Jenny Harper

Jenny Gwynndd Harper (born 27 April 1950) is a New Zealand academic and museum professional.[1] She was most recently the director of Christchurch Art Gallery.

Early life and education

Born in Geraldine on 27 April 1950, Harper was educated at Villa Maria College, Christchurch.[2] She completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Canterbury in 1972; a Diploma of Secondary Teaching at Christchurch Teacher's College in 1976 and a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at the University of Canterbury in 1977. Her Masters thesis was titled 'The Relationship between Iconography and Mythology with Reference to the Hindu God, Siva'.[3] In 1982 she completed a Master of Philosophy (in Art History) at the Courtauld Institute, University of London and in 1983 a Diploma in Museum Studies at the University of Sydney.[4]

She married Frank Lewis Bailey, and the couple went on to have one child.[2]


Harper began her career in art museums in 1983 as assistant curator in the International Prints and Illustrated Books department of the National Gallery of Australia. From 1983 to 1986 she was curator of European Art at the Queensland Art Gallery.[4]

In 1986 Harper returned to New Zealand and became Senior Curator of international art at the National Art Gallery in Wellington (prior to the merger of the National Art Gallery and National Museum to form the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa).[4] During this time Harper curated exhibitions of the work of Barbara Kruger (1988), Cindy Sherman (1989) and Imants Tillers (1989).[5] In 1988–1989 Harper was part of the Institutional Planning Team for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and from 1990 the director of the National Art Gallery, Wellington, until legislative change took effect in 1992 at which point she became the Director, Art and History, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. During 1994 Harper was Director, Museum Projects at Te Papa.[6]

In 1995 Harper left Te Papa to take up a position as Head of Art History at Victoria University of Wellington; between 2001 and 2004 she was Head, School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at the university and in 2004 was appointed Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Academic).[7] During her time at Victoria University Harper was a driving force behind the establishment of the Adam Art Gallery, a project which involved the controversial sale of a major work by Colin McCahon, which the artist had gifted to the university, to fund a budget shortfall and provide an endowment for future collection acquisitions.[8][9]

In July 2006 Harper was announced as the new director of Christchurch Art Gallery, replacing outgoing director Tony Preston.[10] She led the gallery through the five year closure following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, with the gallery not re-opening until December 2015.[11][12] During the closure Harper led the crowdfunding drive to raise funds for the acquisition of Michael Parekowhai's Chapman’s Homer, part of the artist's installation at the 2011 Venice Biennale.[13] Raising $206,050, the 'Back the Bull' campaign was at the time the most successful crowdfunding campaign in New Zealand.[14]

Harper gave notice of her resignation as director in 2017, taking effect at Easter 2018.[15] Her tenure is noted for her fundraising efforts, in addition to increasing visitor numbers and expanding the gallery's permanent collection to have a stronger national and international remit.[16]

Venice Biennale

Harper was the Commissioner for New Zealand's representations at the 2009, 2011 and 2013 Venice Biennales (featuring Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard, Michael Parekowhai, and Bill Culbert respectively).[17]

Honours and awards

In 1990, Harper was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal.[2] In the 2011 Queen's Birthday Honours, she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to the arts.[18]

In 2018, Harper was awarded an honorary doctorate by her alma mater, the University of Canterbury.[19][20]

Further information

Newspaper and magazine interviews

  • Sally Blundell, 'The new broom[permanent dead link]', New Zealand Listener, 14 October 2006. (Discusses her plans for promotion of the gallery and her earlier career. Mentions her involvement with Victoria University of Wellington art history department, Adam Art Gallery and National Art Gallery in Wellington.)
  • Martin Van Beynen, 'Ambitious for art[permanent dead link]', The Press, 29 July 2006, p.D3. (Profiles the new director of the Christchurch Art Gallery. Presents her curriculum vitae and talks to her about her character and personal and career experiences.)
  • Josie McNaught, 'The three graces'[permanent dead link], The Dominion, 4 September 1999, p. 17 (Refers to the high profile arts leaders – Dame Cheryll Sotheran, chief executive of Te Papa; Paula Savage, director of City Gallery; and Jenny Harper, head of art history at Victoria University.)
  • Ngaire Hopper, 'Jenny Harper : guardian of art treasures[permanent dead link]', The Evening Post, 25 May 1991, p. 25. (Backgrounds the career and philosophy of the current Director of the National Art Gallery. Mentions the proposed organisation of the Museum of NZ.)
  • Gill Newland, 'Art for the people[permanent dead link]', More, January 1991, p. 14. (Outlines the professional philosophy of the new director of the National Art Gallery.)
  • Rosemary McLeod, 'A spat in the art world: power games at the National Gallery[permanent dead link]', North and South, August 1988, pp. 102–111. (Discusses recent problems at the National Art Gallery.)

Radio interviews


  1. ^ "Person record: Harper, Jenny". Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 172. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  3. ^ "Honorary doctorate for alumna Jenny Harper – LiveNews.co.nz". LiveNews. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Profile: Jenny Harper". Christchurch Art Gallery. Retrieved 3 January 2016.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Clifford, Jess. "Looking in, looking out:". Off The Wall. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  6. ^ "Our names and leaders over time". Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  7. ^ "Jenny Harper, Christchurch, MNZM". Governor-General of New Zealand. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  8. ^ O'Brien, Gregory (Spring 1999). "Somebody Say Something Colin McCahon's Storm Warning, Wellington, 1999 a scrapbook". Sport (23). Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  9. ^ Harlen, Tyler. "The Architecture of the Adam Art Gallery". Cargo Collective. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  10. ^ "New head appointed at Christchurch Art Gallery". New Zealand Herald. 26 July 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Christchurch Art Gallery returns after nearly five years closed". National Business Review. 16 December 2015. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  12. ^ Gates, Charlie (19 December 2015). "Christchurch Art Gallery reopening after nearly 5 years of closure". The Press. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  13. ^ "Michael Parekowhai: Chapman's Homer". Christchurch Art Gallery. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  14. ^ "Crowd Funding brings back the Bull!!!". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  15. ^ Small, Jamie (30 September 2017). "Christchurch Art Gallery director Jenny Harper resigns". Stuff.
  16. ^ Feeney, Warren. "Measuring the success of outgoing Christchurch Art Gallery director Jenny Harper's reign". Christchurch Press. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  17. ^ https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/media/uploads/2015_12/JENNY_HARPER_curriculum_vitae_Dec_2015.pdf Harper’s CV
  18. ^ "Queen's Birthday Honours: The full list". New Zealand Herald. 6 June 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  19. ^ "Honorary doctorate for alumna Jenny Harper: the full list". University of Canterbury. 20 November 2018. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Honorary graduates" (PDF). University of Canterbury. p. 3. Retrieved 7 April 2019.

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