My ART | Collector: Garth O’Brien

Collector: Garth O’Brien

Collector: Garth O’Brien

What do you do?

I have been a lawyer since 1979 when I was admitted to the bar

Why do you go to galleries?

I enjoy seeing a range of art works and discussing ideas with Gallerists

What was the first artwork that made an impact on you?

A Ralph Hotere exhibition at the Auckland City Art Gallery

Do you have any special interest areas or philanthropic commitments?

Let me tell you a little about my collecting journey. I first began collecting during my university days in Wellington, seeking out contemporary art in particular after I had graduated.

When I married, I became involved with an art buying group. By this stage I had acquired a Woollaston  and was entering the art scene the wrong way around. Being two hours from Auckland in Cambridge meant a monthly journey to the art group meeting at a gallery and viewing works, but I was looking for more than a large group of people considering art only to find works to buy. As I was working fortnightly in Auckland I had the opportunity to begin having a good look at various shows. I found that people were interested to hear about what I was seeing and enjoying, I grew more confident and started backing my own ideas. And thus the family collection grew.

When my partner and I separated and the collection was divided, I used my knowledge to add further items that plugged a few gaps. I also met Matt Clarke from Paul Nache Gallery. One of his artists rented the space above my offices and that connection allowed me to expand my thinking about local New Zealand artists. At the time of my separation I had developed a passion for Contemporary Jewellery. I followed this up and began wearing pieces I collected as a means of showing small art works out in the community. This interest took me to Munich Jewellery Week, where I made some great international friends who are emerging Contemporary Jewellers.

Eventually I became involved in designing and building a home for myself–a house that has been described as an Art Gallery with a bedroom! There was sufficient space in the foyer to hold a quarterly opera concert with visitors and participants enjoying the home and art works.

About four years ago I sold both the home and art collection (at auction), and decided it would be great to start all over again and began putting together objects and artworks with the knowledge I have acquired.

Over the years, I have followed and bought the work of many emerging artists. This has been a focus. I have trusted my instincts and eye and have hung their works in a curated way for visitors to my space to enjoy. I take great pleasure in living with them too.

Are there any new purchases on the horizon?

There are two works on my mind at the moment. One is Glen Hayward’s Big Red (fire extinguisher), 2009.  I live in an apartment space where this object (which is not at all functional but looks real) would be great amongst the other objects in the space. Glen’s work reflects the thin line we live along, relying on things that are not real and the flimsiness of life. The other work is Robert Jahnke’s Flat Black, it would fit well with Wayne Youle’s two paper bag works with the eye holes cut into them. I trust this gives you a little insight into my art collecting brain!

Gift any work of art to your local museum – what would it be?

I have gifted works to an overseas gallery, loaned to local galleries and continue to allow my collection to be used for exhibitions.


July 2021