Tuesday, November 05, 2013

McLeavey sat here

A big crowd turned up at the Matterhorn in Wellington last night. They were there to be with Peter McLeavey for the launch of Jill Trevelyan’s biography of New Zealand’s longest serving art dealer published by Te Papa Press. McLeavey who started selling art in 1966 has put 47 years into the business a stretch that is unmatched in Australasia.

Trevelyan told the crowd that McLeavey had given her free rein and did not ask her to change anything substantive. This is McLeavey’s story as shaped by his relationships with artists and elaborated by Trevelyan’s meticulous research in letters and interviews. The list of artists touched by McLeavey is remarkable. Richard Killeen is there being wonderfully florid describing the artist Merit Gröting painting McLeavey’s chaise longue white as “one of those mafia type, horse-head-in-the-bed sort of situations.” The chaise longue is something of a leitmotif with many people photographed on it from McLeavey himself (both sitting and lying and standing by it with his wife Hilary) to Michael Smither and Derek Cowie.

The chaise longue also poked its nose into the artist dealer relationship when Billy Apple asked to use it in 1990. “I do not wish this piece of furniture to be touched at this stage” was McLeavey’s response. Later that year he wrote again to Apple abruptly terminating their 11-year relationship. The book is full of beginnings and endings, emotions and commitment, supreme confidence and paralysing uncertainty. Colin McCahon is there in his full emotional glory and so too are Toss Wollaston and Gordon Walters and many others.   

Peter McLeavey: the life and times of a New Zealand art dealer is not a hagiography, and more power to McLeavey for letting the cracks show and to Trevelyan for not papering them over. But enough of this, we’ve got some reading to do.

Image: Peter McLeavey and the chaise longue sometime prior to Saturday 20 June, 1922