The parliamentary art collection

January 10th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald reports:

The Parliamentary Art Collection, value $12 million, includes an artwork in shagpile that can only be described as a piece of its time.

That time is 1981 – the year of the underarm bowling scandal, the Springbok Tour, and the first hints of the trend that shoulder pads and big hair will become. The piece, Variation in Apricot, is considered ‘textile art’. It reportedly feels like touching a dirty dog.

Arts Minister Chris Finlayson’s immediate reaction is sotto voce: “S***, that’s awful.”

Then he gets closer and sees the plaque that says it was donated by the National Party caucus wives in 1981 – when Robert Muldoon was the Prime Minister.

“Oh my God,” he says, shamefaced at slighting the taste of such a group of women. He slams into reverse and hunts for a more diplomatic adjective than ‘awful.’

“It certainly is a unique contribution to the art collection in .

Heh, too late.

Mr Finlayson has managed to find a spare 45 minutes between signing Treaty of Waitangi claim settlements – as Treaty Negotiations Minister – to take the Herald on a grand tour of the parliamentary collection.

There are more than 3000 pieces, including the big names: Grahame Sydney landscapes, four Colin McCahons, Len Castle, Ralph Hotere, Philip Trusttum, Brent Wong, Stanley Palmer, Frances Hodgkins, Dick Frizzell, and several by the ubiquitous Unknown Artist.

Mr Finlayson is not one to be seduced by the power of a name, however.

He is an honest, if brutal, critic, designating most pieces to the categories of either “boring” or “bleak”.

Honest, and brutal – that’s the Chris we know and love.

Prime Minister John Key’s favourite piece is Colin McCahon’s Koru. Mr Finlayson is kind about Koru, but possibly only because it is in the Speaker’s Lounge and the Speaker, Dr Lockwood Smith, is there when we drop in.

Mr Finlayson manages to muster up something about the admirable “texture” of the piece, which Dr Smith informs him is worth about $300,000.

But the Speaker was not there just five minutes earlier when Mr Finlayson trotted past two other McCahons – A Piece of Muriwai Canvas and Necessary Protection I – glanced up and sighed. “He’s a strange one, isn’t he? I just find it all a bit … bleak.”

I have to confess, that I once made a rather serious error with a McCahon at Parliament. It was around 2001 or 2002 and I was on the parliamentary ball committee and one of my jobs was to put up posters promoting the ball. I was in a bit of a hurry and having one of those days where I wasn’t concentrating much and pinned one of the posters onto a noticeboard on the 3rd floor of Parliament House, in the Opposition Leader’s corridor.

Except it wasn’t a noticeboard. It was a Colin McCahon painting that was worth around $300,000. I can’t recall which one it was (maybe A Piece of Muriwai Canvas) but there was a very anguished yell when someone discovered my mistake and I quickly removed the poster hoping no one else would notice the thumb tack marks in it. In my defence it really did look a bit like a notice board!

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25 Responses to “The parliamentary art collection”

  1. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    DPF,

    In my defence it really did look a bit like a notice board!

    Judging by his reported remarks, Chris Finlayson would probably approve.

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  2. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    I got taken on a private tour of an exhibition of “Pacific Art” at the National Gallery of Victoria late last year. Everything from the brightly painted shields of PNG, most featuring the Phantom (who’s something of a totem there) to magnificant headdresses from Fiji and so on… NZ was represented by a McCahon, all black, grey and white with some text I can’t recall graffitied in one corner.

    I was mortified. If I’d had one of my grandchildren’s Year 2 art efforts in my luggae (I’d just been back to NZ) I’d have offered it in substitution. At least they’d used something other than the black and white crayons.

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  3. anonymouse (716 comments) says:

    I can’t recall which one it was (maybe A Piece of Muriwai Canvas)
    More likely A8 or A9.

    The McCahon website can list by collection, here are the ones they list as currently in the parliament collection

    http://www.mccahon.co.nz/browse/collection/1652

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  4. Manolo (13,783 comments) says:

    Honest, and brutal – that’s the Chris we know and love.

    Except when dealing with Treaty claims, where he is at his most generous (with our money).

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  5. beautox (422 comments) says:

    Art used to mean something, but nowadays sadly the likes of McCahon are in the majority in the art world, peddling their bullshit like it was, well, art. Few dare to state the obvious, that the emperor has no clothes.

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  6. iMP (2,385 comments) says:

    The problem is we have too many art schools pumping out kids who think they can live off art in NZ. They can’t. Even the very talented struggle. Talking about artists, not politicians. You don’t have to be talented to be a poli.,

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  7. hmmokrightitis (1,590 comments) says:

    Had the pleasure of wandering the halls of Western Mining (WMC) a few years back, and the art collection in the C wing was something to behold. Cant remember (was told) what it was insured for, think it was in excess of $AUS 200 million. Amazing what uranium can buy :)

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  8. thedavincimode (6,759 comments) says:

    iMP

    The problem is we have too many art schools pumping out kids who think they can live off art in NZ. They can’t.

    No problem because taxpayers should support “the Arts” so that we can enjoy a more rounded society.

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  9. peterwn (3,273 comments) says:

    I remember the big stink when Auckland Art Gallery purchased Torso II years ago see:
    http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/the-collection/browse-artwork/3133/torso-ii-%28torcello%29

    Cr Tom Pearce (a Rugby big shot) said at the time it would make an ideal mooring weight for his boat – it had a hole through which the mooring rope could be attached.

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  10. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    I think I’ve seen the shagpile disaster, but finlayson marks himself out as a cretin by criticizing McCahon. If you haven’t “got” modernism yet, there’s something wrong with you.

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  11. Viking2 (11,471 comments) says:

    Sell the lot. Think how many operations they would pay for.
    Why do Govt.s, including the local body socialists, consider the taxpayer/ratepayer should pay to buy such stuff??

    Is it necessary to run NZ?

    See some great art in private houses but see no reason at all why publicly funded instituions should spend money on art.

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  12. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    We have some pretty good public art collections, built up by quite a wide range of central and local government bodies. Nice things to have; they represent about the same value to the nation financially as a few nice pieces in the average home.
    The art works at Parliament are good, one of the nice things about visiting there.

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  13. kowtow (8,487 comments) says:

    Like so many things in the modern world art is ,whatever one wants it to be.

    Completly subjective and utter rubbish. Moreover,one is not expected to say so,that might offend someone. And today giving offence is almost the ultimate crime.

    beatox put it well @418.

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  14. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I shouldn’t have thought the very-contemporary-look-at-me-taking-the-piss part of the art spectrum was particularly over-represented in the parliamentary collection. There is a huge range of pieces in the collection.

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  15. tristanb (1,127 comments) says:

    Do we call them “thumb tacks” in NZ? Aren’t they “drawing pins”?

    Anyway, it was only a Colin McCahon.

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  16. NeutralObserver (95 comments) says:

    Mmm. $12 million…presume TSY applies a capital charge as they do to any department holding an asset like that….?

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  17. POTUS (5 comments) says:

    Automatic six during corridor cricket in parliament buildings if shot hit art work straight off the bat

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  18. Dirty Rat (383 comments) says:

    Why does Parliament have this collection ?, of no use at all to the taxpayer, sell the entire lot, a waste of tied up cash just hanging around

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  19. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    Why do Govt.s, including the local body socialists, consider the taxpayer/ratepayer should pay to buy such stuff??

    Because its needed to counteract the negative externality of boorishness created by people such as yourself.

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  20. Longknives (4,753 comments) says:

    “Honest, and brutal – that’s the Chris we know and love.”

    By “we” I am guessing you don’t mean the hard-working New Zealand taxpayer..

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  21. Dave Mann (1,222 comments) says:

    I thought the article read like a very clever piece of Dim-Post satire, actually….. :)

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  22. Steve Wrathall (284 comments) says:

    Where’s Tame Iti when you need him

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  23. Manolo (13,783 comments) says:

    Dave, you’re not wrong. It is satire, pure satire.

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  24. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    No fake Helen Clark’s then? Have they all been destroyed?

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  25. bc (1,367 comments) says:

    Let’s hope it is satire. Finlayson comes across as an absolute idiot (shagpile artwork excluded!)

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