The art of getting rich quick

Last updated 09:02 16/02/2011

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Joe Bennett

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I flirted last week with the idea of becoming an abstract artist.

OPINION: I had two reasons. One was that I can't draw. If I try to do a bird, say, it turns out like a dinosaur. Perhaps I should try to do a dinosaur. But how much easier just to go abstract. Not only would my stuff not have to look like anything, but, and this was my second reason, there's money in it.

Max Gimblett, a New Zealander who's lived most of his adult life in the States, has just donated some paintings to the Christchurch Art Gallery. He offered 7000 works and the gallery, mindful perhaps of freight costs, chose 200.

According to the gallery director Jenny Harper, they "give some amazing insights into his work".

I don't doubt that for a second, but what grabbed my attention was their value. It is estimated at "between NZ$1.5 million and $2m".

Even if you take the lower of these figures, dividing it by 200 means that each of these works is worth $7500. And the city got them for nothing, a bargain in anyone's language.

Now, as Harper says, there's "the opportunity for Christchurch and the gallery's public to embrace his works".

I intend to do exactly that, of course, just as soon as they hang one for me to gain amazing insights from. And should any of us art lovers embrace Gimblett's painting too literally, no matter. The gallery's got 199 others. Or it can beg a replacement from Gimblett himself. He has, after all, got 6800 to spare.

But, to be frank, it's joining Gimblett's profession that interests me more than the paintings themselves.

The good thing about abstract work is that it doesn't take me long to make one. A dollop of paint here, a sweeping line redolent of feeling there, swirl it around a bit and whoa, there's the bell for playtime.

Of course, I'm not a rare and acclaimed artist like Gimblett, but interestingly it doesn't take him long to do one, either. To amass those 7000 unsold works he'd have had to do a finished painting every day for 20 years (excluding Sundays and statutory holidays). That's a prodigious rate of production. How wonderful it must be to have such a gift. Dawdlers like Grahame Sydney can spend months on a single canvas.

At $7500 a pop Gimblett's remaining 6800 works are worth $51m. If I were he, I'd be tempted to hang up my paintbrush. Whenever I needed groceries, I'd just nip upstairs, grab an abstract at random, lug it to the nearest gallery and five minutes later I'd be shoving the largest possible trolley round Pak 'n Save and paying particular attention to the higher shelves in the booze aisle.

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It was thoughts like these that induced me to knock up an abstract in the garage last week. I did a big one because all the top connoisseurs buy by the metre, and I enjoyed the 45 minutes of slap and splosh. But having finished it, I wasn't sure what to do with it. It was so big that it was forever in the way.

How Gimblett copes with 7000 of them around the place I can't tell you. In the end I tired of taking detours round it whenever I wanted to get the car out, stuck it in the trailer and headed for the dump.

But just by the Bromley sewage farm, a light bulb of inspiration came on. "Hold those horses," I said to the dog, turned the car round and parked slap-bang outside the Christchurch Art Gallery.

"How much do you think this is worth?" I asked, shoving my abstract in front of the nose of the first curator I could find.

"Not much," he said, laughing.

"You're overestimating it," I said. "It's worth nothing and that's what I'll let you have it for. All you've got to do is to hang it on your walls. Thus I become an artist patron and my work gains credibility. Other galleries notice, and feel that there has to be something in my work and they're missing out. So they begin to buy. My prices rise. I get rich. And you get a valuable painting for diddly squat. That's how the credulous art market works, isn't it? It just needs someone like you to set the ball of critical appreciation rolling. So how about it?"

Five minutes later I was sitting outside the gallery extracting a flea from my ear with one hand, absent- mindedly stroking the dog with the other and rootling around in my mind for some other way to get rich without doing anything useful.

- The Press


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