Lara Strongman

Lara Strongman, Director, Curatorial and Digital, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney.

Titled The 21st Century Art Museum: Is Context Everything? the CIMAM 2019 Annual Conference took place 15-17 November in Sydney hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Day 3: Sunday 17 November
Beyond the Walls


Galleries without walls: public art practices in post-earthquake Christchurch

In the aftermath of the devastating Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 in New Zealand, public art developed a prominent and increasingly participative role in the new culture of the city. Local visual arts infrastructure underwent profound change: some organisations closed, while others emerged in response to new cultural and social imperatives. Initially commandeered as the national emergency headquarters and centre for civil defence, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū was closed for five years for repairs.

As the demolition of earthquake-damaged buildings took place around them, the gallery team left the building and started programming art in abandoned houses, vacant lots, and on walls that were still standing. They rescued works of art from artists’ studios, extended their online presence, and ran three temporary exhibition spaces. They carried out more than 90 public art projects in the ruined city between 2011 and 2014. At the same time, the terms of reference for public art informally expanded to describe a wide range of practices of representation in public space. These included temporary sculptures, anonymous interventions, happenings and events taking place in the virtual public sphere as well as the physical.

These projects variously galvanised community, commemorated loss, or critiqued the politics of the recovery. Articulating an unanticipated space that opened up between the past and the future in a central city which had lost more than half of its buildings, other works simply expressed the great strangeness of those years immediately following the earthquakes.

Dr Lara Strongman was the Head Curator at Christchurch Art Gallery from 2014 to October 2019.


Lara Strongman is Director, Curatorial and Digital at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, she was previously Head Curator at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, where she lead the curatorial team. Prior to this she was also formerly Deputy Director at City Gallery Wellington. Her current research interests include contemporary photography, issues in public art, and art's response to situations of crisis.

She writes on the relationship of art to the wider culture, and reviews film and television for Radio New Zealand. Strongman's essay on the Christchurch earthquakes, A Song from Under The Floorboards, was included in the Auckland University Press anthology of great New Zealand nonfiction, Tell You What: 2015.