Peter Brunt

AProf Peter Brunt profile picture

Associate Professor Wellington Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Teaching in 2020


PhD (Cornell)

Research specialties

Peter’s teaching, research and curatorial interests focus broadly on art and cross-cultural exchange in the Pacific from the late eighteenth century to the present, with a special interest in the development of indigenous modernisms and Contemporary Pacific art in the ‘post-colonial’ era.

Career summary

Peter’s career in Art History began after returning to university to study Art History as a ‘mature student’ in 1989. Previously he’d worked as an actor in theatre, film and television. He completed an MPhil at the University of Auckland in 1991 and his PhD at Cornell University in 1999, where his dissertation focused on the work of William Hodges, artist on Cook’s second voyage.

He is co-editor of the multi-authored book, Art in Oceania: A New History (Thames & Hudson 2012 and Yale University Press 2013), winner of 2013 Authors Club prize (UK). Widely praised as a landmark publication, the book is the outcome of a 5 year international collaboration, supported by a grant from the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He is also co-editor (with Nicholas Thomas and Sean Mallon) of Tatau: Photographs by Mark Adams: Samoan Tattooing, New Zealand Art, Global Culture (Te Papa Press 2010) and curator of the associated exhibition Tatau: Photographs by Mark Adams, which has been shown at galleries and museums in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK.

He has published in journals such as The Journal of Pacific History, Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture, Art New Zealand and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation and written catalogue essays for exhibitions such as the Asia Pacific Triennial and retrospectives of leading New Zealand artists such as Tony Fomison, John Pule and Gordon Walters. From 2001 to 2007, he served on the Arts Council of Creative New Zealand.

(As an actor, he was a member of the Mercury Theatre Company and the Tantrum Actors Collective in Auckland in the 1980s and performed at the Callboard Theatre and Globe Theatre in Los Angeles. His film and television credits include roles in Jane Campion’s An Angel at my Table [1990]; Gregor Nicholas’s Danny and Raewyn [1989]; Sam Pillsbury’s Against the Lights [1978]; Lamont Johnson’s Dangerous Company [1981]; and many others.)

Current research projects

Peter is currently involved in an international collaborative research project entitled Multiple Modernisms: Twentieth Century Modernisms in Global Perspective (, which aims to explore what might be called the 'other' histories of modernism in art, focusing particularly on Indigenous modernisms from Africa, North America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. His contributions to this project include a study of the artistic partnership between Wallis Islander Alois Pilioko and French-Russian émigré Nicolai Michoutouchkine, travellers, collectors and exhibitors of Oceanic art from the 1950s to the 1990s and an essay on the friendship between New Zealand painter Tony Fomison, New Zealand photographer Mark Adams and Samoan tattooist Sulu'ape Paulo. The Multiple Modernisms project has hosted four international conferences in Ottawa (2012), Cambridge (2013), Wellington (2014) and Johannesburg (2016) and will publish a set of four books on their research with the first one due from Duke University Press in 2018.

Peter is also co-curator with Nicholas Thomas of a major exhibition of Oceanic art drawn from collections in British, European and New Zealand museums at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. The show will open in September 2018 before travelling to the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris, in March 2019.

Selected publications

“Museum Dreams: The Rise and Fall of a Port-Vila Museum,” in Pacific Presences: Oceanic Art and European Museums, vol. 2, Leiden NL: Sidestone Press, 2018, pp. 187-203, in press.

“Oceania Redux,” in Oceania, eds. Peter Brunt and Nicholas Thomas, London: Royal Academy Publications, 2018, pp. 20-40, in press.

"Falling into the World: The Global Artworld of Aloi Pilioko and Nicolai Michoutouchkine," in Elizabeth Harney and Ruth Phillips (eds.), Mapping Modernisms: Art, Indigeneity, Colonialism, Durham NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming in 2018.

"Debts and Homages: Gordon Walters and Pacific Art," in Gordon Walters: New Vision, eds. Laurence Simmons, Julia Waite and Lucy Hammond. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki/Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 2017, forthcoming.

Review of Sheridan Palmer, Hegel's Owl: The Life of Bernard Smith, The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 1 (2017), pp. 127-129.

"Modern Marco Polos: The Global Travels of Nicolai Michoutouchkine and Aloi Pilioko," White Fungus 15 (2016), pp. 3-33.

"Exhibiting Oceania - in 3 Acts," St Paul Street Curatorial Symposium 2015, website publication March 2016, pp. 41-50.

oceania cover

Art in Oceania: A New History, with Nicholas Thomas, Sean Mallon, Lissant Bolton, Deidre Brown, Damian Skinner and Susanne Küchler, London: Thames and Hudson, 2012. (Co-published in the US by Yale University Press, 2013).

Tatau: Photographs by Mark Adams: Samoan Tattooing, New Zealand Art, Global Culture, co-edited with Sean Mallon and Nicholas Thomas. Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2010.

‘Transcultural Space and Art Historical Consciousness’, 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art: 20 Years of APT 1993-2013, Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery, 2012, pp. 72-75.

‘Exhibiting Oceania: A Capital Collaboration’, Art New Zealand no. 141 (Autumn 2012), pp. 36-41.

‘Contemporary Indigeneity’, Art Toi: New Zealand Art at Auckland Art Gallery, ed. Ron Brownson, Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery, 2011, pp. 323-330.

‘The portrait, the pe‘a and the room’ in Tatau: Photographs by Mark Adams: Samoan Tattooing, New Zealand Art, Global Culture, eds. Sean Mallon, Peter Brunt, Nicholas Thomas. Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2010, pp. 35-50.

‘History and Imagination in the Art of John Pule’ in Hauaga: The Art of John Pule, ed. Nicholas Thomas. Dunedin: Otago University Press and City Gallery, Wellington, 2010, pp 81-90.

‘Roundtable: Thinking through Oceania Now’ (editor and coordinator), Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture, no. 4, 2010, pp. 82-104.

‘Roundtable: The State of Art and Discourse in New Zealand’ (contributor), ed. Christina Barton, Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture, no. 3, 2009, pp. 6-29.

‘The Asia-Pacific Triennial: A Forum’ (contributor), Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, special issue: 21st Century Art History, vol. 9, no. 1 & 2 (2008/9), pp 189-219.

‘The Temptation of Brother Anthony: Decolonisation and the tattooing of Tony Fomison’, in Tatau/Tattoo: Bodies, Art and Exchange in the Pacific and Europe, eds. Nicholas Thomas and Anna Cole, London: Reaktion Press, (co-published in the US by Duke University Press), 2005, pp. 122-44.

‘Since ‘Choice!’: Exhibiting the ‘new Maori art’, On Display: New Essays in Cultural Studies, eds. Lydia Wevers and Anna Smith, Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2004, pp. 215-42.

‘Clumsy Utopians’, in Double Vision: Art Histories and Colonial Histories in the Pacific, eds. Nicholas Thomas and Diane Losche, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp 257-274.

‘Savagery and the Sublime: Two Paintings by William Hodges Based on an Encounter with Maori in Dusky Bay, New Zealand’ in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Fall 1997), pp. 266-286.

‘On Being Modern’, in The Nervous System: Artists Explore Images and Identities in Crisis, Wellington: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and City Gallery Wellington, 1995, pp. 35-40.

‘Framing Identity’, in Tony Fomison: What Shall We Tell Them? ed. Ian Wedde, Wellington: City Gallery, 1994, pp 63-76.

Awards and achievements

  • 2016 Epeli Hau'ofa Lecture in Pacific Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney, "Dwelling in Travel: Indigeneity, Cosmopolitanism and Oceanic Modernism," 17 November 2016.
  • 2013 Leverhulme Trust grant (UK) for Multiple Modernities: Twentieth Century Modernisms in Global Perspective project.
  • 2012 William Fagg Memorial Lecture, The British Museum. ‘Pacific Art Since Arts of the South Seas, 1946’, 23 November, 2012.
  • 2010 Randall International Chair Lectures in Art History and Theory, Alfred University, New York. ‘Out of the Blue: Contemporary Pacific Art and its Globalization’, 15 November, 2010.
  • 2006-12 Marsden Grant, Royal Society of New Zealand, for Art in Oceania: A New History. Project leader. 2002-5 J. Paul Getty Research Grant for Tatau/Tattoo: Embodied Art and Cultural Exchange, c1760-2000.
  • 2001- 7 Appointed to the Arts Council of New Zealand, Creative New Zealand. 2000 Fellow, Summer Institute in World Art Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
  • 1995 Sage Graduate Fellowship, Cornell University

Administrative responsibilities

Postgraduate coordinator (MA and PhD)


Teaching in 2020