Some of the BNZ art collection is being auctioned at Webb’s on Sunday. RNZ / Felix Walton
Five works by NZ artist Colin McCahon sold for millions of dollars at the BNZ Art Collection this afternoon – and concerns about their sale continue to be raised.
Colin McCahon’s 1982 painting Is there anything one can say, look, this is new? set a new all-time record for a work of art sold at auction in New Zealand when it sold for $2.39 million. It had an estimate of between $1.5 and $2.5 million.
His O Let Us Weep sold for $926,125.
But most of the paintings in this afternoon’s auction for the BNZ Art Collection – including McCahon’s Small Bush Covered Hillside, Kauri and Gray Sky, Red Earth Works – sold for above their highest estimate.
Brent Wong’s Town Boundary sold for $472,025, while the Fugitive by Tony Fomison sold for $1.82 million – its estimate was $600,000-$900,000.
Among the BNZ collection of more than 200 works of art were pieces by some of the country’s most important artists, Rita Angus, Gordon Walters, Toss Woollaston, Gretchen Albrecht, Milan Mrkusich, Don Binney and Ralph Hotere.
Webb’s auction director of art, Charles Ninow, previously said it was one of the most important auctions in New Zealand history.
Total sales at part one of the auction exceeded $13.5 million.
“This is the biggest corporate collection New Zealand has ever seen,” Ninow said. “It contains many works of art that can absolutely hold their own with the best works in this country’s public collections.”
However, there have been objections to auctioning such significant pieces of art to private buyers, with former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark saying BNZ should not sell millions of dollars’ worth of art initially bought when the bank was state-owned.
Head of marketing and communications for Te Papa, Kate Camp, said they had acquired two paintings at auction, but said they would have welcomed the opportunity to make an offer on works before the auction.
The paintings Te Papa acquired were Glenda at Tahakopa, by Robin White, bought for $406,300 and Design by A. Lois White, bought for $221,075.
She said BNZ notified them of the auction ahead of time, but there was no opportunity to buy outside of the auction process or to receive items as a donation.
“Te Papa sees the value of having works in public collections and will always encourage collectors to think of public collections first when selling works,” said Camp.
Te Papa chief executive Courtney Johnston said the national museum would always encourage corporate and private collectors to consider donating works of art to public collections if they were dispersing a collection.
“We encourage any collector to think about the legacy they are creating when they place works in public hands, where they can be held in trust for future generations,” Johnston said.
“There is a limit to what public institutions in New Zealand can afford to buy, and as the market becomes more expensive, the public will rely more on the generosity and vision of collectors who choose to donate works.”
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said BNZ should not be selling millions of dollars worth of art that was initially bought when the bank was state-owned.
Today, Auckland Art Gallery also claimed BNZ dismissed its concerns about the sale of significant New Zealand artworks.
Kirsten Lacy, director of the gallery, said the artworks were bought when the BNZ was state-owned but transferred when it was privatised.
She thought they should be available for all to see.
“There is a special care for a corporate collection like this, to consider the national interest, and the bank is not interested in having a dialogue about what that means in terms of New Zealand’s cultural assets not.”
BNZ was not interested in talking to her about the collection, Lacy said, but the bank said it had no formal approaches from galleries.
BNZ general manager of corporate affairs Cliff Joiner said the future of the BNZ art collection had been carefully considered by the board over a period of two years.
The company decided the best way to continue supporting the legacy of the art collection was to transfer the privilege of caring for the works to others, and to support communities through the proceeds, he said.