in protecting the marine environment has been deemed less important to Aucklanders than the sports achievements of one (famous but singular) man. The mural was already partly removed to accommodate a new museum exhibition in tribute to Sir Peter. I can’t help but wonder if the original message was lost or not clear enough prior to the murals degradation, and subsequent removal.

When comparing to the other Wyland murals around the world, ours does appear to be less impressive, without the detailed background, and painted on the side of a shed – not a lasting structure. It was painted during ‘The Cup’ race to act as a reminder for the race, not for whales. The museum says the paint used was donated and not up to the corrosive maritime conditions. This mural failed because it was not executed with the sense of care required for it to last. The environmental message, whilst worthy, was conflicted and confused with the messages about our sailing history and the role of the maritime museum.

It is unfortunate that the Auckland mural was not robust enough to last. I would like to see it replaced with something of a similar sentiment, to maintain the story of our connections to marine life, if not the specific image. A strong lasting artwork like the life size bronze coated whale sculpture planned for the Kapiti Coast. New Zealanders and many other peoples have a soft spot for whales. They are part of our Whakapapa, our history, and a delight and privilege to witness in our waters.

The strange part to the story is that the mural was completely painted over except for Sir Peter’s signature in one corner. In effect they have stolen his signature and stuck it on a blank wall (where any odd thing could be associated with it). It seems to be asking for inappropriate tagging responses.

Protest and debate in the media:

on Stuff.co.nz: Whale Wall loss vandalism and in The Aucklander Wailing wall

First reported in Dive New Zealand magazine

Discussion (3) ¬

  1. I like your point about how “any old thing” could be associated with Blake’s signature. While I was reading this, I was thinking a lot about the popularity of “causes”, and about how looking like you’re in support of something is sometimes more relevant than actually supporting it – like, it’s nice to have a picture of a whale, whales are nice, but it’s just an affect – because it’s the signature that they’ve kept, not the painting.

    This is a really interesting post. I like knowing about this kind of history.

  2. I also think, after reading the news story too, that this question of whether wall works are legally, or culturally entitled to protection really interests me. I think they’re often thought of as “decoration”, which marks a difference from a colloquial understanding of “real, serious” art.

  3. I also like the last para. Good way to look at it.

Comment ¬

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