About Grace


In my role as Curator, I am responsible for the development, exhibition and research of the Applied Arts and Design collection. Assembled in 1965 under the titles of European and ‘Oriental’ Applied Arts, the nascent collection reflected the interests of individual collectors. Today, the collection has flourished with a focus on New Zealand makers, designers and manufacturers and shaping a nationally significant research archive of design and technical innovation. Although the strength of the collection lies in its regional focus, its national and international scope is upheld to reflect and engage with the multicultural society of Auckland. As such, the collection has a strong representation of arts from Asia, reflecting the growing population in the region. 

Specialist Interest 

Generated by a curiosity of the stories and web of connections spun by objects, my research seeks to tease out the interrelationships between material and immaterial culture. By taking the object and unpacking the cultural values it has been assigned, my current work looks at how meaning begins to shift when an object is transplanted. This is led by a broader question: what are the invisible mechanics and constraints of visual culture that conceals both the corporeal and social ‘body’? 

My collection-based research interrogates the history and social structures inherited by the objects held in Applied Arts and Design. Why do we collect what we collect? Current areas of interests focus on vessels – studio glass, pottery and bags. Concurrently, I am interested in building alternative accounts of art often forgotten as a result in the inequality of knowledge – locating Chinese-New Zealand artists, as well as, the influence of Korean ceramics on local pottery tradition. 

My professional experience covers the development of exhibitions and research projects in various institutions across Singapore, Malaysia and London. These explore my curatorial interest in architecture, design and film. 

Selected Research Publications and Exhibitions  

Lai, Grace. (2019) Carried Away: Bags Unpacked. Auckland: Allen & Unwin.
Bolton, Felicity and Lai, Grace. (2018) The Conservation of a Victorian Taxidermy Display Case.  Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and Biodiversity Information Standards. (Conference) Otago.  

Lai, Grace. (2016) Displacing Depth: Coordinates For Multiple Bodies in the Buddha Image. (Master Thesis) London: SOAS, University of London.

Nanyang Visionaries (2014) Singapore Art Fair, Singapore


Alphawood Scholar. SOAS, University of London.