My first boss Pat Day 1923 - 2016

self portrait from 1948

Melvin Day died on January 17th, 2016 in New Zealand. He was my first boss. He had been the Director of the National Art Gallery in Wellington, New Zealand and the first Kiwi to graduate from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

When I first arrived as Exhibitions Curator at the Gallery I discovered a "School of Poussin" painting, uncatalogued and hidden away having been a victim of a botched restoration. I informed my new boss who suggested I write to his old friend Anthony Blount. I sent the Queen's curator a color slide of the painting and a description. Blount wrote back that the slide was too small and we should send an 8 x 10 print. (And he was trained by the KGB!) He promptly identified the painting and referred us to an old Burlington magazine where we were able to ascribe its provenance and real title. A few years later Anthony Blount was identified as a Russian Spy and part of the Cambridge Five or Six, depending on how well you can count.

In an article I wrote for a catalog of Conceptual Art at the Christchurch Art Gallery in 2000, The Art of the Heist, I referred to Pat as he gave his blessing for our stint as curators for the National Students Art Festival. 

"Our Director, Melvin Day ... liked to be called Pat and our job was to make him look good while also challenging just about everything he stood for. Pat was a solid Art History scholar, a product of the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London and a relic of a wonderful but bygone era; the gentleman art history scholar who wore perfect hand tied bowties and told charming and witty anecdotes. In the tiny but brutally politicized world of art politics in Wellington, he was ill served by his many masters, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Academy of Fine Arts and the NAG Council. He also, and this is where I really sympathize with him, had to deal with us, Andrew and Nick, the terrible duo."

With the many exhibitions we staged and the increase in attendance at the National Art Gallery, I like to think we made him look good. There was not a bad bone in Pat's body and he was a perfect gentleman with his conviviality, scholarship and decency.

When I finally had the grand opening of  a new traveling show I had curated "Three Contemporary Maori Artists" that had taken a long time to organize and involved speaking on many Maraes around the country, Pat received huge accolades for the show. I recall standing to one side and witnessing every VIP patting him on the back and praising him for the exhibition. He deserved it. (More on this show and how it relates to The Jaded Kiwi in a later post.)

Pat Day, after he left the National Art Gallery, went on to continue exploring his painting as well as his art history research. He received the recognition he deserved and I regret I never got to see him again. He was a great boss.