Just as Christchurch pedestrians are predisposed to scatter like startled chickens – at any sign of a moving automobile – thus do a great majority of so-called ‘Christchurch Collectors’ unceremoniously flee any move toward paying for their pleasure.
At every Garden City visual-arts gathering a perpetually pecking-and-scratching clutch of ‘High Street hens’ (and capons) cluster - to cluck, approvingly, or otherwise - about the latest visual-art ‘free-lunch’. However, these same birds get ruffled feathers and scatter in chook-like indignity if it’s suggested they pay for anything other than civic (i.e. provincial) vanity boosting art events. In fact, pay for anything that doesn’t provide a prominent public roost for their flock.
Range Rovers, costly vacations, second homes, designer plumage, expensive dinners, in fact almost anything else requiring ‘disposable income’ except the acquisition of contemporary art. Any idea of building a contemporary art collection is just not on the social agenda of their provincial class pecking circle (social set).
Art worlds are akin to ecosystems. If there are only large pelagic predators (institutional spaces) at the top of spindly food chain and little to no chow (read collector money) flowing into artworld wetlands - to support the beginnings of a lower-life-form nutrient-base - then ultimately the big fish (institutions) will be forced by necessity to swim in wider circles (ignoring home waters as relatively infertile) to pursue prey. Rarer and rarer little fish will prematurely leave home waters and set out into the deep before they’re properly grown.
Admittedly, art is sometimes bought in Christchurch – many a Fendalton and Merivale foyer endures a garish Popovici. Small portions of cocky fortunes reside in perfectly good Goldies and journeyman Hammonds. On occasion I’ve spied the culturally intimidated wife of a prosperous and busy QC (or what have you) inquiring after the (usually Auckland based) flavor of the week on show here…. That is, when there were a number of reputable dealer galleries in downtown precincts.
What I don’t see here, however, is a reasonably confident major contemporary collector, engaged in the self-educating (and sometimes costly) task of defining their own ideas about collecting and contemporary connoisseurship. That is - a local bellwether who leads the way and sets an example and creates the right kind of competitive envy among the local gentry. Until we get one or two of those brave individuals Christchurch will remain just another cow-town with a world-class art gallery. A gallery viewed by the local swells as just another source of diversion and entertainment between dinners, shopping and holiday travel.