About Jonathan Smart Gallery

Jonathan Smart Gallery has been showcasing contemporary New Zealand art since 1988. The gallery is dedicated to the exhibition of top-drawer contemporary visual art, ranging from painting and photography to sculpture, installation art and moving-image work.

Represented artists include senior practitioners such as Michael Parekowhai, Anne Noble, et al, Neil Dawson & Julia Morison; those in their mid-career including Neil Pardington, Saskia Leek, Nathan Pohio, Heather Straka & John Pule; with more recently established artists such as Emily Hartley-Skudder, Oliver Perkins, Marie Le Lievre, Tjalling de Vries & Zina Swanson.

Committed to its original vision to show art that encourages discussion and debate, the gallery continues to enjoy the reputation of providing a welcoming place for the contemplation and conversation around the practice of contemporary NZ art and its artists.


From its inception...

It was in March 1988 when Jonathan Smart, with co-director Andrew Jensen, opened the Jonathan Jensen Gallery in the upstairs premises of 160 High St, Christchurch. Smart, then a teacher of art history at Christ’s College and an art writer/commentator, recognised the need in the conservative art establishment of Christchurch for a dealer gallery willing to market more challenging and experimental art. The thinking was to achieve a balance between conceptual & progressive art with work that was saleable and financially viable. To achieve this, selected recent graduates from The University of Canterbury’s School of Fine Arts were given representation alongside more established mid-career artists, a practice which still continues today. Significant exhibitors in the gallery’s first year included Pauline Rhodes, Richard Reddaway, Judy Darragh, Mark Braunias & Neil Dawson, all of whom remain as integral contributors to the ongoing JSG programme.

After the two directors parted ways at the end of 1994, Smart, now as sole proprietor, renamed the gallery the Jonathan Smart Gallery. He continued operating at 160 High St right up until August 2010, when a planned move to a Salisbury St site was thwarted by the September 2010 earthquake. An offer to create a temporary gallery space in sculptor Neil Dawson's Linwood studio, gave Smart the opportunity to continue his exhibition itinerary. Despite the tumultuous times (Pauline Rhodes’ exhibition Stains/Tears was due to open on the evening of the 22 February 2011 earthquake), 31 shows took place at 115 England St from November 2010 until June 2013.

In the meantime, Smart had negotiated the purchase of a building in Sydenham, just south of the city centre. A former engineering workshop, Smart saw its potential for a gallery; the size of the single-storey, stand-alone building was ideal, it had plenty of natural light, it was easily accessible with parking available, and importantly, had a handy roller door through which to move larger artworks. He was also drawn to the light-industrial feel of Sydenham, particularly because he worked with sculptors such as Andrew Drummond, Neil Dawson and Michael Parekowhai. In a Press article on 5/8/2013 headed “Smart Use of Space”, Philip Matthews quotes Smart: "The light-industrial thing is also a counter to that middle-class notion that art is something pretty for the walls. This says that art is everyday work. It can be quite heavy work, and let's not just cosset it away in the beautiful and the domestic.”

After a 3-month fit-out, the new gallery at 52 Buchan St was ready to present its first show. Aptly named 25 / 52 (25 years in business / the street number of the premises), the support from the local community was immense, with almost 400 people cramming the new premises on the opening night of 19 July, 2013. Five years later, in June 2018, the gallery reached another milestone, this time celebrating 30 years in business with a group show called Rock ’n’ Roll. As Smart commented, the title ”simply reflects the ups and downs of it, the restless rhythms of exhibition changeover, and the drive required to maintain the intimate relationships that fuel the art business. That is the way of it. Artists, collectors and myself in conversation about things. About the delicate dance of creativity and commerce…and ultimately, about survival.”

Vicki Piper