BNZ Art Group: Colin McCahon’s artwork has sold for millions of dollars

Some of the BNZ Art Collection is being sold at a web auction on Sunday. RNZ / Felix Walton

Five works by New Zealand artist Colin McCahon sold for millions of dollars at BNZ Art Collection this afternoon – and concerns about their sale are still being raised.

Colin McCahon’s 1982 painting Is there anything one can say, look, this is new? It set a new all-time record for a work of art sold at auction in New Zealand when it sold for $2.39 million. Its estimate was between 1.5 and 2.5 million dollars.

His book O Let Us Weep sold for $926,125.

But most of the paintings at auction today for the BNZ Art Collection—including Mcahon’s Small Bush Covered Hillside, Kauri, Gray Sky and Red Earth Works—sold for well above their top estimates.

Brent Wong’s Town Boundary sold for $472,025, while the Fugitive was sold by Tony Fomison for $1.82 million—its estimate was between $600,000 and $900,000.

Among the BNZ’s collection of more than 200 artworks cut by some of the country’s most important artists are Rita Angus, Gordon Walters, Toss Wolaston, Gretchen Albrecht, Milan Markusic, Don Penny and Ralph Hutteri.

It was one of the most important auctions in New Zealand’s history, Charles Nino, Webb’s Technical Auction Director, said earlier.

Total sales in the first part of the auction exceeded $13.5 million.

“This is the greatest group of companies New Zealand has ever seen,” said Nino. “It contains so many works of art that could perfectly carry its own image with the best works in this country’s public collections.”

The Fugitive was sold by Tony Fomison (left) for $1.82 million - estimate was $600,000 - $900,000.  RNZ / Felix Walton
The Fugitive was sold by Tony Fomison (left) for $1.82 million – estimate was $600,000 – $900,000. RNZ / Felix Walton

However, there have been objections to auctioning such important pieces of art to private buyers, with former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark saying that BNZ should not sell multi-million dollar artworks initially purchased when the bank was state-owned.

Te Papa’s head of marketing and communications, Kate Camp, said they had two paintings at auction, but said they would have welcomed the opportunity to bid on the works before the auction.

The paintings acquired by Te Papa are Glenda at Tahakopa, by Robin White, purchased for $406,300, and Design by A. Lois White, purchased for $221,075.

She said BNZ notified them in advance of the auction, but there was no opportunity to purchase outside of the auction process or to receive the items as a donation.

“T Papa sees the value of having works in public collections and will always encourage collectors to think of public collections first when selling works,” Camp said.

Glenda at Tahakopa, by Robin White, bought by Te Papa for $406,000 at BNZ Art Auction.  The attached photo.
Glenda at Tahakopa, by Robin White, bought by Te Papa for $406,000 at BNZ Art Auction. The attached photo.

Courtney Johnston, CEO of Te Papa, said the National Gallery will always encourage art collectors and private companies to consider donating artworks to public collections if they are scattering a collection.

“We encourage any collector to think about the legacy they create when they put their work into the public’s hands, where it can be kept as a trust for future generations,” Johnston said.

“There is a limit to what public institutions in New Zealand can afford to buy, and with the cost of the market rising, the public will rely more on the generosity and vision of the collectors who choose to donate the works.”

Former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark said BNZ shouldn’t sell art worth millions of dollars It was initially purchased when the bank was state owned.

Today, the Auckland Art Gallery also claimed that BNZ dismissed its concerns about the sale of important New Zealand artworks.

Gallery director Kirsten Lacey said the artworks were purchased when BNZ was in state ownership but moved when it was privatized.

I thought it should be available for all to see.

“There is a special care for a group of companies like this, for the consideration of the national interest, and the Bank is not interested in having a conversation about what that means in terms of New Zealand’s cultural assets.”

Lacey said BNZ was not interested in talking to her about the group, but the bank said it had no official approaches from showrooms.

BNZ General Manager Corporate Affairs Cliff Joyner said the future of BNZ Technical Group has been carefully considered by the Board of Directors over the course of two years.

He said the company has decided that the best way to continue supporting the legacy of the art group is to pass on the franchise of sponsoring the works to others, and to support communities through the proceeds.

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