Top contemporary art leasing firm Lemonbone began almost by accident, though a happy accident at that. “Well, depending on which way you looked at it, either our house was too small, or our art collection was becoming too big!” says co-founder Lynn Whitfield. “We started storing a couple of large works in specialised storage places and one day our accountant happened to mention the storage cost and suggested leasing it out instead. He said that he’d lease one for his boardroom, became one of our first clients and so that’s literally how it all started. We then began buying art with a view to leasing it out and the collection grew and grew.”
Lynn and her husband, Simon Vodanovich — who is also a trustee of Auckland Art Gallery Foundation — have been avid art collectors for over two decades. “We’re both really interested in contemporary art,” Lynn says. “Our collection is mainly from New Zealand, but our interest isn’t limited to that.”
Is there anything you believe makes New Zealand art stand out?
“I do think our art is really great. There are obvious Maori and Polynesian influences that can be recognised in some New Zealand artists’ work which appeals to many Kiwis. People perceive New Zealand art to be quite dark, though that’s a sweeping generalisation.”
Are you an artist?
“No, definitely not!”
Lynn has recently embarked upon a contemporary art course to, “broaden my knowledge of New Zealand and international contemporary art.” The couple travel to art exhibitions home and abroad, her favourite trip ever was to the Venice Biennale: “It has been referred to as the Olympics of the art world. The year we attended we wanted to show our support for an artist New Zealand sent there whose work we really admire.”
They now own around 250 works. Their clients are mainly businesses, however they have a growing number of private clients who lease art for their homes. “People lease from us because our collection is very contemporary, very appealing to those who like cutting edge works. Some of our works are challenging though, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”
Are there misconceptions about contemporary art out there?
“I hear comments all of the time about abstract art, like, ‘my four-year-old could do that’. It’s hard to explain why you think art is great. It’s a personal thing, a feeling. A lot of people can be very intimidated by art, too scared to go into galleries, which is a real shame because it can be so enriching. The way people run galleries today is a lot less formal and I think more people feel that it is not such a domain for the elite now, which helps.”
Your all-time favourite work?
“If the house was burning down, after saving my family, I would definitely run back for the piece by Milan Mrkusich.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces