Expert gallerist and author of Behind the Canvas, Warwick Henderson chats about his experiences in the New Zealand art market.
Behind the Canvas provides readers with some insight into the somewhat elusive NZ art market. What was your impetus for sharing your knowledge?
I think the description “exclusive” is probably a more relevant adjective than “elusive”. And that is also a somewhat negative perception the art market probably suffers from. Art collecting is a hobby that is associated more with the upwardly mobile demographic but it just doesn’t have to be the case. In fact it isn’t. It is such a fun and rewarding hobby and you can enter the market at a relatively low level – say $500 or less and many people spend that on Lotto each month. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to open a window on art collecting and explain the many facets of this expanding and ever-changing market.
As a first time NZ art investor, what would be your key piece of advice?
The key to successful collecting is simply to do your ground work. Like anything in life you generally reap what you sow. If you don’t care too much about collecting or what you buy then that’s fine too. But if you are serious about getting a good artwork and spending your hard earned dollars well you should “look and learn”. I explain this in detail in Chapter 2 about “building an art collection”. Visit galleries, read, research, visit gallery websites. Seek advice too if you feel you need to but you don’t have to be obsessive about it either. I just happen to really enjoy that aspect of collecting – the reading, the research and the actual physical hunt and groundwork – viewing the artworks, gallery exhibitions, tracking them down.
What are the current trends in the NZ art market?
The current trend in the NZ art market can quite simply be described as a reflection of the “globalization” of the market. I also mention this for example where NZ artists such as Michael Parakowhai, Judy Millar and others are exhibiting in the streets of Venice and Damien Hirst and Bernet Venet are exhibiting in High Street, Auckland. The reality now, where East is meeting West in cultural and monumental economic terms, is being reflected in this global art market or economy. We have also seen for example Aboriginal art marketed vigorously internationally and now in New Zealand as well.
Who are the current emerging NZ artists to watch out for?
Rather than name names – I will make a few suggestions. Current emerging artists are generally those who have managed to find representation in a dealer gallery, are entering art awards (maybe even winning some), presenting quality exhibitions and getting noticed. Often they will show an edge to their work is not apparent in other exhibitions – and they may be selling as well, although that is not necessarily a guarantee of longevity in the market place. It is an interesting and complex topic which I expand upon in the book.
What has been your biggest investment mistake, if any?
My biggest investment mistake was not buying 10 original Andy Warhol prints in the early 1980’s for $5,000. They are now worth over half a million dollars. And that is just an example. But I am not kicking myself about my mistakes. I have never personally looked at art buying as a win/lose equation. I started dealing in art in the late 1970’s but really by accident and that is another story. I encouraged a number of friends and business colleagues to start collecting back then as well. I built up a good collection by “trading up” essentially and many collectors do this. But if I can afford an artwork at the time, and purchase it – that it is a win to my mind. I think this philosophy has proved pretty useful. Investing in art as a financial exercise can be fraught with problems “As the book says “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It takes experience, patience and knowledge to get it right – but quality, provenance and a good eye are important aspects of investment art. It seems to be a topic the media are quite obsessed with so I wrote a chapter in the book about it. It is a separate topic and aspect of the market. Ironically often the best investments prove to be the pieces you never set out to buy as an “investment” in the first place.
Of your own collection, what is your favourite piece? Why?
I have many favourite pieces but one of my sentimental favourites is a large Father Series Trevor Moffitt oil entitled “Goodbye”. It depicts Moffitt’s father departing by ship with the NZ expeditionary forces for manoeuvres in England and Wales during the 2nd World War. Dressed in their Khaki uniforms and lemon squeezer hats it reminds me of photos of my uncles and grandfather who also sailed away also, but in WW1, only to end up in an apocalyptic hell in the trenches of Pachendale and the Somme. Looking at this painting helps put things into perspective – art can do that.
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