My ART | Collector: Francis McWhannell

Collector: Francis McWhannell

Collector: Francis McWhannell

What do you do?

I am a writer and exhibition-maker based in Tāmaki Makaurau. I am also curator of the Fletcher Trust Collection, which centres on painting from Aotearoa.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

I still sometimes flirt with the idea of becoming an architect. The power of space-making has always attracted me immensely. No doubt this is why some of my favourite artists—Fiona Connor immediately comes to mind—reflect on, replicate, and reshape built environments.

Why collect?

I grew up surrounded by art, so it is second nature to me to live with it. Living with an artwork tends to produce a very different experience to seeing it in a gallery, in which one has limited time, and in which conditions of presentation are often more fixed. There’s something very special about positioning a work as you please, spending large amounts of time with it, getting to know it, and seeing how it changes with the passage of light across the wall, or with your own shifting states.

Tell us about a recent discovery?

Visiting Queer Algorithms at Gus Fisher Gallery recently, I was entranced by a video titled Speaking without words (2019) by Aliyah Winter from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. I’d seen work by the artist before, initially as part of The Tomorrow People (2017) at the Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi, but this was newly impressive: elegantly restrained and deeply moving. I can’t stop telling everyone about it.

An artist (living or dead) you would like to meet?

I would dearly love to meet the photographer Neils Walwin Holm (1865–c. 1927), who was born in present-day Ghana and based for much of his life in Lagos. I looked at him as part of my master’s research. On more than one occasion I found myself yearning to speak with him, to get to know him as an individual. The documentary record is patchy, but Holm emerges as a generous man, who was as eager to facilitate the work of others as he was to produce fine photographs of his own.

If you could own any artwork, what would it be?

Given the opportunity to acquire any artwork at all, there is of course a real temptation to say something extraordinarily rare and impressive: a gem-like painting by a master of the Northern Renaissance, like Hans Memling (c. 1430–94), say; a monumental sculptural piece by El Anatsui (born 1944). But such things are really better off in public institutions. So, let’s go for something a bit humbler. I have always wanted to own a gouache by Kushana Bush of the sort included in her show The Burning Hours, which opened in 2016 and toured extensively. Such works delight me not only for their own distinctive vision, but also for the way they play with elements from the history of art. Owning a Kushana Bush is not a bad alternative for those enamoured of museum treasures.

What are you listening to?

I’m a podcast addict, and have been thoroughly enjoying Rabbit Hole from the New York Times, which looks at certain kinds of internet culture. My music taste, meanwhile, skews heavily towards pop. Lady Gaga’s Chromatica is on high rotation at present. Music to run to and, now that we have moved to Level 1, to dance to with friends.

What are you reading?

I have just started reading Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (2019). I am also trying to catch up on art books that I bought as I was finishing my master’s thesis but have not yet read, such as Louise Henderson: From Life (2019), which includes writing by some of my favourite curators from Aotearoa.

July 2020
Photo: Kaan Hiini