People of Asuwere - Charles Ninow

In the pursuit of our purpose to help guys get their time back, we continue to find opinion leaders in our ranks from all areas of life. This time, it's the well-respected Charles Ninow, Director of Art at Webb's Auction House.

In this edition of People of Asuwere, we catch up with Charles, who, similar to Cruz Jimenez, is well-immersed in this world, knowing the collectors and their collections like the back of his hand while sourcing some of the most coveted artworks - on and off the market.

Tell us about yourself and what you do?

I'm the Director of Art at Webb's auction house. My job is to source and sell incredible pieces of New Zealand art. I feel so fortunate to be doing this. I first became obsessed with contemporary art after watching an E! True Hollywood Story about Andy Warhol after school one day. Now I get to work with masterpieces every day. I could never have guessed what the future had in store.

Are you an artist yourself? 

Believe it or not, I went to art school. That’s where I honed my analytical eye. Along with creating art, I really enjoyed organising exhibitions of mine and my classmates' work. In that process, I discovered that I enjoyed promoting the exhibitions more than making the art. So, I leant into it.

Tell us a little bit about your own business before you joined Webb's?

When I was 28 years old, I started a boutique auction house on Auckland’s Karangahape Road. I quickly realised that I didn't have the marketing budget to compete with the big players. Instead of chasing blue-chip names, I focused on bringing under-appreciated artworks to market. I learned that if I told a compelling story, people would be interested. That experience was invaluable.

Congratulations on the opening of the Wellington Gallery - has this been a long time in the pipeline?

Webb’s Wellington branch is an important step for the company. This is the first time that a major New Zealand auction house has had a permanent presence in more than one city. It was a major project and a long time in the making. We enlisted the incredible Rufus Knight to design the interior, then most of the conceptual phase took place over zoom late last year. Now that it’s complete, it’s clear that it was all worthwhile. The gallery is a work of art. It feels so good to finally share it with the public. 

Garden of Eden Aotearoa (1980-81) by Tony Fomison
Image - Webb's

If you could’ve personally won any Webb's auction, what would it have been?

Tony Fomison’s Garden of Eden Aotearoa (1980-81) really left a mark. We sold the painting about a year and a half ago when we had just come out of the first round of lockdowns. It achieved a new record price for the artist - $516,540. That painting said so much about the unique experience of living in Aotearoa, and it really resonated with me.

Any forthcoming auctions we should be looking out for? 

I'm absolutely enchanted by our current catalogue. It's a selection of drawings by Don Binney, sourced from the artist’s family archives. Many of them were made in preparation for paintings, and they provide amazing insight into the artist’s thinking and making processes. Additionally, every lot in the auction is accompanied by a unique NFT derived from the drawing. The owner can choose whether to split them up or keep them together. 

What should people be thinking about when it comes to buying art?

If you want to start an art collection, then you should buy things that you like. Most art collections are hung on the walls of the family home, so it’s important to buy things that you enjoy spending time with. For those who want to invest in art, it’s best to focus on artworks that you believe will have lasting cultural resonance. It’s difficult to predict, but there is a big upside for those that can do so.

Is there something that draws you to connect with some pieces of art more than others?

It’s all about ideas. I like art that challenges my thinking. That isn’t necessarily about a particular medium or style of work. Even after many years in the business, I sometimes encounter artwork that really stops me and makes me think. That’s what I love about art and what keeps me engaged.

How does Asuwere suit your lifestyle?

The auction industry is fast paced and all-encompassing. I don't often have time to buy clothing. Asuwere cleaned up my act. The subscription has broadened my horizon. Asuwere sent me a salmon-coloured linen shirt at the end of last year. My Christmas party 'look' was next level.

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