Written by Jo Barrett
In their own home not only are the walls covered with art, they place art on shelves, the floor and anywhere else it will fit. “Whenever we move to a new house, our art collection is the first thing we unpack – along with our books,” says Jennifer.
After many years collecting art and with backgrounds in art and business, Jennifer and Rex considered the way forward and to bring several of their long-term interests together, would be to open a gallery. In 1990 Oedipus Rex Gallery opened on Queen Street before relocating in Khartoum Place. The plan was to encourage and show promising emerging artists seeking Auckland representation.
The first show held was titled, ‘The Blind Leading The Blind’. The crazy thing was, before the show had opened, they still hadn’t decided on a name for the gallery. The name Oedipus Rex emerged from the correlation between the show’s title, the ‘not knowing how the first show would go’ and the wretched ending of Sophocles Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex (circa 429 BC) where Oedipus blinded himself.
“Although naming the gallery ‘Oedipus Rex’ was somewhat tongue in cheek, the name stuck,” says Rex.
18 years later in 2008, Jennifer and Rex rebranded the gallery to OREXART. It was a way to shorten a lengthy logo and, more importantly a way to reflect the maturing of the gallery and the artists it was representing. In 2012 they relocated to an industrial building within the Putiki Street art precinct, in Arch Hill. Seven years on, OREXART continues to provide a beautiful, open space for artists.
As collectors and gallerists, Jennifer and Rex have a good understanding of what is important to other collectors. Whilst many of their clients come from all over New Zealand and the world, they do love selling to people who live locally.
They say it is equally as pleasing to represent artists who happen to live, work and draw inspiration from the Ponsonby/Grey Lynn area. Artists such as Richard McWhannell, Philippa Blair, Richard Adams, Kathy Barber, Matthew Browne and Tony Lane - although Tony lives just outside the area, they consider him local enough.
“Rex and I live, eat, shop and work in Grey Lynn/Ponsonby. We’re lucky.”
Despite their strong business acumen, Rex and Jennifer declare art has never been about ‘business’, for them. “We always said we would do the best we could by the artists we were fortunate enough to collect and represent. It is a relationship built on mutual respect and trust.
“We believe in collecting art that is testing, interesting, individual and still likely to engage us in 10, 20, or 30 years. And it is the same with the artists we show. We don’t like ‘fashion’ art - in today, out tomorrow. That is for clothes, hair and makeup,” says Jennifer.
“We’re collectors, not taste makers. We buy (seriously) exactly what we like.”“Although some clothes are art, they are still largely defined by the fashion dictates of the day, and fashion by its nature and its imperative, is its disposability. Sure, even the art we buy can be considered, in some instances, to be ‘of its time’, but if it is good it will rise above that and become, like the very, very best of couture, timeless.”
There are very few rules to collecting art, but their first bit of advice to those wanting to start an art collection is, don’t get bogged down with advice. Instead, have a look at the art, be brave, do it, have some fun and, above all, love it. Rex’s view is: So-what if it doesn’t match the sofa, the cushions, the carpet and you bang nails in the wall in all the wrong places, just be prepared to invest something of yourself in it, your convictions and your passions.
Jennifer explains, “The same goes when choosing art for the home - buy with an eye. To what? The future? The past? The investment? Maybe. But it’s also about your happiness. Buy because it does your soul some good. I’m of the opinion you can mix abstract with antique, anything with anything. Don’t be afraid. The only thing I am afraid of is bare walls and no books in sight.”
“Art makes friends and it builds memories. Art isn’t a contest, nor is it a statement, it’s a reaction it wants to share.”
She adds, “Regardless of whether you hang one large piece of art or many pieces clustered or spread out, there are no rules. Although, having said that, a professional or ‘second pair of eyes’, can help you see things in a different way and go, ‘gosh, I never thought of that’.”
Jennifer and Rex agree that great interior or outdoor garden design is an art built around the things and places you love. They say it’s important to make it meaningful, personal and not generic. No matter the size, location or style of your garden, sculptural pieces will enhance a space, give focus to a smaller space, and in larger areas help give a space direction. Or, as in the old days, the classical bust at the end of a hidden pathway, or in a secret place in the garden, will add an element of intrigue.
Rex concludes, “Regardless of what you collect, place in your garden or hang on the walls of your home, you can bet at some point your neighbours will say, ‘really, is that art?’ Your parents will say ‘you should be putting your money into something for the future’.
“You tell them all, ‘it is for the future, it’s what the future looks like’. When they ask what the future looks like, you tell them the future looks like happiness.”