Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why is the Fletcher Trust Collection off-loading?

The Fletcher Trust is about to put 77 works from its corporate collection up on the block. It's ironic that, although the collection was started in 1962 via some pressure by Peter Webb of the eponymous auction house, it will be sold through the International Art Centre. With around 600 items this is the largest corporate collection of New Zealand paintings. While only 12 percent is being dumped in this first tranche it's still a surprise and is sure to disappoint a number of artists when it happens on 10 September.

And there's something else. Given that Fletchers aren’t exactly broke and that they're citizens of Auckland it’s hard to understand why these works haven’t simply been gifted to the Auckland Art Gallery. After all, the framing of the collection has always been in terms of its value to New Zealanders and the public interest. “The Fletcher Trust’s intention is that these paintings that constitute a unique record of the whole history of New Zealand art should be seen by as many New Zealanders as possible.”

So who's being culled? It’s hard to say at the level of specific paintings but a few names have been mentioned. Gretchen Albrecht is one. She has eight works in the FT collection including a classic 1985 Hemisphere and the beautiful Snake Charmer from 1976 but there's also a work on paper in the same territory as a large painting so selling it might be understandable in a tough curatorial purge. Ralph Hotere is also mentioned but deciding what to bump is not so easy. He has just six works in the collection and each has been carefully selected from an important period including a very interesting early Sangro painting. Then there's Michael Smither. OK one of the five paintings included (Red Chair from 1979) might get the nod if selling were critical but the other four are outstanding. As for Milan Mrkusich, picking even one of the nine in the collection as not worth keeping would be very hard to justify. The challenge with sales of course is that usually it's the best works that get the best prices.  It would be counter-intuitive to venture into the sales arena with works that that won't get great prices unless you are simply housekeeping. And that would be insulting for the artists.

Finally there's the Alfred Sharpe question. With only four in the FT collection it’s hard to see why any of them would have to go and the idea of gifting back to the nation comes up again. For instance, the national collection held by Te Papa has just four examples of Alfred Sharpe’s work in its entire collection. That's a huge historical gap that could be brilliantly filled by Fletchers.

And so it goes. You can name search the Fletcher collection here and have a go at picking the limping impalas in the herd.

Image: Billy Apple’s painting From the Fletcher Challenge Art Collection in the Fletcher Trust Collection the Fletcher