The Oriental Room Exhibition / Art Installation


NameThe Oriental Room
Names of ArtistsChristopher Barker, Toby Curnow, Jacob Faull, Eugene Hansen, Taisha Hutchinson, Constance McArdle, Daniel Malone, David Scott, Yuk King Tan, Terry Urbahn
CuratorJacob Faull
Organiser / VenueAuckland Museum
ArtformVisual arts
CityTāmaki Makaurau Auckland


At the end of 1997, Auckland Museum opened an exhibition called The Oriental Room. Curated by artist Jacob Faull, whose work was also included, it was a group exhibition that invited ten contemporary artists to intervene in the museum’s ‘Asia Gallery’ by displaying their own work within the space — which featured the museum’s ethnographically presented collections of Asian art. In the NZ Listener, Stella Brennan pointed out that the exhibition followed a similar intervention, curated by Ioane Ioane (John Ioane) in the Pacific Room earlier that year, around the same time that a Museums Aotearoa conference ‘Engaging Practices’ explored contemporary approaches to museological practice.

Yuk King Tan was one of the artists in the show. Ten years later, curator Sarah Farrar described Tan’s work for the exhibition as follows:

Tan developed Showbusiness (1996), a work which ‘reconditioned’ one of the museum’s existing vitrines. Tan lined the interior of the vitrine with a reflective black plastic coating which meant that viewers were reflected in the work—in effect they were themselves ‘on display’. At the top and bottom of the vitrine were flashing lights, heightening the theatricality, the ‘showbusiness’ of museum display. At intervals the lights inside the vitrine turned on, transforming the black monolithic structure into an abyss of infinite mirror patterns.

The exhibition was scheduled to run for seven weeks, but the director of the museum, Rodney Wilson, made the decision to close it after only two weeks. At the time, he cited the show’s divergence from the “collection-related objectives of the museum”, as well as a number of complaints about the show from visitors. Stella Brennan, writing about the closure of the show for the NZ Listener noted that the “nature and number of these complaints” was never specified.

Many contemporary artists and curators at the time found the museum’s explanation to be inadequate, and representative of the institution’s cultural homogeneity — identifying the show’s implicit critique of the museum’s Orientalising approach to collecting and display as a factor. Brennan, writing two months after the close of the show, said that it was “designed to participate in a questioning of the role of the museum as a keeper and contextualiser of objects, a particularly pertinent project now that the refurbishment of the Auckland Museum offers an opportunity to examine ways in which objects are selected and displayed. Curator Richard Dale, writing in ArtAsiaPacific, suggested that the artists addressed “orientalist concerns in a critical fashion,” writing that the exhibition “must have got something right for it quickly became too hot to handle [...] The museum’s action only served to confirm its oppressive ideology, which was one point of the intervention, and 'The Oriental Room' became something of a cause célèbre for supporters of the contemporary scene.”


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A glass case with dark panels is illuminated by flashbulbs

Yuk King Tan, Showbusiness, installed in Auckland Museum as part of The Oriental Room, 1997, track lighting, flash timer, mylar

Newspaper clipping with photo of Yuk King Tan with arms crossed in front of a lit-up artwork in the museum.

Michele Hewitson, 'Through the looking glass', NZ Herald, December 20, 1997

Newspaper clipping with a large photo of Jacob Faull sitting on museum seats.

Michele Hewitson, 'Museum axes offbeat display', NZ Herald, December 22, 1997

Stella Brennan, 'Not in my museum', NZ Listener, February 13, 1998

[pdf ↓]
Newspaper article with the author's photo in between columns of text.

Tessa Laird, 'Museum misses chance to change', NZ Herald, Jan 8, 1998

Newspaper clipping of a short letter to the editor.

Peter Shaw, 'Letter to the editor', NZ Herald, December 26, 1997

Richard Dale, 'Going East: Post-orientalism in contemporary New Zealand art', ArtAsiaPacific 23, 1999

[pdf ↓]
Scanned page from an exhibition catalogue with a column of text and and blue and red heading.

Sarah Farrar, excerpt from Overflow, City Gallery Wellington, 2005