Francis McWhannell

Writer and exhibition-maker

Latest stories

Inducing blooms

Some notes apropos of an orchid by Sharnaé Beardsley


For several months now, I’ve been living with an orchid. The relationship was arranged, and unanticipated. The plant turned up one day, an apology gift for my partner from a friend, and immediately became a source of anxiety for me. I’ve no green thumb—I can cause the demise of the least fussy of plants—and I’ve a particularly acute fear of destroying the beautiful: the panic of the art writer...

Tracing the contours

Scarlett Cibilich and Denys Watkins


When we describe a process, or make out an invoice, or photograph a tree, we create models; without them we would know nothing of reality and would be animals. Abstract pictures are fictive models, because they make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate.[1] —Gerhard Richter   When presented with the pairing of Scarlett Cibilich and Denys...

Serious fun

Who the heck is PĀNiA!?


Ka tīaho mai he marama pai, puta pō rere wai, mai a Pānia. When the night is still and the moon is clear, you can see Pānia appear. —Sam Freedman (nā Alby Bennett i whakamāori) Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room, or—given the artist’s enthusiasm for all things equine—the thoroughbred in the room: who the heck is PĀNiA!? In the literature put out by Mokopōpaki, the art space on...

On the Lam

Christina Pataialii


Christina Pataialii is a painter of multiplicity. The works in On the Lam, her first dealer gallery show, are marked by an assured visual brevity, giving you more the more time you give them. They’ve an immediate and enduring formal and sensual appeal. The mint green background of Ace in the Hole is the work’s own winning card. It tugs at my visual memory days after encountering it for the first...


Projects 2019


The 2019 Projects Programme is titled Whanaungatanga—an expression that may be translated in English as ‘kinship’. Whanaungatanga is a key element of the kaupapa of Mokopōpaki on Karangahape Road, whose ongoing support and teaching I sincerely acknowledge. The principle provides the basis for the selection process as much as a theme for the presentation. Having been involved in the two previous...

Coming out in practice

Considering Shannon Novak’s Sub Rosa


In 1995 I lost my virginity in the New Plymouth Public Library toilets whilst waiting for my shift to start at PAK’nSAVE. It was an unplanned event that unfolded like a slow dance. We never said a word to each other; it was all eye contact. It was during a time I had no other means of meeting men in New Plymouth. I somehow felt and knew that the library was where I was supposed to be, where it...

Beyond the looking glass

Narcissus by Angela Tiatia


It’s nearly the appointed hour and I’m panicking. I begin to fold washing, but it’s still damp, so I resort to shunting the drying rack out of frame. I rotate a pot plant, so its handsome new leaf is on display. I nudge a painting straight, consider hanging another, reposition my computer on top of a stack of books, in order to improve the camera angle. For many years, Angela Tiatia and I lived...

To rework and divert


2018 marks twenty years since the founding of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which saw the amalgamation of two major institutions, the National Museum and the National Art Gallery, and the beginning of a grand project: to tell the stories of the nation in an interdisciplinary manner.[1] In March, Te Papa unveiled a revamped art gallery complex named Toi Art (each word translating...

Re-evaluating values

An open letter to Creative New Zealand regarding exhibition attendants at the Biennale Arte


The conditions of the art industry in Aotearoa are not optimal, nor will they be any time soon. At every level, artists and arts professionals struggle to secure sufficient funding to get projects off the ground. I recognise that all who work at Creative New Zealand, our national arts development agency, believe in the importance of the arts and feel a personal investment in their flourishing. I...

To name and amend


How best to name him? In essence, he was my employer. But perhaps it is more accurate to call him a benefactor. We first met at a funeral. He approached me after the service and observed that he had been wanting to meet me for some time. The context was unfortunate, but you can’t always help context. He suggested that I might assist him with some tasks that needed doing. The pay would be good...

Francis McWhannell Writer and exhibition-maker


Francis McWhannell (b. 1985, Aotearoa New Zealand) is a writer and exhibition-maker based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. He is Curatorial Adviser for the dealer gallery Visions, and Curator of the Fletcher Trust Collection, a major private collection of Aotearoa art founded in 1962.