Sophie Coupland, Director of Art at Mossgreen-Webbs
How did you come to head the Mossgreen-Webb’s art department?
Growing up, I regularly attended exhibitions and gallery openings. Webb’s was started in the 70s by my stepfather, Peter. Sales from the mid-70s to around 1980 were real milestones for the market — it was the first time contemporary practice was presented at auction. He represented a whole swag of contemporary artists in that early period and started Auckland’s first dealer gallery: Artists who we now regard today as modern masters, such as Colin McCahon, Tony Fomison, Philip Clairmont, Pat Hanley and Michael Illingworth. The business always focused on contemporary practice. Peter was my mentor for 25 years, but in 2014 our family sold the business and I left a short time after. Then in 2015 it was sold to Mossgreen and Paul Sumner, the owner whom I knew, approached me to run the art business. So I’ve come full circle.
Tell us about your team?
I am surrounded by a great team of women. My manager, Briar, comes from an auction background in Australia and totally understands the auction business — it’s in her DNA. Kate has a great knowledge of the modernist period in particular, while Jennifer previously ran Auckland Art Fair for a decade.
What collections are coming up for auction?
There are two sales on the horizon. Three time a year we hold our standard sale of important paintings and contemporary art and the next one is 11 April. It includes a fantastic range of works from Charles Frederick Goldie — a major historical painting that has an estimate in excess of $500,000 — through to absolutely cutting edge contemporary practice at modest price points. Then, 17-18 May we have the sale of Warwick and Kitty Brown’s single collection that was put together over five decades. It’s extraordinary. Two hundred works will be represented over two days showcasing modern masters, a fabulous Don Binny bird painting, McCahon, Dick Frizzell, and a fantastic Fomison. It’s not all big-ticket items. There are modest scaled works, works on paper and graphic editions. There really is something for everyone. Estimates go all the way through from $300 to $500,000 in value. It’s going to be amazing!
What makes them special?
The collection is special because there is a backstory to so many works. Big collections have come on the market before, but the collectors have been deceased. Warwick will be there to tell those stories on the auction night. Once, when he was a lawyer, his phone rang during a meeting with a client. An art dealer told him: “You’ve got to come right now to buy this Fomison painting. He needs to pay his mortgage.” Warwick excused himself from the meeting, ran from his office to the nearby dealership, bought the painting and dashed back to conclude the meeting with his client. The collection is full of a wealth of such-like stories. Sadly, Kitty passed away last year and now Warwick feels it’s time to release himself from the responsibility of owning such a significant collection. He won’t stop buying and kept the works he’s bought in the last few years. They will form the nucleus of his new collection. The responsibility of 300-400 works is enormous.
Tell us some top buying tips?
Seek artists that have excellent dealer representation and proven work selected by leading curators. If it’s been included in institutional shows — the curators believe in it. Once you’ve identified an artist’s work that interests you, understand their practice. Learn what the most representative or strongest works are. Seek to buy that work even if it’s smaller or on paper rather than a substantial piece. Talk to the auction house about the work if you’re buying through auction. Ask if it’s ever been on the market before, whether it has a good provenance, if the condition is sound. Understand the value and prices paid for comparable works. Know how the auction house arrived at the estimated level and always ask if the estimate is conservative or ambitious. It pays to talk to the specialists on hand.
Words: Sarah Sparks