Aucklander Anne Coney farewells a fabulous art collection 40 years in the making

by Jeremy Hansen / 29 June, 2017
Photography by Samuel Hartnett

After almost 40 years of enthusiastically buying art, Anne Coney is selling her fabulous collection.

“I’m not sick or anything – I’m not dying.” Anne Coney would like to be very clear that the auction of her fabulous art collection is not some sort of mad, mortality-induced decluttering, but the beginning of a new chapter.
We’re sitting in the living room of her Parnell home, an abode as cheerfully exuberant as its owner: the walls in the living room sport wide yellow-and-white stripes, while busy floral wallpaper in the dining room engulfs a fruity checkerboard table and hand-painted chairs once owned by the British entertainer Michael Barrymore (she bought them at an auction). The floors are a shiny bubblegum pink, a couple of shades lighter than the stripes in the back of her hair.

I’ve heard Anne is in her 70s, and ask if she’d confirm her age. “Oh God no, certainly not!” she says. “I couldn’t bear it. I don’t think age or sex are relevant, do you?”

Hers is not a capital-C art collection, the type assembled by people self-consciously acquiring trophy works by Very Important Artists. Instead, her eye is drawn to colour and shape. She has always bought work by artists who are alive, because she likes the idea of her purchases supporting creative folk. As a result, her collection (although she would prefer to avoid that word – “they’re just works I’ve enjoyed”) is less encyclopedic, more idiosyncratic: a boisterous creative family that includes some of the most interesting artists of the past 40 years. 

Her life in art started young. She grew up in Auckland – her parents owned a manufacturing business – and remembers watching her mother pursue her passion for historical watercolours by buying works at auctions.

“I got used to living with pictures, I guess,” she says.

A small sitting room features a sofa by Masquespacio for the Spanish firm Missana. The large photograph is by Russ Flatt. The monkey painting is by Denys Watkins

But her own tastes turned out to be far more contemporary. After leaving school, she took a job in the workroom of the high-toned fashion emporium El Jay, and enjoyed spending lunchtimes visiting galleries like John Leech and Denis Cohn. It was Cohn who lent her advice that became a touchstone for her subsequent adventures in art. “Buy the toughest work you think you can manage,” he told her. Did she purchase anything in those days?

“No! I was getting two pounds a week and I’d never heard of layby.”

The first piece she bought, in fact, was much later, when she was working “in the fishbowl on the corner of Queen Street and Customs” as a ticketing agent for British Airways in the early 1980s. It was a painting by Jeffrey Harris that depicts a young Polish girl who has been frightened by the Nazis. She went on to hone her eye by working with gallerist Peter Webb (who taught her the art of an arresting arrangement) and at Gow Langsford, adding to her collection as her taste and confidence evolved.

Left: The red-and-black work on the wall at right is by Stephen Bambury, and the painting below it is by Richard Killeen. The guitar on the floor is by Michael Parekowhai. Right: A work by Sam Mitchell hangs above the sideboard in the dining room.

She has great finesse at displaying things. The aforementioned Jeffrey Harris painting hangs with a work by Michael Illingworth over a vivid green Fornasetti cabinet and glass pieces by Wendy Fairclough. There are yellow and green egg-shaped orbs (with accompanying little white mice) by Seung Yul Oh on the floors; one of Michael Parekowhai’s famous Ten Guitars sits on a table. Judy Millar’s vivid paint swirls jostle with Andrew McLeod’s mutated classicism in the hall, while a portrait of a young boy by Sam Mitchell with macabre little illustrations on his face stares across the dining room.

“He looks just the most angelic child, but the thoughts in his head are far from it,” she says approvingly.

Left: A sculpture by Chris Booth. Right: Painting by Antonio Murado, on the floor the little mouse and green egg by Seung Yul Oh.

Given her obvious enjoyment of all these pieces, why has she decided to sell them? She says she wanted to sell the works “in a way that is respectful” of the artists and their dealers; a single-collection auction does that. She’d also like to pursue other artistic interests while she can.

“I have no art history background at all,” she says, “but while I’ve got a bit of go in me I’d like to collect some new work, and some old favourites – I’ve become interested in video works and photographs.”

The work on the left is by Judy Millar, while the other painting in this space is by Andrew McLeod.

A work by Jeffrey Harris hangs at left beside a painting by Michael Illingworth. The glass works are by Wendy Fairclough. Above the fireplace is a work by Neil Dawson. The sculpture below is by Warren Viscoe.

Onwards, then. But despite this, the departure of the rich parade of artworks on her walls will be a wrench. She’s leaving town for a few days to avoid witnessing them being moved out of her home. Her place might feel bereft without them, but she is sanguine about her decision. 

“You come into the world with nothing and you leave with nothing,” she says. “I’m fortunate to have lived with things I think are beautiful. I just feel the time is right.”

Hear Paperboy editor Jeremy Hansen in conversation with Anne Coney at 3pm, Sun 2 July at Art+Object, 3 Abbey St, Newton. Her collection will be auctioned there on Thu 6 July.


Rising sea levels are putting our coasts in crisis – should we adapt or retreat?
99383 2018-11-22 00:00:00Z Planet

Rising sea levels are putting our coasts in crisis…

by Sally Blundell

Either option carries considerable economic, social and environmental costs and it’s a debate communities cannot tackle in isolation.

Read more
Overlord is a Nazi zombie B-movie with a slight difference
99374 2018-11-21 14:42:54Z Movies

Overlord is a Nazi zombie B-movie with a slight di…

by James Robins

Have you heard? Nazis are bad. It seems that some people need reminding, and thus we have Overlord.

Read more
The new eatery bringing old-school arcade games to Kingsland
99364 2018-11-21 14:24:21Z Auckland Eats

The new eatery bringing old-school arcade games to…

by Alex Blackwood

Chicka transforms into Arcade with a Neo Tokyo-style fit-out, arcade games and a new menu.

Read more
New bar Morningcidery is opening up the world of cider
99332 2018-11-21 10:47:11Z Auckland Eats

New bar Morningcidery is opening up the world of c…

by Alex Blackwood

Sip on all kinds of cider, like pineapple and jalapeno, at this dedicated new cider bar.

Read more
Who killed Waiwera? The troubled history of a popular resort town
99313 2018-11-21 09:38:21Z Auckland Issues

Who killed Waiwera? The troubled history of a popu…

by Donna Chisholm

From the archives: A small seaside town is dead. Was it the victim of greedy developers, warring tycoons, or a road that no longer runs through it?

Read more
The wake-up call this meth addicted mum needed
99308 2018-11-21 07:26:35Z Social issues

The wake-up call this meth addicted mum needed

by Anonymous

A mum shares her struggle of overcoming a meth addiction to help give a better life to her two children.

Read more
In the face of US sanctions and corrupt ideologues, Iranians get by on defiance
99284 2018-11-21 00:00:00Z World

In the face of US sanctions and corrupt ideologues…

by Peter Calder

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Peter Calder finds almost everything is forbidden, yet accessible.

Read more
The Kiwi rug repairer who helped capture the Qashqai's threatened way of life
99289 2018-11-21 00:00:00Z Movies

The Kiwi rug repairer who helped capture the Qashq…

by Peter Calder

A new doco gives a portrait of the Iranian nomads through the eyes of Wellingtonian Anna Williams.

Read more