Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Back story

Webb’s has been through a lot of turmoil recently and is about to have the first art auction in its new premises in Parnell.  This is also the first art auction at Webb’s since the change of rules that are designed to protect buyers by requiring the declaration of more background information on works for sale.

Given Webb’s recent high-profile advocacy of transparency and the value of research, its odd to find virtually all the lots have been stripped of their usual provenance details. The word derived from the French ‘provenir’, to come from, lists the history of where works have been before they came to auction. As an example, Milan Mrkusich’s large work Painting (Meta grey) was once owned by the art dealer Petar Vuletic. It was Vuletic who Wright and Hanfling, in their book Mrkusich: the art of transformation, credited with helping to shift the ‘direction and perception of New Zealand art’. It’s hard to think of a work having a better provenance than that.

It’s not as if art-interested people don’t often know at least part of the history of many lots. For instance, at least three of the major works in this Webb’s auction were previously for sale via A+O’s auction of the David and Angela Wright collection four years ago. We can only presume they failed to sell in the intervening years as there is no provenance to indicate they found a home and are being resold. There also seem to be a couple of works that belonged to Webb’s Chairman Chris Swasbrook. If this is the case, mentioning the connection in the catalogue would be helpful.

Only two standard provenances are given in the Webb’s catalogue this time and both are for C F Goldie paintings. Certificates of authenticity for two works by Andy Warhol and one by Philip Clairmont have been put forward as provenance but as provenance records ownership rather than legitimacy this is misleading.

As the Ron Sang auction and other name collections have shown, buyers are increasingly interested in the links back to ownership that come with the works they buy. They like the stories and, yes, provenance that adds interest and a level of comfort that often results in a premium for the sellers.