Michael Parekowhai

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Michael Te Rakato Parekowhai (born Porirua, 1968) is a New Zealand sculptor, of Ngā Ariki Kaiputahi, Ngāti Whakarongo[1] and Pākehā descent.

Parekowhai was awarded an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award in 2001, and is currently Professor at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts.[2] In 2011 he represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale.[3]

Early life[edit]

Both Parekowhai's parents were schoolteachers. He spent his childhood and attended school in Auckland's North Shore suburbs. After leaving high school, Parekowhai worked as a florist's assistant before commencing his BFA at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts (1987–1990). He trained as a high-school art teacher, before returning to Elam to complete his MFA (1998–2000).

Themes and style[edit]

Parekowhai makes a broad range of work, across a range of media that intersects sculpture and photography.

"...interweaves the canon of “high art” with cultural tradition, the handmade object with mass-produced tourist tat, the imported with the proudly colloquial. With the diligence of a cultural props person, he appropriates the already appropriated in a manner that is often humorous, at times uncomfortable..."[4]

Despite the range of Parekowhai's output, his practice is linked throughout, both stylistically – a characteristic 'gloss' of high production value – and thematically.

Curator Justin Paton writes of Parekowhai:

They [Michael Parekowhai artworks] have a way of sneaking up on you, even when they're straight ahead. Pick-up sticks swollen to the size of spears. A photograph of a stuffed rabbit who has you in his sights. A silky bouquet that rustles with politics. Seemingly serene beneath their gleaming, factory-finished surfaces, Michael Parekowhai's sculptures and photographs are in fact supremely artful objects. 'Artful' not just because they're beautifully made...but also because they manage, with a combination of slyness, charm and audacity, to spring ambushes that leave you richer.[5]

Notable works[edit]

On First Looking into Chapmans Homer
  • On First Looking into Chapman's Homer – an installation of two bronze bulls on grand pianos, two bronze olive saplings and the figure of a stoic security guard, his entry in 54th La Biennale di Venezia in 2011.
The World Turns
  • The World Turns – a life-sized bronze elephant tipped on its head and eye-to-eye with a kuril (Water-rat), commissioned by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.[6][7]
  • He Kōrero Pūrākau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river – an original Steinway grand piano covered in glossy red carvings.[8] The piano is played at each of the exhibitions that it features in, for example in the 2012 Te Papa exhibition with works from Colin McCahon and Jim Allen.

There are plans for a public sculpture by Parekowhai to be placed in Queens Wharf, Auckland.[9]



  • 2015 The Promised Land Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, Australia.[10]
  • 2013 The Past in the Present, Michael Lett at the Auckland Art Fair, Auckland
  • 2012 On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Christchurch.[11] Also at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • 2011 54th Venice Biennale New Zealand Pavilion. Also at Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France
  • 2011 The Far Side Michael Lett, Auckland
  • 2011 Te Ao Hurihuri Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch
  • 2009 The Moment of Cubism Michael Lett, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2009 Seldom is Herd, Roslyn Oxley Gallery, Sydney, Australia
  • 2009 Yes We Are One Day Sculpture, Wellington, New Zealand[12]
  • 2008 Jim McMurtry Maori Hall / Michael Lett, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2007 The Song of the Frog, Michael Lett, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2007 My Sister, My Self Michael Lett, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 1994 Kiss the Baby Goodbye Govett-Brewster, New Plymouth. Also at Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton.
  • 1994 A Capella, Greg Flint Gallery, Auckland


Awards / Honours[edit]

  • Artist Laureate, Arts Foundation of New Zealand, 2001.
  • Premier of Queensland Sculpture Commission, Queensland, Australia, 2011.
  • Nga Toa Whahaihuwaka, Māori of the Year for Arts, 2011.
  • Barfoot & Thompson, 90th Anniversary Gift to Auckland City, Waterfront Commission, 2013.
  • ‘Top 50 Public Art Project’ awarded by Americans for the Arts, Public Art Network, 2013 Year in Review, for Blue Stratus, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Arizona, USA, 2013.


Parekowhai's work is held in most New Zealand public gallery collections and a number of international museums.


  • Maud Page et al., Michael Parekowhai : the promised land, Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery, 2015. ISBN 9781921503740
  • Mary Barr (ed), On first looking into Chapman's Homer : New Zealand at the 54th Biennale di Venezia 2011, Auckland: Michael Lett and Roslyn Oxley Gallery, 2011. ISBN 9780958264785
  • Michael Lett and Ryan Moore (eds), Michael Parekowhai, Auckland: Michael Lett, 2007. ISBN 9780958283106
  • Margery King and Ngahiraka Mason, Michael Parekowhai: Ten Guitars, Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum, 2001.
  • Robert Leonard, Michael Parekowhai: Ten Guitars, Auckalnd: Artspace, 1999. ISBN 9780958210331
  • Robert Leonard and Lara Strongman, Michael Parekowhai: Kiss the baby goodbye, New Plymouth: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 1994. ISBN 0908848102


  1. ^ Fox, C.L. (17 September 2013). "32 Tairawhiti MB 249, A20120015627". Māori Land Court. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  2. ^ http://www.creative.auckland.ac.nz/people/elam/m-parekowhai
  3. ^ "Michael Parekowhai at the Venice Biennale". Te Ara - online encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 16 January 2016. 
  4. ^ "Michael Parekowhai interview", Sally Blundell, May 14, 2011, The Listener
  5. ^ "Special Agent Michael Parekowhai's Generous Duplicity". Art New Zealand. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 
  6. ^ "Million-dollar mammoth makes minister mad", October 17, 2012, Daniel Hurst, brisbanetimes.com.au
  8. ^ "He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river, 2011". Ocula. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 
  9. ^ "Public Art: Michael Parekowhai's Light House". Auckland Council. Auckland Council. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Michael Parekowhai: The Promised Land (1st ed.). Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery. 2015. ISBN 978-1-921503-74-0. 
  11. ^ "Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer". Christchurch Art Gallery. 2012. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Michael Parekowhai". One Day Sculpture. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 
  13. ^ "Black Rainbow". Te Uru. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 

External links & further reading[edit]

See also[edit]