Law firms and advertising agencies are still making splashes of art for their offices, and 5-star hotels are commissioning big works for their public spaces.
But major corporate art collections are increasingly rare, as evidenced by the recent sale of those once owned by Bank of New Zealand and Spark.
The 500-piece Fletcher Trust collection, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, is one of the few survivors.
While curator Francis McWhannell is sad to see the sale of collections like those at BNZ, he says it’s a global trend. “And fewer of them are on a large scale these days.”
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McWhannell says corporate mergers and takeovers have played a role in the demise of corporate art collections created to support New Zealand artists.
“Your big multinationals won’t be interested in investing in local art.”
Another factor is the design of modern, open-plan offices with fewer walls, according to International Art Center director Richard Thomson, who managed the early million-dollar sale of the Spark Foundation collection. of the month.
“They don’t have the places to hang art these days.”
Spark Foundation Chairman Andrew Pirie says now is the time to stop having valuable artwork on office walls, enjoyed by a select few working at Spark, and proceeds will go into a program digital equity.
While lawyers and accountants are still buying art for their offices, Thomson says the market is dominated by private buyers rather than corporations.
Auckland art consultant Sophie Coupland agrees. “I don’t see companies buying at all at all.”
But she says hotels have recognized the power of art to influence the feel of a space “in ways that interior design or architecture cannot”.
She commissioned 49 major works from nine artists for the multimillion-dollar renovation of the Cordis Hotel, and is also involved in sourcing eight major works of art for the InterContinental Hotel in Auckland, including a screen of 10 m for the foyer and hundreds of works for the hotel rooms.
Webb’s is handling the controversial disposal of the BNZ art collection, with the first sale grossing more than $13.5 million last weekend and the second installment of 157 lots due to go up for auction on Tuesday.
Opponents of the sale, including former prime minister Helen Clark, have argued that the culturally significant collection, built up when the bank was state-owned, should have remained public property when BNZ was privatized in 1992 .
Webb’s art director Charles Ninow said the sale of BNZ signaled the end of an era. “In terms of corporate collections, I don’t think there’s anything like what we just sold.”
However, most buyers are Kiwis and they are willing to pay top dollar to get what they want. “There was never any risk of these works being lost overseas.”
McWhannell says the collection he is responsible for curating operates financially independently of the Fletcher business, and acquisitions are funded by trust investments.
He declined to assign a value to the collection which is considered a “cultural taonga, not a financial taonga…that is why we are no longer an art collection within a society but a collection of ‘art with a corporate connection’.
About 40% of the artwork in the Fletcher Trust Collection is on public display at the Fletcher Building headquarters in Auckland, and the remainder hangs in government houses in Auckland and Wellington, and the Auckland High Court.
The works are also regularly loaned out for exhibitions and McWhannell says the loss of the BNZ works to private hands means fewer people can enjoy them.
“These corporate collections like BNZ have regularly contributed to public exhibitions and because they are corporate rather than institutional, the process of borrowing works is often very simple and quick to respond.”
The Spark Art Auction has also been a boon to living artists whose works have sold for $5,000 or more, as the foundation has agreed to pay them a 5% royalty.
In April, the government announced a royalty scheme guaranteeing visual artists, or their estates, a 5% payment on art resales, but some dealers are already voluntarily paying the royalty even though it won’t become law until 2024.
Royalty payments from the Spark Foundation totaled $26,595, including $8,250 to artist Gretchen Albrecht whose painting Inlet West Coast sold for a record price of $165,000.
BNZ puts the proceeds from its art sale into a new foundation, but artists whose works sold at both auctions will not receive royalties.
Ninow says the 5% royalty is not yet in effect and it would be inappropriate to say how much is involved, but Webb’s is making a significant donation to the foundation from its fees.