Wendy & Eric Meares have an extensive collection of art that they’ve built up over many years. In her latest post for The Art Life, Wendy offers some insights into smart collecting and the art of valuation…
To look at Eric you wouldn’t think that he’s indecisive. When he’s strutting around with his shirt off wearing his favourite cargo pants he’s every part the leading architect. Mind you, I always think that Eric’s upper torso looks like a couple of strawberries lost in a grey thicket, but that’s just me. He’s always talking on the phone to the partners, his fingers gently trying to move those strawberries about… Show me all the blueprints!, he says, laughing. But when he’s not barking orders he’s a very sweet man who just can’t seem to make up his mind.
So no one was more surprised than me that when I got back from the Melbourne Art Fair I discovered that he’d decided to have our collection appraised. A immaculately-dressed young woman who is apparently some sort of art consultant was in the house with a digital camera taking snaps of our Tim Maguire and Rosalie Gascoigne and Patricia Piccinini and god knows what else and speaking in very hushed tones to a little mousey girl who was some sort of assistant. I asked Eric what was going on – I was literally in the hallway with my wheelie bag fresh from the airport taxi – but he was there [shirt on, thank god!] saying to the girl that he’d see if he couldn’t dig up some receipts. As most collectors know, provenance is everything, but since we’d got most of our art from reputable galleries, there certainly shouldn’t have been a problem. I don’t know where Eric got the idea to do this, but it seemed prudent that if we were going to have to sell some of our beloved collection it’d be worth getting it properly valued.
I know there really wasn’t anything to worry about but you know how these things go. I started to remember all those art works that we’d got from talented artists who’d needed a bit of quick cash and we’d been more than happy to help them out. What’s the provenance of that duplicate Archibald winner – the one that’s in the study that looks just like the painting that won, only probably not as good? I started to sweat a little on those drawings Eric purchased from that fellow who went out of business – that dreadful little man who had a gallery in a church – what was his name? Anyway, I just couldn’t remember if the paperwork was in order.
A week or so later Eric told me over dinner at Bistro Moncur that he’d had a rather surprising call from the art lady. Apparently our collection had a gap. Eric said that if we were serious about our collection we really ought to take her advice and perhaps purchase either a Michael Johnson, a Tim Storrier or perhaps, if we were adventurous, we might even think about commissioning something for the house, a sort of sculpture-installation by that lovely artist who did the war memorial. I have to confess I was rather incredulous because all along I’d been thinking we were selling the collection, not buying more art. Eric said there was nothing to worry about and perhaps, as a project I could think of something to add to the collection.
We have a little experience with collecting art and the thing that they always tell you is this – whatever it is that you buy, you should buy what you love. And I love things that match. If you’re going to put it in your house there’s no point buying some ugly eyesore you just wouldn’t want in the lounge room. I don’t think that’s wrong. In fact, I think that’s sensible. I’m all for cutting edge art, but really, that sort of art belongs in a museum where no one has to look at if they don’t want to. That’s democracy.
The irony of the whole situation was that if Eric had thought of this whole plan before I’d gone to Melbourne I could have picked up a few bargains. Those poor people were desperate to sell and there was an Annette Bezor I had my eye on but the chance slipped away. The whole experience was rather drab, actually, but now that we had to buy a key work for the collection I probably would have concentrated a bit more had I known.
I wasn’t that keen on buying a Michael Johnson to tell you the truth because he spilled a drink on one of Eric’s best blazers at an Art Gallery do – and all Tim Storrier wants to talk about is rifles, the Second World War and wine – and that sculptor lady and her work just doesn’t appeal. The art advisor suggested perhaps a video work by someone called TV Moore but we so rarely watch television these days it’d seem like a waste. The next suggestion was more intriguing – how about an abstract painting by a key Australian modernist? I have no real enthusiasm for figurative modernism because it reminds me of dentist waiting rooms [and if I see a copy of Reader’s Digest I get a pain in my bridge] but the thought of something calming might just be the ticket.
In the end we plumped for a lovely Ralph Balson that was rather steep – Eric looked pained as he wrote the cheque to the art advisor – but the kicker was if we ended up donating the painting to a public gallery at some point we could write off the cost as a tax deduction and we could finally get that wing named after us. Eric may be indecisive but he’s so terribly clever. That’s why I love him.