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Who Got the Gig? Sarah Farrar

Sarah Farrar. Image by Jennifer French
Sarah Farrar. Image by Jennifer French
From rocket science to archeology: Emanuella de Ruiter gets inspired by the new Principal Curator at Toi o Tāmaki and her approach to learning and research.


Sarah Farrar took up the reins of Head of Curatorial and Exhibitions at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in early December 2018. Having not been in the role very long, Sarah’s days are spent familiarising herself with all aspects of the gallery: “I’m busy meeting with my new team, getting to know people across the organisation, spending time in the current exhibitions and looking ahead to our future programme. At this time of year, as in a lot of other workplaces, it's a good time to do a bit of planning and strategic thinking.”

Sarah has an impressive resume: she’s been a curator at City Gallery Wellington, and most recently was Senior Curator of Art at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. During her time at Te Papa she was passionate about finding ways to make the national art collection accessible to a wider range of people. As a result, she worked on a number of notable exhibitions, the latest example being Toi Art. While there she was proud to have played a part in acquiring some immensely important artworks for the collection. For instance, she was involved in the acquisition of “four key works from Simon Denny's Venice Biennale project Secret Power, an early koru painting by Gordon Walters, and a number of acquisitions by feminist artists including Vivian Lynn".

Working within an organisation that places art at its center is something that Sarah has been relishing in her move from Te Papa to Auckland Art Gallery. “I had eight incredible years at Te Papa — it was inspiring to work alongside scientists and cultural historians. However, I didn't realise what an impact it would have on me to return to work in a dedicated art gallery again. There’s a clarity of focus — you can have a conversation about art with anyone from right across the organisation. We are here because we believe in art and its potential.”

Curating art can take you to places you might not expect and requires the ability to think outside the box — something that Sarah is very skilled in. “You never know exactly where a project might lead you. To support the projects I'm working on I can be researching things as diverse as rocket science, big data or the colour red. I remember looking at some Don Driver art works and having to analyse the skulls... did they belong to sheep or goats? You just never know what a day will throw at you.”

Sarah believes that we are always learning and has actively sought out education and development opportunities throughout her career. Originally she completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Canterbury. “As a student I was very involved in different galleries in Christchurch, including High Street Project, a former artist-run space, and writing about exhibitions for student magazines, catalogues and gig guides. Just generally getting involved in the art scene.”

In 2007, after working at City Gallery Wellington for a number of years, Sarah decided that she wanted to do more curatorial training and gain more international experience. She decided on the curatorial programme at De Appel Art Centre in Amsterdam. “It was an amazing experience but also very demanding. Our tutors included some pretty incredible curators, museum directors and artists like Steve McQueen. We had master classes with French philosopher Jacques Rancière and were exposed to such an incredible wealth of ideas. The programme was inspiring and full of robust and challenging conversations that really sharpened my thinking... at that stage I had worked as a curator for a few years, so it was timely to stop, take stock, and expose myself to new ideas and new ways of working.”

Sarah recently completed her PhD in Curatorial Practice through Monash University in Melbourne — her area of research was curatorial activism and collection exhibitions. “I believe the choices that we make as curators can have a material impact on art history and on the sorts of narratives that are told about art and artists. I think curators need to use the platform that we have to responsibly address questions of gender balance and cultural representation.”


All images courtesy of Jennifer French, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.


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Written by

Emanuella de Ruiter

28 Jan 2019

Emanuella is a documentary photographer and writer based in Ōtautahi Christchurch. She enjoys writing about people and their unique life experiences — especially when those experiences involve the arts!