Kiwi businessman sells valuable collection after running out of wall space

A Wellington businessman with an extensive collection of New Zealand art is selling nearly $2 million worth of works because he has run out of space. Jane Phare reports.

The Wellington businessman and art collector is selling nearly 70 artworks and collectibles because he has no room left in his home and he refuses to put any of it in storage.

The man’s home is crammed, floor to ceiling, with mostly New Zealand artwork he has collected for more than 20 years. Every available space in his home’s living rooms, study, the bedrooms of he, his wife, and his children, the stairwell and hallways is covered in artwork with more propped up on the floor.

One work for sale, Bill Hammond’s two-metre wide painting Melting Moments II, with an estimated value of between $350,000 and $550,00, hung for years on his young daughter’s wall above Pokemon posters. When his son and daughter were younger some of the artwork hung in the stairwell was covered in cloth to protect it from bumping school bags.

More of the owner’s collection is spread through four homes belonging to family members including his mother. With the passing years, family members are consolidating their homes and the subsequent wall space has been reduced, so some of the artwork had to go.

The collection for sale, named Melting Moments after Hammond’s painting, is available for viewing at Webb’s in Auckland and will be sold online during a livestreamed auction on November 7.

The businessman, who agreed to an interview with the Herald but asked not to be named, said he began collecting back in the 90s buying mainly emerging New Zealand artists whose work he liked. He bought Melting Moments in 1999, the year it was painted, from a Christchurch gallery.

He bought much of his collection in the 90s from renowned Wellington art dealer Peter McLeavey who died in 2015. Back then some of the work in the collection today would have had at least one less nought on the end of its value. Several of the works by artists like Bill Hammond, Robin White and Seraphine Pick are now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Over the years the businessman has attended countless openings of art exhibitions, talking to emerging artists and buying their work. His advice, like other collectors, is to buy for pleasure not just investment.

“At the end of the day you really need to buy what you love. And that’s what we’ve done.”

Some pieces he still owns haven’t gone anywhere in terms of value, and he says there’s no magic formula to picking winners.
“Is it luck, is it design, is a good promotion by a dealer? Do some artists get more profile than others?”

He and his wife have loaned pieces to public institutions for exhibitions in the past and he estimates 40 per cent of the Melting Moments collection has either been published in books, magazines and catalogues, or has been on display in an exhibition.

The collection can be viewed online but has also been set up like an exhibition at Webb’s Mt Eden auction room. To keep with Covid-19 guidelines, visitors can’t come in but staff have placed the art works on large easels on wheels that can be rolled to the roller-door opening for closer viewing. The collection was also on view in Wellington last month.

Melting Moments includes three Bill Hammond paints and work by nearly 40 other artists including Colin McCahon, Liz Maw, Fiona Pardington, Don Binney, Shane Cotton, Andrew McLeod, Richard Killeen, Toss Woollaston and sculptor Terry Stringer. The collection also includes carvings, hand-crafted jewellery and other objects.

For Webb’s head of art, Charles Ninow, it will be the first time he’s done a major sale virtually.

“I am just going to be selling to a guy with a camera and a laptop. I’m anticipating a lot of interest. The Hammond (Melting Moments) will be one of the most expensive paintings I’ve ever sold. I know that so many people want one like this and you just cannot buy them.”

Ninow says it’s not a bad idea for long-term collectors to occasionally sell works because it helps to establish the value in the market.
“You have to let some go in order to realise the value of the others.”

The Wellington collector still has other Bill Hammond paintings in his collection and nearly 200 other artworks. He is now collecting at a slower rate and is coy about giving away who exactly he is buying. But he does say he is interested in several Maori artists producing good work and says he regularly frequents art exhibitions at various galleries including Tim Melville, Ivan Anthony, Starkwhite and Gow Langsford in Auckland, and McLeavey and Robert Heald galleries in Wellington.

Of the Melting Moments collection, he encourages art lovers to have a look at the Webb’s exhibition even if they are not considering buying.

“If you’re interested in contemporary work from 1990s to 2015 it is worth looking at as a collection.”

He was reluctant to have publicity about himself because he wanted the focus to be on the collection and the artists, he said.
“I just happen to be the person who bought someone else’s ideas. It’s about the art and the artists, it’s not about the collector.”

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