Treasure trove of art goes under the hammer, with rumors of a Picasso to come

Curators from Webb's Auction House have been going through John Perry's treasure trove.

Webb’s Auction House/Supplied

Curators from Webb’s Auction House have been going through John Perry’s treasure trove.

Art experts are picking their way through thousands of paintings, artifacts and photographs in a disused cinema in West Auckland, hoping to find a hidden Picasso.

They are sifting through the treasure trove left behind by legendary art collector John Perry – a pop artist, teacher and former director of Rotorua Museum, among many other things – who died on June 11, 2021.

Not only did he leave behind a lasting impression on Aotearoa’s art world, but a mammoth collection for art experts to dig through.

Stowed in what used to be a cinema in west Auckland’s Helensville, Webb’s auction house has undertaken the intricate task of sorting through the pieces, which will go up for sale over the next few years in a series of auctions – starting next week.

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“It is such a large collection, that it’s impossible to know exactly what it contains at this stage, although I have no doubt that it contains some amazing treasures,” Ben Erren, director of decorative arts at Webb’s said.

“It is the largest collection of its kind ever presented at auction in New Zealand.”

This cinema turned storehouse has a footprint of over 700m² – the equivalent of four tennis courts – and is filled floor to ceiling with a mind-boggling array of items.

John Perry has held exhibitions from his collection at Art Center Helensville.

Rani Timothy

John Perry has held exhibitions from his collection at Art Center Helensville.

Erren, one of Perry’s many friends, has been digging through this artistic wonderland for the past 10 months.

“John Perry was somebody who had a lasting relationship with every auction house in the country,” he said.

“He wanted everyone in the art industry to curate good things and do better than we had in the past.”

Webb’s auction house and the Perry family share a close bond, and the family allowed Webb’s to sort through Perry’s collection, and eventually bring these rare items to auction.

The pieces will be going under the auction throughout the next couple of years.

Webb’s Auction House/Supplied

The pieces will be going under the auction throughout the next couple of years.

“They knew we would present the collection in a way John would be OK with, because we know if we altered them wrongly he’d turn over in his grave,” Erren laughed.

Erren said one of the other curators, Charles Ninow, told Erren the space was “not a cinema, but a laboratory where John makes sense of the world”.

“There is everything, photography, oceanic material culture, Polynesian and African artifacts, original paintings,” he said.

The Webb’s team are pretty certain Perry had a few extra rare pieces up his sleeve, like an original Pablo Picassoor a piece from the French artist Paul Gauguin.

“John let us in on little titbits on what he might release to us if we were to behave ourselves,” Erren said.

“There are things not only of national significance but pieces that will surprise international audiences as well.

“We wanted this auction to be an auction for the people who knew John, a representation of who he was as a collector, not just all high-value things, and it’s a taste of what’s to come.”

There are 700m² of items to sort through.

Webb’s Auction House/Supplied

There are 700m² of items to sort through.

The auctioning process will begin at the end of January with 200 items to start, and thousands more to come over several years.

Among these first 200 are items such as New Zealand folk art figures, estimated to go for around $100, to multiple original pieces from Jack Dale or Paul Hartigan, which could go for $2000 to $5000.

The first auction will take place at Webb’s in Auckland on Tuesday, January 31, at 6pm.

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