Reviews, News and Commentary

An Investment guide to the Auckland Art Fair

John Daly-Peoples

Yuki Kihara, EFKS Church, Maraenui


By John Daly-Peoples

Everyone knows that art can be a good investment. If you have a large Colin McCahon in the family you know that someone made a brilliant decision at some stage.

The returns on art purchases in NZ can be high. The works of Colin McCahon may be out on their own but they do give an indication of the way that prices can go for New Zealand master painters. McCahons which originally sold for $200-$500 are now readily selling for $100,000-$500,000 and there was a recent sale of $1.7 million. 

So how do you get to be the brave, fearless, serious art collectors going where only the foolhardy seem to venture. There is no absolute way to do it but there can be a few hints.

Overall, it is a matter of developing an idea for quality, for what is new, brave, exciting and confronting. It is also about understanding the processes of how an artist produces and sell arts work. There is also the need for self education about art and artists.

What follows is a check list. Some of points are more important than others. Some are absolutes. Some are interconnected. Some are difficult to use. Use them carefully and you may be successful.

The Galleries

In all the main centres there is a hierarchy of galleries This is determined by their track record, the perception, prestige and manner of the dealer, and their record of reliability.

The dealers of the major galleries are always on the lookout for new talent and their decisions on who can be poached from other dealers and from other cities. Likewise, there are many artists keen to be taken on by these galleries.

The Dealers

Dealers are normally synonymous with their galleries but some gain an importance regardless of the gallery.

Dealers know a lot, unfortunately a lot of what they know they won’t tell. Generally they are interested in promoting artists in their own stable and so their opinions will be biased towards those artists they represent. Some of them by the nature of their business are not able to get out and look at other dealer galleries so are not aware of the other artists exhibiting.

Cultivate one or two dealers. They are useful people to ask questions about art and artists, they are also useful for a second opinion. It is through their knowledge and perceptions that you can get a better understanding of your own approach to art. They are also the people who can ensure that when you do buy art works they are the best for you. The dealer helps set prices for the art and selects work for the exhibitions. They are the ones who will alert special buyers to individual works which come on the market.


This consists in reading books, magazines and catalogue, following the reviews in the daily newspapers, going to lectures. There are a few books on the history of New Zealand art. Each of them has their weakness so it is best to read them all.

There are a number of catalogues produced by dealer galleries, public galleries and the artists themselves. They are useful for solid information on the background of the artists as well as giving some understanding of their previous work. Sometimes these are a little dense in terms of the writing style but the illustrations are always useful. Catalogues give an indication of the commitment of the dealers, artists and institution to the particular artist.

Writers and Curators

Writers are often good indicators of where things are going and who to watch. They are the people who are following overseas trends, they get to speak to artists and generally have a good overview. Some of the writers are also important curators as well. There are of course the problems of bias both real and perceived. Writers who are close friends of artists, writers who are dealers, writers married to dealers, writers married to artists.

Keep an eye on what the contemporary curators are doing. If anyone is going to be perceptive it’s them even if sometimes they seem to be widely askew in their thinking.

Francis Upritchard, Yvonne

Award and Fellowship Winners

These are useful indicators. The judges are often important writers, curators and collectors. The Walters Prize nominees in 2020 were the collective Mata Aho, Fiona Amundsen, Sonya Lacey andSriwhana Spong..

Winners of the Wallace Awards last year included  Russ Flatt, Darryn George, Glen Hayward and Martin Basher,

High Profile Artists

Artists who appear in the paper, make the new on TV and are generally perceived to have a public profile are an indication that they have either made it or are on the way.

Artists such as Michael Parekowhai generated a lot of publicity over his “The Lighthouse” on Queens Wharf in 2017

Yuki Kihara was to have been New Zealand representative at the Venice Biennale and Francis Upritchard was the representative in 2009.

Arts Council Grants

The grants made by the Arts Council are made by peer panels consisting of artists, curators and arts administrators. They allocate funds on the basis of substantial information as well as references from other notable arts people. The grants are published each year in Arts Council publications. There are regularly new artists appearing on the lists.

Overseas Exhibitions

A number of New Zealand artists are having exhibitions overseas in public galleries and dealer galleries. This will often mean they pick up overseas institutions, corporates and individuals as buyers and their prices can be pushed up.

Overseas Magazines

Buy the occasional overseas art magazine to keep up with what is fashionable and current. Most artists and writers use these magazines for pointers and ideas. Some use them for the main source of ideas.

Sales Records

If an artist has one or two sell-out shows, it should be taken as a sign instant success and/or great talent.

Other artists may not sell all the work through an exhibition, but the work will sell over a six to nine month period after the show. This is where conversations with dealers are useful.

There are some artists though who develop a short-term fashionable period with sell out shows followed by a drop in sales and often in prices. If you are being cautious it is probably best to wait for two or three exhibitions by an artist before making major commitments. This may be a more expensive alternative but there is a greater degree of certainty.

If you find an artist you like but always seems to have sell-out show let the dealer know. Sometimes at a sell-out show the occasional sale does not proceed and the next person on the list may well be able to acquire it.

You can check on prices of artists sales at auction at the web site of the auction houses such as Webb’s, Art + Object and The International Art Centre.

Mathew Allan, Tall Diptych


As an artist’s career develops more and more art works go into public galleries, major corporate collections and private collections. When the artist’s works become hard to procure the prices go up. At this point it is possible to buy quite expensive works and sell within the short term. There are probably only around a few hundred McCahon works left which will ever come on to the market. Of these less than one hundred will be significant paintings.


It is always useful to buy artists of your own generation. It is more likely that you will have an empathy with their ideas and concerns and the works will tend to be cheaper. On the other hand it is also useful to buy artists who are much older as the work of senior artists can often grow in value towards the end of their career as they become less productive. The onset of death also adds significantly to the value of the work.

The Photographers

One of the great unrealised investment areas in New Zealand photographers. This applies to our historical photographers as well as the new innovators such as Fiona Pardington and Yvonne Todd. This group of artists offers excellent investment opportunities.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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