How often do exhibitions at dealer galleries sell out? It happens (Shane Cotton has done it, so too have Jeffrey Harris and no doubt Bill Hammond) but not often. Then there is the even more exalted subset of the sell-out exhibition: the sale of an entire exhibition to a single collector. Now that has certainly happened in New Zealand at least once to our knowledge. In 1967 Michael Illingworth’s exhibition Paintings with no titles to obey was sold out at its opening at the Barry Lett Galleries (in fact, a few of the paintings had been presold before the opening but let’s not split hairs here). Legend has it that the solo buyer was an airline pilot.
Off shore Charles Saatchi is probably the most famous collector known for purchasing entire exhibitions. This habit has rattled some artists, nervous that it would give the collector too much power over their work. A few brave souls even told their dealers they weren’t interested in one client sell-outs.
These reflections came out of reading about the mega sixties and seventies New York collectors Robert and Edith Scull. The Sculls were fanatical collectors of Jasper Johns, eventually owning 22 major works. Oddly, the Sculls had not purchased a painting from Johns’ first exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery but when he entered the second exhibition, Robert Scull informed Castelli he wanted to buy the entire exhibition. “That would be vulgar,” Castelli replied. So he didn’t.