#2131 Gavin Hurley for Crane Brothers

Gavin Hurley for Crane Brothers (courtesy of Melanie Roger Gallery)

About a year and a half ago I went to the opening party for Michael Lett’s new gallery in Auckland. By ‘went to’ I mean crashed, and by ‘crashed’, I mean I showed up uninvited to trail coffee entrepreneur Tony Kerridge, who I was writing a profile on at the time. The concrete bunker-cum-gallery was dimly lit by hundreds of candles scattered on tables and seemed a fairly major fire hazard considering the giant haystack sitting in one corner (the joke was that anybody who managed to find the needle within would be given an artwork of their choosing). It was one of those typical insider art events filled with a mixture of extremely wealthy older people dressed in Margiela and Comme, and cool young scenesters brought along to keep things fresh.

I got talking to a particularly thin, elderly gentleman, who was dressed in purple jeans, a half-tucked polo shirt and bright blue crocodile-skin shoes. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was James Wallace – arguably New Zealand’s largest art buyer/patron, and a man who made his fortune in agribusiness (a fancy word for farming). He asked me what I did, and I told him I wrote about fashion. He pulled a disgusted face and immediately began berating me about the superficial nature of my job and my worthlessness to society, not to mention my ignorance – his final sentence being the remarkably specific, “What do you know about New Zealand modern art!? Nothing!”

Bear in mind that the extent of our conversation at that point had been him asking me what I did for a living and me telling him that I was a fashion writer, so you can imagine my surprise – he was making some fairly wild assumptions. I can’t claim a huge knowledge of New Zealand modern art, or any art for that matter, but I did study art history at university, I’ve been to many of the world’s top museums and galleries and I have a pretty strong grasp of what I like. More importantly, I’m not such a fan of being called ignorant, no matter how accurate the accusation might be. So I told him as much.

This was a man who was obviously not used to being rebuked and he looked quite taken aback.

“So tell me then,” he sneered. “Who is your favourite New Zealand modern artist?” I thought for a moment, then said, “I’m a huge Gavin Hurley fan.” Mr Wallace’s entire demeanour changed. “Well,” he said, “That is a particularly rambunctious answer! Hurley is a very talented young man, I own a number of his works myself.” At that point he called his assistant over (a pretty young man with all the affectations of a ballerina), and told him that I was to be invited to dinner that week at Rannoch (his estate), and with that, he summoned his driver and left the building.

The dinner party story is one that I’ll tell another day (it involves gratuitous male nudity), but the point is that Gavin Hurley, it would seem, is cool no matter how old, young, rich, poor, learned or ignorant you might be. I was first introduced to his work by Murray Crane at Crane Brothers, who commissions several pieces for his stores every year. They’re made entirely from cardboard and I’m always amazed at how he manages to create depth and texture from what are essentially single-colour pieces of paper. These three are the latest arrivals, and they’re pretty bloody good.

One of these days I’m going to have to invest in one for myself.


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  1. Phillip Good says

    I love that Mr Wallace accused you of knowing nothing about New Zealand modern art. Your description of Mr Wallace and your encounter is spot on. I need to hear the dinner party episode!

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