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‘The tectonic plates are shifting’

An exclusive extract from Jill Trevelyan's <EM>Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer</EM>


<P data-associrn="1409544"></P> <P>In December 2002, Peter wrote to Knight Landesman about his recent travels in Iran. ‘As I grow older the past beckons me. Fortunately, however, not in respect of my gallery. I have a number of artists (Yvonne [Todd] is one) and they totally absorb me. And they are so much fun. And yes, I’m still in the same two rooms and, in two weeks time I hold the 421st exhibition which has graced its walls.’<SUP><FONT size=2>1</FONT></SUP></P> <P>Exhibition 421 was by Ava Seymour, one of a group of young artists &#8211; including Andrew McLeod, Brendon Wilkinson, Darryn George, Liz Maw and Yvonne Todd &#8211; who joined the gallery between 1998 and 2004. ‘They are, if you like the Eminems and Ani DiFrancos of this civilisation,’ Peter told media mogul Brent Hansen. ‘Our art Datsuns … I do feel that the tectonic plates are shifting here and a younger (hungrier and gifted) group are now claiming their birthright. It is so exciting for me to have them in my gallery. I feel a new chapter is now being penned which takes me back to those heady days in 1966, when I first started my journey, as a dealer in New Zealand.’<SUP><FONT size=2>2</FONT></SUP></P> <P data-associrn="1409542"></P><P>Peter first saw the work of Liz Maw at the Ivan Anthony Gallery in 2002. ‘He walked in,’ recalled Anthony. ‘He looked at these in-your-face paintings, and he was stunned. He immediately said, “I want to meet this girl.”’<SUP><FONT size=2>3</FONT></SUP> When Maw met Peter later in the year, he reminded her of someone. ‘I couldn’t think who it was. Then eventually I realised, he reminded me of the Irish Catholic priests I knew as a kid. And I thought, Ah, that gallery is his church, and because the art world is so small he is the village priest of that community. He had the same way of delivering his belief system, and the same kind of conviction &#8211; it’s a faith-based culture, you know, that art has meaning, that it’s important.’<SUP><FONT size=2>4</FONT></SUP></P> <P data-associrn="1412667"></P> <P>It was at Fiat Lux, an artist-run space in Auckland, that Peter first saw the work of Yvonne Todd in the late 1990s. When Todd had her debut exhibition at the Ivan Anthony Gallery in 2000, Peter was impressed, and aquired a close-cropped photograph of a young woman’s head, entitled <EM>Kirsten</EM>. Later in the year he wrote to Todd and arranged a visit.</P> <P data-associrn="1409543"></P><P>The two met at the Smith &amp; Caughey tearooms, with its apricot colour scheme and old-fashioned establishment air. ‘That was my office in Auckland,’ Peter noted. ‘You, never ran into anyone from the art world there, and that was a good thing.’<SUP><FONT size=2>5</FONT></SUP> Peter was now in his late sixties &#8211; nearly forty years older than Todd &#8211; but she felt there was something youthful about him. ‘He had those steely blue eyes that fixed themselves on you,’ she recalled, ‘and he was very intense but also very calm. Everything was very carefully measured and I could see there was a degree of protocol in everything he did. At that first meeting he had lots of questions. It wasn’t like a job interview, but he asked about my background &#8211; my parents, my brother &#8211; he wanted to get the overview. He wasn’t asking what camera I shot on or anything like that. Nothing technical.’<SUP><FONT size=2>6</FONT></SUP> Peter and Todd soon established a pattern to their meetings at the tearooms. ‘We used to go and browse afterwards at the Lladró figurines, and just admire them for what they were. Expensive geegaws. And they were those weird pastel shades, quite chaste and pure, but the high gloss on them made them also slightly tawdry. So we had quite a ritual.’</P> <P data-associrn="590141"></P> <P data-associrn="590139"></P> <P>Peter made up his mind about Todd very quickly. Six months after their first meeting, he scheduled an exhibition for her in August 2002. As it happened, his timing could not have been better: just a week before the show was due to open, Todd, the youngest and most inexperienced finalist, won New Zealand’s premier art award, the $50,000 Walters Prize. Suddenly she was at the centre of a media whirl.</P> <P>‘I was quite frazzled by all that,’ Todd recalled. ‘And then I had to fly to Wellington. It was my first time in a plane for ten years because I was afraid of flying. But Peter was really good. He and Hilary were so composed and reassuring.’</P> <P>Todd’s show was entitled <EM>Sea of Tranquility</EM>: five immaculate yet disconcerting photographs of pale, primped young women, dewy-lipped and bewigged, garbed in chaste, high-necked blouses. Peter was thrilled with it. ‘These images are strong,’ he told a client. ‘They remind me of (what I call) New Zealand Gothic; Bensemann, Fomison and Hammond to cite 3 other examples … To me she is the first New Zealand photographer who understands the emotional and psychological “weight” of colour.’<SUP><FONT size=2>7</FONT></SUP> The entire edition sold out quickly, with purchases by Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery.</P> <P>Wellington collectors Howard Greive and Gabrielle McKone began to buy Todd’s work at her second show with Peter in the following year. ‘Her whole body of work of women represents an unusual and powerful group of archetypes that you can easily recognise in New Zealand,’ Greive commented. ‘But by then she was photographing beauty consultants and they represent a fascinating subset of her work &#8211; the illusion of beauty. I see these particular women as the sales team. They sell beauty and desire. The pursuit of which can have its downside’.<SUP><FONT size=2>8</FONT></SUP></P> <P>Peter had been a mentor for Greive since the late 1980s when, as creative adviser at Saatchi &amp; Saatchi, he bought works for the corporate collection. ‘I don’t think Peter ever sold me a picture. All he would do was talk about the work and the artist and place it in a context.’ To him, that was Peter’s point of difference. ‘If you went to one of the big galleries in Auckland, you knew you were being corralled &#8211; just subtly, but you knew you were being sold. Whereas with Peter you never felt that &#8211; you just ended up buying the thing! But in a way, that was part of the showmanship as well. You were drawn into this world of high culture.’</P> <P>Greive admired the way Peter ‘read’ his clients. ‘He was such a clever bugger &#8211; he could see what you were interested in and hone in on that. And he could put an advertising spin on the art as well. Like any good Catholic, he understood branding, he really had the juice on brands. You could sit down with Peter and have a great talk about artists as brands. For a lot of people in his business it would be anathema, but he was really open to it.’</P> <P>Like many collectors before him, Greive was intrigued by the mystique of the McLeavey storeroom. ‘It was like a little magic box &#8211; completely off limits. He’d say, “I won’t be a minute,” and he’d disappear, shut the door. Then out he’d pop with something to show you &#8211; Ta da!’ The element of theatre was not lost on Greive. ‘There’s a great saying in advertising,’ he remarked. ‘Where’s there’s mystery, there’s margin.’</P> <P><EM>Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer</EM> is published by Te Papa Press (2013)</P> <P><A href="http://www.tepapastore.co.nz/collections/te-papa-press/products/peter-mcleavey-the-life-and-times-of-a-new-zealand-art-dealer">Buy the book from Te Papa Store online</A></P> <A href="http://www.arts.tepapa.govt.nz/off-the-wall/324673/5813/media/te-papa-press-book-trailer-peter-mcleavey-the-life-and-times-of-a-new-zealand-art-dealer ">See the Te Papa Press book trailer - Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer</A> <P><STRONG><FONT size=2>Endnotes</FONT></STRONG></P> <OL> <LI><FONT size=2>Letter to Knight Landesman, 30 December 2002.</FONT></LI> <LI><FONT size=2>Fax to Brent Hansen, 18 March 2003.</FONT></LI> <LI><FONT size=2>Interview with Ivan Anthony, 9 August 2012.</FONT></LI> <LI><FONT size=2>Interview with the author, 7 August 2012. Maw went on to have five solo shows at the Peter McLeavey Gallery between 2004 and 2012, when Ivan Anthony became her exclusive dealer.</FONT></LI> <LI><FONT size=2>Conversation with the author, 15 August 2012.</FONT></LI> <LI><FONT size=2>This and the following quotations are from an interview with Yvonne Todd, 11 August 2012.</FONT></LI> <LI><FONT size=2>Letter to Sam Neill, 14 August 2002.</FONT></LI> <LI><FONT size=2>Email to the author, 24 October 2012. The following quotations are from an interview with Howard Greive, 2 September 2012.</FONT><BR></LI></OL>
Peter at the gallery window, 1989, Dominion Post, Fairfax Media

Peter at the gallery window, 1989, Dominion Post, Fairfax Media

Liz Maw in her studio at Elam School of Fine Arts, 2002. Photograph by Peter McLeavey

Liz Maw in her studio at Elam School of Fine Arts, 2002. Photograph by Peter McLeavey

Yvonne Todd at the Smith &amp; Caughey tearooms, 2002. Photograph by Peter McLeavey

Yvonne Todd at the Smith & Caughey tearooms, 2002. Photograph by Peter McLeavey

image

Yvonne Todd, Susan Blunton, 2002, colour photograph, type C print,
Purchased 2002.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Yvonne Todd, Emerey Weschlette, 2002, colour photograph, type C print,
Purchased 2002.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

Yvonne Todd, &lt;EM&gt;Kirsten&lt;/EM&gt;, 2000, LED print, 300 x 300 mm, edition of 1 + 1 ap

Courtesy Yvonne Todd

Yvonne Todd, Kirsten, 2000, LED print, 300 x 300 mm, edition of 1 + 1 ap Courtesy Yvonne Todd