Peter Thiel in Auckland ... taking a look at Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel – who sits at number two on the NBR Rich List – is in the country.

Academic and author Max Harris was visiting the Michael Lett gallery in the Auckland CBD when he saw a man who appeared to be Mr Thiel (by appearance, accent and the fact he was "Peter" by the gallery's owner).

Mr Harris was surprised to see the multi-billionaire but there was a reason for the German-American-Kiwi to be in town: the Lett gallery is showing an exhibition called The Founder's Paradox by Simon Denny, which features a likeness of Mr Thiel.

According to the gallery's website, works in the Paradox series "use the framework use gaming to reflect on competing political visions for New Zealand’s future. On one side is the tech-libertarian vision embodied in the ideas of super-investor Peter Thiel, who became a New Zealand citizen in 2011. Thiel’s beliefs in individual freedom and monopoly capitalism have been central to his rise in Silicon Valley and to his support of Donald Trump. His business-minded worldview is heavily influenced by Christian philosophy, The Lord of the Rings, and a libertarian text from 1997 called The Sovereign Individual. The other side is expressed in The New Zealand Project, by Oxford-based writer Max Harris. Harris’ book argues that neoliberalism has failed New Zealand, turning it into a society in which individual interests are rewarded. [He] proposes that our future depends on embracing care, creativity, and community."

Selected works from the series can be viewed online here.

The Paradox might have remained an obscure project, visited only by a handful of hipsters on Auckland's Karangahape Rd. But Mr Thiel turning up in person will guarantee it wider patronage.

"Thiel was walking around the Michael Lett with three young guys. They were all –Thiel included – wearing casual summer clothes: shorts, jandals or sneakers and polo shirts," Mr Harris says.

"I overheard one of the guys saying to Thiel, something like, 'Look, it's you!'," Mr Harris says. 

The group then assembled around one of Mr Denny's works, an imagined board game called Ascent – Above the Nation State, (below), which depicts a green-skinned figure who resembles Mr Thiel.

"When I asked him whether he was Peter Thiel, he said something like, 'Some people have asked me that,', Mr Harris says. 

Mr Harris asked what he thought of the show.

Mr Thiel replied, "It's, uh, actually a work of phenomenal detail."

He then asked Mr Harris if he knew the artist. Mr Harris replied that he did. 

"Does the artist live in Auckland?" Mr Thiel asked. 

Mr Harris told him that Mr Denny lived in Berlin. The billionaire then moved on.

Mr Thiel was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2011 after spending just 12 days in the country – a fraction of the amount normally required.

The Californian-based investor has backed Kiwi startups including Xero and Vend, and one of the conditions of his passport was that he promote New Zealand.

However, the multi-billionaire has been quiet in terms of investing in or name-checking New Zealand over the past couple of years. That might be about to change ... or he might have just been in town for a little art appreciation.

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