Authoritative view of art investment, with an Auckland bias

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.

Warwick Henderson
New Holland

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 operate.

To complete the survey he gives practical hints on the care of artworks, down to the picture hooks and advice for artists.

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.


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