You don’t have to talk to art museum people long to hear a familiar complaint: they can't afford to participate in the world of art collecting any more. The prices, they will tell you, have gone way beyond their budgets. And if you’re talking about classic Hammond, Robinson or Smither they are probably right. Apart from Te Papa which found just under a million to be the über buyer at the Les and Milly Paris auction and Auckland Art Gallery which was able to shell out hundreds of thousands for an Andreas Gursky photograph recently, many of the institutions have been diverted from their collections. Their priorities now lie more in buildings, staff and marketing than in purchasing art.
We were reminded of this when Webb’s first catalogue of the year A2 Art (the A is for affordable) arrived. With around $15,000, possibly a little more, probably a little less (based on the middle of Webb's estimates) here’s our pick of ten works we reckon would do any of our art institutions proud.
WHAT: No. 13 Jeffrey Harris Girl with flower (1970) and No 60 Couple (1970) for $2,400.
WHY: Harris's prices are all over the place but his superb works on paper (especially the early ones) are consistently low. When institutions say 'great art is beyond our budgets' they're telling fibs.
WHAT: No. 45 Alan Maddox Untitled (1975) for $1,500
WHY: Maddox puts the idea of what drawing (and composition) are about to the test and that’s a good thing for art institutions to do too.
WHAT: No. 79 Melvin Day Study of a bull No (c. 1950s?) for $2,500
WHY: What's not to love about the fact that there were New Zealanders living in Rotorua and struggling with Cubism in the fifties.
WHAT: No. 99. Ian Scott Lattice No 78 (1983) for $1,300
WHY: Ian Scott’s Lattices are the confident eighties personified and make his reticent mentor Gordon Walters all the more interesting
WHAT: No. 85 Colin McCahon North Otago landscape (1961) for $4,000
WHY: This drawing was made at the same time as the Gates and before Necessary Protection. All the iconography is there staring straight at you. A piece of the true cross for under $5,000? Come on.
WHAT: No. 168 Adele Younghusband Still life composition (1963) for $800
WHY: You need to show there were good women painters apart from Rita Angus in the sixties. Oh, and wouldn't you know it, women are always cheaper.
WHAT: No. 177 and 178 Para Matchitt Te Kooti series 3 and 4 (1967) for $3,000
WHY: Because this would be the super-bargain of the night price vs quality wise.
WHAT: No. 234 William Reid Warships in the South Pacific for $1,500
WHY: It’s a nice work that speaks eloquently to our history and our place in the Pacific – well one aspect of it anyway
OK. Go for it.
COMMENT: Andrew Paul Wood: It is particularly interesting that Ian Scott's lattices coincide with the period that Petar Velutic was his dealer. Before and after it's pop, pretty girls and ironic references to art history.
Image: Webb’s catalogue featuring a detail of Jeffrey Harris’s 1970 drawing Couple