Art Collecting with Belinda Wiley

On Saturday 1 September The Little Gallery’s clients experienced another fantastic talk as part of our Insight Series.  This month Belinda Wiley shared her experience of starting an art collecting group.  Her journey embarked 21 years ago with 14 other women from Auckland (where she lived for 28 years), now she lives permanently in Whangamata with the third round of collecting starting last year.

Belinda was quick to point out that she doesn’t have an art degree and her history was around restaurants, but she has a passion for the arts and it was a great way to meet like minded women who shared the same love.  She recalled going a Simon Mcintyre exhibition when she was first married and she bought two small works, which she still has in her collection and she still loves them. Every piece has a story, a history of how and why she came to acquire the work, as well as the message being told within it.

When the art group was formed, Venus I, she was invited to join by a friend and she only knew a couple of the others in the group.  They all came from different backgrounds, from lawyers to doctors, from entrepreneurs to stay at home Mums, and different age groups. Some knew about art and some didn’t, but the intention was clear and that was to make money.

For most people art is about making their house look decorative, but there can be a number of other reasons people buy art:

  • Make money
  • Support the art/artist
  • Because they love it

The Venus I group wanted to collect art, have some fun and make a profit.  They had a constitution and everything was set out legally. The basic premise of the running of the group was:

  • Appoint a Chair, Secretary and Treasurer at the AGM
  • Appoint a buying committee of three people who took responsibility for buying the art for the entire year.   They didn’t need a consensus but needed a majority.
  • The works were rotated around the group every three months.  Belinda commented that it was challenging you but fun, as you had pieces in your home that you hadn’t chosen for yourself.
  • They hold four meetings a year to discuss purchases and manage the budget.
  • They all put in approximately $1000 a year (spread across two payments).

For the first decade the group played it relatively safe by choosing artists that were recommended to them by galleries.  Artists were well known and established.  They visited galleries, artists’ studios and also traveled somewhere once a year (which made for a fun weekend away).

Belinda quoted James Wallace: ‘Exposure to art is the only way a collector can expect to develop a good eye.’  James visits galleries every weekend – up to half a dozen different galleries. ‘Often if I react to a work straight away, that might not necessarily be the one I buy.  Often it’s the artworks that are more difficult to interpret that are the ones I go for,’ said James, who has collected 7,500 works. He also noted ‘Facile or decorative artwork is like wallpaper, after a while you tend to ignore it.’

This is just one person’s view on collecting art.  You may or may not agree.  Belinda believes that you like what you like, but it may get you thinking about art in a different way.  She then invited everyone to look around and chose a piece of art.  The art can be challenging but the complexity of the work can grow on you and you can learn to love it.

During the first rotation the group bought a work by Shane Cotton - a diptych.  They took a punt purchasing it for $3.5k in early 2000s. They then had an auction in 2006 and sold it for $66k (it is now worth even more).  It was sold under the title ‘Venus I Collection’, with each piece being sold individually.  After the auction the money was divided evenly amongst the group and they all got their money back plus more!

The second 10 years’ rotation started with their group changing to Venus II and three ladies dropped out making the group now 12.  They continued to play it safe and took a lot of advice from galleries but the market wasn’t as buoyant and it became harder to sell the work. At the end of the 10 year period they did a silent internal auction with a lovely event, and nearly all the members ended up with a piece of art.

Belinda wasn’t sure she wanted to do third round, as she was focused on different areas of her life, but realised that, as it’s a 10 year journey each time that where she was now wasn’t where she was going to be in a couple of years. She got the push from one of the other ladies who nominated her as the Chair, which she took as a sign that she should do another decade.

This rotation, Venus III, it’s about timing and catching the artist before they get established.  They collect a wide range of pieces, not limited to paintings, but including photography, glass and sculpture too.  They are focused on emerging artists where they are taking a greater punt, which means more risk, but the work is bought at a lower price point.

When Belinda first started 21 years ago, she just watched the more established ladies who had already been part of the group for 10 years. Over time the friendships have developed and they enjoy weekends away around galleries, visiting art scenes and going out for dinner together.  Now they have expanded to do an overseas trip too, taking on what James Wallace said, and giving themselves a lot of exposure to art.  Belinda noted that you learn a lot about yourself, how to be part of a group, human nature, when to speak up and when to stay silent.  They have matured and speak their truth.  It’s never too late to start a group.

Belinda's parting words were: 'Collect what makes you happy, or it might challenge you.  It’s about what you want.'

Enjoyed this article? Sign up to our newsletter below and be the first to hear about our latest Art Chat posts!