Aotearoa Art Fair is back this week from March 2 to 5. While it comes only four months after the last fair (delayed in 2022 due to the pandemic), there’s a whole new program to get stuck into, featuring 40 galleries from six countries exhibiting work by 180 artists. Head down to The Cloud to wander through the stalls, attend artist talks, browse the art bookshop and have a bite at the on-site eateries.
For first-time buyers, art fairs can be overwhelming, and buying a piece for your space is a very personal endeavour. Everyone has different motivations that help them take the step towards purchasing an artwork. Maybe you find a piece surprising and exciting, maybe it speaks to wider cultural concerns, or maybe you just think it’s beautiful to look at.
If you need some inspiration, Broadsheet asked seven very different art lovers – from leading curators to fashion designers and food authorities – what they look for when buying art.
Christina Barton, director of Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington, 2023 talks program curator and facilitator
I am a curator and art historian, so I’m interested in art that is somehow adding to the discourse, engaging the issues, ideas and problems that artists are grappling with in this (or any) time and place. For me, art is a mode of thinking about the world, and I find beauty in that. For example, at the Aotearoa Art Fair in 2022 I kept returning to Roman Mitch’s small, gridded drawings that were really folded pieces of paper that had taken on the colour of the trouser pocket he kept them in for a certain number of working hours. The fact that the price of each drawing was based on the living wage turned these simple rubbings into eloquent materialisations of labour. This year I’m looking forward to seeing Brook Andrew’s work at Sumer Gallery and Anoushka Akel’s paintings at Michael Lett.
Sam Mannering, food writer, chef and Homestead owner
I like colour, fun, challenge, a bit of anarchy, a bit of a fuck-it-why-not-it-works-but-I-can’t-explain-it mentality. If I say a work is “wild”, that’s a good thing. Don’t be boring. Be brave. Bugger investment. It’s got to bring you feeling. There’s so much boring, safe shit out there. Let it be a response, an emotion, not a digit on a column.
I go for up-and-comers for two reasons. My bank balance, and the impact that it makes for emerging artists. If I feel the same way (and I often do) about an artist whose work goes for $2K to $3K as I do about an artist whose work goes for $100K, then the choice is clear. And I’m also not going to let some expert tell me otherwise. If I like it, I like it. I don’t need to explain why.
An interesting take from a friend: sweep your eye quickly across the whole space, and in that moment, immediately choose two options you like. Walk around. If you still feel the same way, go for the second best. That is because it challenges, as well as pleases. A little too efficient, perhaps, but there’s something in that approach that’s hard to argue with.
At this year’s fair, I’m excited to see the work from the Tennant Creek Brio collective and Josephine Cachemaille. Wesley John Fourie, for his vibrancy and courage, and Tomislav Nikolic for his anarchic sense of fun.
Nigel Borell, artist and curator taonga Māori at Auckland Museum
The art fair offers a great opportunity to see and acquire artworks that artists often make or release specifically for the event itself. I also appreciate that you get to engage with new and emerging artists alongside more established names. Often we are looking at established artists and artworks that we are familiar with, so the point of difference becomes important. The art fair presents so many artists, all of whom are vying for your attention, so I like how this pushes them to create works that are ambitious – and perhaps unique to their practice. This offers curators (and buyers at large) the chance to acquire one-off gems.
Jessie Wong, Yu Mei founder and director
As a small-time collector, I keep an eye out for artworks that tell compelling stories and provoke an emotional response. I look for artists who bring a fresh perspective. In the Yu Mei lounges [stores], we look to display artworks that are thematically connected to our collections and provide another dimension to the stories told. At this year’s fair, I am looking forward to viewing Claudia Kogachi’s work. I love her playful and imaginative depictions of personal relationships in her paintings and textiles. I’m also looking forward to Anne Noble’s work. I have been a long-time fan of her insightful photography. When I was in university, Anne generously let me use her series Ruby’s Room to respond to through leathercraft, which was great fun. I love that both have a lighthearted, uplifting tone to their work.
James Dobson, Jimmy D founder and designer
Like anything creative, I’m looking for newness, something that grabs you and won’t let go – and I like to be challenged. I like work that you have strong reactions to. Sometimes work that can disgust you can flip into something quite beautiful surprisingly fast. I’m definitely not looking at art as an investment; I think there should be some intuitive connection to work, and if that becomes lucrative down the track then that’s just an added bonus. I just like good work. I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists to explain or “sell” work, but not all artists feel comfortable articulating why they make the work they make, so I’m just looking at the work for that. In saying that, I do like to support queer artists, and I have a soft spot for photography as that’s what I studied back in the day. My art fair picks would be Hana Pera Aoake and her beautifully blobby ceramic works; Trent Crawford’s pieces for their steely, cold techy-ness; and Drew Connor Holland for his broken-down yet weirdly romantic images that remind me of old polaroid emulsion lifts.
Anita Tótha, art consultant and writer
When searching for artworks, I gravitate towards pieces that strike a chord in a visceral way. Whether an artwork is politically charged or technically masterful and beautiful, I always look for the artist’s intention and how that translates to me as the viewer. It is hugely important for me to be able to connect with the artwork as a first priority – being sure of the perceived value of the artwork itself is secondary. This year, I am looking forward to seeing the new galleries participating in the art fair for the first time from Australia, Asia, the UK and Aotearoa – including One and J (Seoul, Korea); Season (Tāmaki Makaurau); and Laila (Sydney). It is always great to see international galleries and how New Zealand fits into that space with its own distinct art making.
Beth Brash, head of programming and delivery at Wellington Culinary Events Trust
My art collection is a little random, but I suppose the best ones are right? Art shouldn’t be chosen to fit with a colour scheme or theme; you should feel something with art. It should represent a time, place or person. Each piece I own has a story behind it. Due to my interests and job, I do often find myself drawn to food-related things (I have this wonderful block print from Hamish McKay which has a Stonehenge-like pile and then says “Chicken McNugget Sculpture” around it in a circle), and I was drawn to Jay Hutchinson in the art fair. I also love art that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I own some “hate mail” by Mr Bingo and also like Nell and Simon Lewis Wards, who will be at the fair too.
Aotearoa Art Fair, March 2-5, 2023. The Cloud, 89 Quay Street, Auckland CBD.