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High art . . . Forrester Gallery cultural facility activities officer and designer Ingrid Cole hopes 12: Portraits from the Collection will make people see art from a new perspective. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

The Forrester Gallery is offering audiences the opportunity to look at art from a new perspective, figuratively and literally.

From sculptures and paintings to printmaking and drawings, the gallery’s cultural facility activities officer and designer Ingrid Cole and engagement and education officer Elizabeth King have pulled together 12 portraits for the new exhibition 12: Portraits from the Collection.

Cole and King hoped the exhibition would introduce portraiture to younger audiences.

To achieved this, paintings have been hung at 1200mm rather than the standard 1500mm, meeting the eye level of the average 9-year-old.

The accompanying labels were also lowered and there was a Q&A with each piece.

“We wanted kids to think about what portraits are,” Cole said.

Children also had the opportunity to make a portrait out of clay or use a full mirror to draw themselves while visiting the exhibition.

Although the show was part of King’s Wonderlab – an initiative to make art accessible to young people – it could be enjoyed by all audiences.

Curator Imogen Stockwell said because it was designed by Cole and King who were not strictly curators, viewers were asked to look at art in a different way.

“They put on their hats as a designer and educator,” Stockwell said.

“[So] it’s been put together with a different lens to what you typically see in a collection show.”

King wrote the description for a bust without prior knowledge or context around the work at the time, and instead drew on popular culture and her understanding of art to describe it.

And Cole had drawn on her background as a designer, asking readers to look at colour breakdowns and contrasts.

With the use of “amazing language” and creative descriptors they were breaking down the basics of art, Stockwell said.

“Those are the building blocks of looking at art and finding your connections with [it].”

Some of the portraits had not been exhibited for a long time. The collection, which consisted of mostly New Zealand artists and focused on local work, had recently been returned to the building after being in storage while the refurbishment was under way.

The piece that intrigued Cole the most was that of a dead man.

As the story went, the family did not have any photographic record of their recently deceased loved one, so asked their neighbour, who was an artist, to paint a portrait.

The man was propped up in his coffin and painted.

“There was always something quite strange about this portrait,” Cole said.

“His eyes look almost too alive.”

12: Portraits from the Collectionis on display until June 27.