Thursday, 14 March 2013

Inspiring, Entertaining & Practical Guide to the NZ Art Market

Behind the Canvas: An insider's guide to the New
Zealand art market by
 Warwick Henderson
Review of Behind the Canvas: An insider's guide to the New Zealand art market.  By Warwick Henderson with a foreword by Hamish Keith.  Published by New Holland Publishers.  In bookstores now or purchase directly from Warwick Henderson Gallery here.

Our verdict: Indispensable. 

Format

"Behind the Canvas" is structured in 10 chapters, starting with "A Brief History of the Art Market", taking you through "Building a New Zealand Art Collection" to "Selling Artwork" with diversions into the illuminating "Information and Advice for Artists" and "Fakes, Forgeries and Flops" along the way.  A helpful "Recommended Reading and References" section rounds off the main part of the book. This is followed by in depth endnotes, exhaustive picture credits and a useful and thorough index (the book is well edited and nicely designed by Kate Stone and Kate Barraclough at New Holland).

Engaging & Informative

The soul of this publication is Henderson's ability to convey his enthusiasm for the the NZ art market in a delightful breezy style whilst filling the reader with knowledge.  Readable, often funny and comprehensively informative Henderson de-mystifies collecting art in the affable manner of a kiwi Bill Bryson taking a complex topic and making it highly digestible.

There is an entertaining openness and disarming honesty about "Behind the Canvas",  Henderson's mistakes are wryly dissected and not every purchase ends in triumph although lessons may be learned. The intersection between art and business is the central theme of the book, the role of the dealer balancing the needs of each side of the transaction is clearly explained. The interests and requirements of both collectors and artists are taken into consideration across the chapters, and aspiring (and perhaps competitive) dealers will learn a lot too!

A key influence on Henderson's approach to art dealing seems to have been one of the author's "first forays into a Wellington dealer gallery" where the dealer was "extremely personable and friendly - a typical Kiwi bloke and not the stereotypical snobby dealer". This book is in the tradition of making art accessible without dumbing it down that outlets like Peter McLeavey's gallery epitomised to the first generation of buyers of contemporary NZ art.

Prints

This writer expected the usual dismissive treatment of artists' prints but was pleasantly surprised when original prints were covered respectfully and some were even illustrated in the book.  Early NZ prints were even mentioned as a possible starting point for a collection.

Online Sales

Likewise when the heading "E-Commerce Sites and Other Art Junk" leapt off the page to this reviewer (disclosure: I am the marketing manager at one of NZ's busiest art selling websites) what follows is a carefully nuanced review of the pitfalls of online sales of art from the vantage point of over 30 years in the industry that does not throw the ecommerce baby out with the bathwater.  What was particularly interesting was the even handedness of the critique, Henderson is equally concerned about the sellers of artwork on sites like TradeMe being hoodwinked by savvy buyers as he is by buyers unwittingly buying mass produced paintings being passed off as original artworks.

Conclusion

The only disappointment is that with such a comprehensive book - Henderson wryly notes the "scope of the book grew much wider than I (or the publishers) had originally envisaged" - there may not be enough material for another book by this writer on this topic in the near future.

Creative New Zealand's visual arts budget would buy 100,000 copies of this book. This writer couldn't think of single better way of supporting the continued long term growth of the NZ art market than delivering this engaging, inspiring and practical book into 100,000 households tomorrow.

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