Prices for collectible New Zealand art have been smashing records as Kiwis with money to invest spend up large at auctions.
Webb's head of art, Charles Ninow, has been dealing in New Zealand art for more than 10 years and he's never witnessed the sort of bidding that saw a Tony Fomison painting reach a record price of $480,500 this month.
Investors and art lovers came out of level 3 lockdown and spent up large, generating more than $1.4 million in sales at the Auckland auction house's latest fine arts sale.
Ninow was nervous just hours before the auction, unsure of the effect Covid-19 and lockdown might have. He needn't have worried. An hour before the auction he could tell by the number of registered phone bidders that there was no need to be anxious.
The Fomison painting had a pre-auction estimate of between $150,000 and $250,000 and he had at least 10 people registered as bidders.
"That's not a cheap painting."
Added to that, Ninow had a confirmed absentee bid of $150,000, highly unusual in a world where bidders don't normally signal their intentions to the auctioneer beforehand.
"That never happens," Ninow said.
In most cases, works that sold that night reached prices well above the estimated sale price. A Ralph Hotere gouache on paper, with a pre-auction estimate of between $5000 and $10,000, sold for $21,900.
Michael Smither's Manifesto Cafe sold for $134,540, again above Webb's estimate of between $75,000 and $125,000.
Bill Hammond's Zoomorphic Detail was snapped up for $93,000 and Colin McCahon's Waterfall, an oil on board, reached $94,900, well above the estimate of between $40,000 and $60,000.
Collectable New Zealand art is not the only commodity doing well. Last month, Webb's sold more than $140,000 worth of historic newspaper photographs owned by American art dealer Daniel Miller, including a vintage photo of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The photo, which had a pre-auction estimate of between $700 and $1400, sold for $14,415.
At Webb's collectible car auction in July, a 1973 Porsche 911T sold for more than $180,000. The Webb's estimate was between $100,000 to $125,000 in line with prices fetched overseas. That auction grossed more than $600,000 while a wine auction last month grossed more than $500,000.
Ninow is expecting auctions of decorative arts and jewellery this weekend to produce the same level of interest.
Anything that was an established commodity would fetch good prices, he said. Items from the 1960s and 1970s, including artwork, were in hot demand whereas antiques were not.
Colin McCahon did much of his best work in the 1970s and, for Ninow, 1968 was Don Binney's best year. Art collectors saw their purchases as long-term, inter-generational investments, which meant the artwork would be out of circulation for years.
"It's not a quick flip investment."
And it's not just the high-end collectibles that are selling. Webb's was seeing strong art sales in the $3000 to $6000 range, Ninow said.
He thinks the sales of collectibles have been fuelled by the prospect of low-interest returns on investment, the fact that people are not travelling and spending overseas, and that there is only so much local tourism on which to spend disposable income.
"It's also the fact that people are here and their attention is here," he said. "They're looking at New Zealand and the things around them."
Buying good New Zealand art was a sound investment, he said. "You can buy an Andy Warhol screen print. But that is one of 250 artworks whereas if you buy a great New Zealand artwork for the same price you are going to get something amazing and an original."