Geoff Adams reviews 'Behind the Canvas'.
Warwick Henderson has written "an
insider's guide to the New Zealand art market". Behind The
Canvas promises to reveal much of this intriguing world.
BEHIND THE CANVAS
Hamish Keith, in the foreword, rightly says that the art
market, brutally self-regulating and driven by taste,
entirely underpins the visual arts and goes on to give
perhaps the best advice to art collectors in the book: "do
not buy something with which you cannot personally engage".
Henderson later quotes Andy Warhol's statement: "There are
two types of paintings - those that work and those that
don't." But there is no easy way for buyers to differentiate
between these two categories.
Practice at buying, armed with as much knowledge about
artists and their works as possible, must help.
Finally, though, I suggest it comes down to personal
judgements and in some cases can be a lottery.
This book is a very inviting read: neat typography and
handsomely illustrated with colour plates as examples of New
Zealand art . It also provides a quick tour of some dealer
galleries' wares - oddly, the dealers are not named, only the
artists and works.
Henderson has his own art collection, an art export company
and a dealer gallery in Parnell, Auckland.
He gives an authoritative overview and history of the New
Zealand art market, buying art for investment, how to avoid
fakes and forgeries, and building your own art collection. As
a licensed auctioneer he is also well-qualified to discuss
art auctions, and writes generally about how dealer galleries
To complete the survey he gives practical hints on the care
of artworks, down to the picture hooks and advice for
There is a lot of sensible advice for a novice in the art
world in these 200 pages. It is livened up with a number of
the author's personal and amusing anecdotes about discoveries
and disappointments, which may be more of interest to the
reader experienced as artist or buyer. But be warned: it is
strongly Auckland oriented.
There is nothing outstandingly new in the recipes for an
explorer of the art market, amateur or professional.
You still best find a bargain by hard searching. It helps to
know the history of art in New Zealand, visit art galleries,
keep abreast of key players and trends, read art magazines,
and follow auction prices.
Knowledge is golden! Not surprisingly, Henderson also urges
the novice to establish a relationship with a dealer and get
advice from them.
The author seems to labour under the impression that "the
traditional art societies", having an historically
conservative reputation, "released their grip on the
contemporary art market" from the mid-1960s. He gives them no
kudos and does not refer to any modern roles.
He obviously has not been down to Dunedin lately or he would
have known that the Otago Art Society rejuvenated itself very
successfully five years ago when it shifted to the Dunedin
Railway Station and now presents non-stop public exhibitions
as well as many important competitions.
Another clue to lack of current local knowledge: Dunedin's
several major dealer galleries that seem to flourish in
Dowling St, Stuart St and elsewhere are barely mentioned. One
reference to the city (page 25) curiously commends the
Bosshard Gallery and the Rosslyn Gallery - both extinct.
And a visit to Dunedin in the 1980s is later recounted when
the author bought a Doris Lusk painting in a January
"scorching 35degC heat".
Caveat emptor: this book gives a strong warning against
buying art from e-commerce sites.
• Geoff Adams is a former editor of the ODT.