Opening the door on mysterious world of NZ's art market

Behind The Canvas. An Insider's Guide to the New Zealand Art Market, by Warwick Henderson
New Holland
RRP $45

As a commentator on New Zealand art and a writer about collecting I am continually asked which artist to buy, who are the emerging talents and who are going to become the next major artists.

National Business Review has published several supplements where these questions have been addressed – compilations of Blue Chip, Good Futures, Risks and Potentials.

These articles have provided common sense tips for buying art as well as giving examples of the short- and long-term financial rewards of investing in art.

Now a comprehensive book which builds on these key indicators has been published, adding to the many books on New Zealand’s art history.

A valuable work
Behind the Canvas by Warwick Henderson is a valuable work providing a context for a market where art is bought and sold, where careers are made, and where businesses rise and founder.

The author has a long and broad background in the art world. He has been a dealer, collector, commentator and entrepreneur, even starting the first art fair more than 20 years ago.

In this new book he looks at a whole range of aspects of the art market: the primary and secondary markets, auctions, finding bargains, art collectives, sales history, as well as tracking the changes in local and world trends.

He also explains the practical aspects of buying and collecting, including fakes, insurance, displaying and storage.

It is a book which is a distillation of the author’s life in the art market and reflects his own interests and personal history of art buying and selling. Throughout it he provides anecdotoes of his life in the art market.

He recounts how, as a young boy, he was with his father when he negotiated the purchase of a Charles Blomfield landscape for five shillings, a work that is now worth $30,000.

He also provides a useful list of the increased values of work in the market. A Goldie bought in the late 19th century for a few pounds was resold in 1969 for $3200 and then last year for $200,000.

A Colin McCahon landscape originally bought for $175 sold recently for $70,000. A Don Binney originally sold for 50 guineas was resold in 2011 for $300,000.

These may be returns as good as investors could get from high-end shares. But, as well as investing and obtaining a financial return, the buyers and dealers also know they are investing in an artist's career and New Zealand culture in general.

Art market structure explained
The book shows how the art market is structured, how the primary, secondary and auction sectors are interrelated, each feeding the other. It is a world which many believe is flawed in not serving the artist, but it does deal pragmatically with the reality of the market.

The author acknowledges that there are different styles of art for different sorts of people and notes that buyers will be attracted to certain galleries, dealers and artists, and that it is useful to develop relationships with dealers you are comfortable with and who speak and think the same way about art.

The one area he is reluctant to offer advice on is how to choose the next McCahon, Cotton or Hammond. But he does stress the need for research, looking art and following the career of artists.

Few artists burst fully fledged on to the art market – they slowly develop with the assistance of dealers, curators and collectors, and most importantly their investors, the buyers of their work.

The author provides a sensible list of tips on how to go about buying art. Taken collectively, such pointers should help buyers negotiating the art world.

He puts great emphasis on buyers going to a variety of galleries, reading articles and magazines, following trends through the auction houses, learning how to talk about art and making use of an expert’s knowledge.

All these things will help a buyer distinguish between successful and unsuccesful, or mediocre, work and help develop a taste for personal style and quality.

The book is well illustrated with works from the 19th century, as well as established artists (Shane Cotton, Karl Maughan and Emily Wolfe) and others who have just started exhibiting, such as Alexander Bartleet and Liyen Chong.

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