Thursday, February 25, 2016

Don Wood 1938-2016

In the history of art dealing in New Zealand the death this week of Don Wood is a big marker. In 1960, when he was in his early 20s, Wood opened The Gallery (shortly after renamed the Ikon Gallery) with Frank Lowe, a fellow architecture student. It was one of the very early dealer galleries in New Zealand focusing on the contemporary art of the time. As examples it was the Ikon Gallery that was the first to show Don Binney’s bird paintings and Pat Hanly’s iconic Figures in light series. 

Wood was also an important early supporter of Colin McCahon who had three exhibitions at the Gallery in its Symonds Street location (it was rather wonderfully situated in the basement of Rationalist House). The impressive line-up included The Wake, the first showing of  Here I give thanks to Mondrian, the Gate painting Waioneke and the large banners Landscape theme and variations specifically designed by McCahon ‘to fill the Ikon'. In 1964 when the gallery shifted to Lorne Street as Ikon Fine Arts McCahon showed his Waterfall series there. 

When Wood sold 19 paintings by Colin McCahon to the American Edward J Danziger he also became a key player in one of the great art mystery stories of the sixties. Danziger, an ex movie producer (more Roger Corman that Goldwyn-Mayer) turned hotel owner, took the paintings out of the country to decorate his chain of hotels in the Gordon Hotel Group. The Bellini paintings vanished and became something of an El Dorado. Dealers would trawl the US in search of the lost mother lode until Australian based art dealer Martin Browne painstakingly located most of them. 

After a few brief years at the centre of NZ's emergent contemporary art world, the Ikon Fine Arts closed in 1964. Wood continued his involvement in art dealing most importantly working alongside Peter Webb, another of the heroes of art dealing in New Zealand. You can get a feel for Wood's architectural background, a field he worked in for most of his life, here in Wystan Curnow's account of his negotiations with Billy Apple over proposed changes to the Peter Webb Gallery in the 1970s. As well as being a patient man, Wood built up a collection of contemporary art and there is a rare opportunity to see his taste in action via this Art + Object catalogue that featured a good part of it.

Image: center, Rationalist House the site of the Ikon Gallery as it is today