BNZ’s multi-million dollar art collection to be sold for charity

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A 1965 oil painting, Golden Center with two Elements, by Milan Mrkusich. Picture / Provided

An acclaimed multi-million dollar art collection owned by the Bank of New Zealand since the 1980s is to be sold to fund a charitable foundation.

More than 300 contemporary New Zealand paintings, prints and photographs will be sold by Webb’s at two auctions on September 13 and 27. A selection of works of art will go on tour in August and September to Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland before being sold.

The collection, which includes works by renowned artists Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, Gordon Walters, Toss Woollaston, Gretchen Albrecht, Milan Mrkusich, Don Binney and Ralph Hotere, is expected to fetch over $10 million. Proceeds from the auctions will fund a philanthropic foundation set up by BNZ to help organizations across New Zealand that work in communities. Webb’s will also donate a significant portion of its sales fees to the new foundation.

Tony Fomison's 1982 oil painting The Fugitive will be among those sold in BNZ's signature <a class=art collection. Picture / Provided ” class=”article-media__image responsively-lazy” data-test-ui=”article-media__image”/>

Tony Fomison’s 1982 oil painting The Fugitive will be among those sold in BNZ’s signature art collection. Picture / Provided

In the early 1980s, renowned Wellington art expert and dealer Peter McLeavey was commissioned by BNZ to build an art collection that would represent the best of contemporary New Zealand art. On behalf of the bank, McLeavey purchased paintings, prints and photographs between 1982 and 1987, an era of economic boom.

The works were to be exhibited at the bank’s new BNZ Center and other branches across the country. At one point, the collection, which included sculptures, reached over 700 works. But by 2013, the collection had been reduced to 350.

Webb’s art director Charles Ninow, who has been working behind the scenes for months to secure the collection, said McLeavey had set out to build an “amazing” collection of contemporary New Zealand art on behalf of the bank.

Kauri, an oil on panel painted by Colin McCahon in 1953 is among the iconic works of art to be auctioned in September.  Picture / Provided
Kauri, an oil on panel painted by Colin McCahon in 1953 is among the iconic works of art to be auctioned in September. Picture / Provided

“Everything in the collection is the best of the best.”

Since then, these iconic paintings had risen in value but were no longer in circulation. He expected many paintings to fetch record prices, including a number of textual works by McCahon.

“It’s like the art gallery in Auckland is opening its doors and saying ‘who’s the highest bidder?’.”

BNZ will maintain a small collection of works of specific significance for display at BNZ properties. BNZ chief executive Dan Huggins said the bank had been the proud guardian of the art collection since the 1980s.

“But after 40 years, it is now appropriate for us to put time into this role and pass the privilege on to others.”

Makora oil painting on canvas from 1979 by Gordon Walters.  Picture / Provided
Makora oil painting on canvas from 1979 by Gordon Walters. Picture / Provided

Money raised from the auctions would be used to help community groups make a difference in the lives of New Zealanders, he said. BNZ has previously partnered with community organizations to help New Zealanders in need. These initiatives included providing zero or low interest loans through the Good Loans programme, a partnership with Good Shepherd NZ and support for Habitat for Humanity’s Home Repairs programme.

In time, BNZ would invite community groups, organizations, iwi and hapu who are improving the lives of people in their communities to connect with the newly formed foundation.

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