Te Papa splashing cash for art trash

02:00, Aug 23 2014
Daylight Flotsam Venice
EXPENSIVE RUBBISH: Daylight Flotsam Venice, by Bill Culbert, created using discarded plastic and fluorescent tubes.ntsG It is one of two Culbert works bought by Te Papa for ‘‘less than $500,000’’.

Te Papa has splashed taxpayers' cash on two new artworks, one of which even its creator jokingly describes as a load of rubbish.

The purchase of the works by Bill Culbert means taxpayers have now effectively funded them twice - once when Creative New Zealand paid $650,000 for their creation and showing at last year's Venice Biennale, and now as Te Papa adds them to the national collection.

The museum could not say how much it spent on the works, Daylight Flotsam Venice and Drop, citing confidentiality. However, the Auckland gallery that brokered the deal said it was "less than $500,000".

Acting chief executive Arapata Hakiwai said the purchases were "an investment worth making to ensure New Zealanders have access to these two remarkable installations". Culbert was a internationally recognised "significant" artist, he said. "It is appropriate for Te Papa to house works of this stature and significance."

The museum signed a confidentiality clause, meaning it could not reveal how much it spent on the pieces, which are from his collection Front Door Out Back, which he exhibited at the prestigious biennale.

Flotsam is a collection of discarded plastic bottles alongside fluorescent tubes scattered on the ground, which Culbert described as "a load of rubbish" - though he added that it was a work that could be taken seriously.


Drop is a kitchen furniture setting suspended in the air.

Danae Mossman, from Auckland dealer Hopkinson Mossman which sold the works, said art was a "very subjective thing".

"His work has a simplicity which allows us to engage . . . What his work does with very ordinary material is extraordinary . . . giving it words takes away from the experience."

Culbert also has works in Tate Britain and in major French collections.

He received his funding for the biennale after a recommendation by an external advisory panel.

"He makes marvellous work, constantly reinvestigating how light works and refreshing how we think of it," biennale commissioner Jenny Harper said.

A Creative NZ spokeswoman said the agency - which is 70 per cent funded by the Lottery Grants Board and 30 per cent by the Government - supported artists to make and present work.

"The actual work is owned by the artist. This applies to all our funding, for literature, theatre, dance and so on."

It is not unusual for public money to be used both to create a work and then to buy it. In the 2011-12 year, Te Papa paid $1.5 million for a piece by New Zealand's previous biennale exhibitor, Michael Parekowhai, who had already received $897,000 to create and show his exhibit in Venice.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson was asked how he felt about taxpayers effectively forking out twice for the same artworks. A spokesman for his office said Te Papa was an autonomous Crown entity and collection decisions were left to it.


$3.1m in 2004 for Colin McCahon's Walk, setting the record for a painting by a New Zealand artist. It also holds McCahon's A Painting for Uncle Frank, bought for $1.78m in 2000, and the massive canvas Practical religion: the resurrection of Lazarus, one of McCahon's most significant works. It is unclear what this was bought for.

$2.04m in 2010 on Poedua, painted by John Webber in 1785 from smaller paintings he did on Captain James Cook's expedition to the Pacific.

$1.5m in 2011-12 for He Korero Purakau mo te Awanui o te Motu: Story of a New Zealand River, the centrepiece of Michael Parekowhai's On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.

Almost $1m in a single auction in 2010 on four big-ticket lots: Gordon Walters' Painting no 7, Michael Illingworth's As Adam and Eve, Brent Wong's Mean Time Exposure, and Peter Robinson's Boy Am I Scarred Eh. 

The Dominion Post