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Government should stop sale of BNZ artwork


The Bank of New Zealand will be selling some of the country’s most expensive and important works of art from tomorrow.

By Mohammad Alafeshat for RNZ

Two hundred valuable mid-century New Zealand works of art – collectively valued at over $10 million – will go under the hammer at auction house Webb.

The bank auctions off works of art by some of the country’s most important artists, including Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, Gordon Walters, Toss Woollaston, Gretchen Albrecht, Milan Mrkusich, Don Binney and Ralph Hotere.

READ MORE: BNZ Auctions Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection

However, the potential sale of such important works of art to private buyers has drawn criticism from former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Clark said BNZ should not sell millions of dollars worth of artwork originally purchased when the bank was state-owned.

“What would need to be checked is whether the Treasury ever informed that there was a valuable art collection funded by what was then a state bank which should have been separated at the time of privatisation” , Clark told RNZ.

“These are very important New Zealand works of art that have been acquired by a state-owned company.”

The most expensive piece of art would have to be “Is there anything we can say, look, it’s new?” by Colin McCahon. which is estimated between 1.5 and 2.5 million dollars.

Clark wants the Department of Culture and Heritage to intervene.

BNZ will auction 200 valuable New Zealand mid-century works of art.

“The question is whether the export control mechanism administered by the Department of Culture and Heritage would cover any of the works of art. There is a provision in this document for an export ban on items that are over 50 years old and of significant interest to New Zealand.”

Meanwhile, Webb’s Auction art director Charles Ninow said it was one of the biggest auctions in New Zealand history.

The first group of paintings to be auctioned tomorrow is expected to fetch more than $10 million, he said.

“We’ve never sold a collection like this before, it’s the best of the best in New Zealand art and it’s the most expensive collection ever sold in New Zealand.

“It includes some of the most significant works of art ever produced by New Zealand artists,” said Ninow.

The most valuable item is by Colin McCahon and is expected to be worth around $2 million, Ninow said.

“The highest-value work of art is one of McCahon’s last three paintings ever made.

“This is the only chance you will ever have to purchase a work from this series which is by far his most iconic series.”

New Zealand has a vibrant and healthy art market, but Clark said this collection should be visible to the public.

“New Zealanders may never be able to see important works of art again if they are sold at auction,” she said.

All proceeds from vendors will be used to create a philanthropic foundation and Webb’s will also help fund the foundation from fees incurred.