Ian Brackenbury Channell graduated with double honors in psychology and sociology from the University of Leeds. After a brief time as a sociology lecturer and graduate student, Channell’s department supervisor at the University of New South Whales dismissed him, believing he was crazy. Channell, with the help of the student union, persuaded the vice chancellor of the university to allow him to stay on campus and continue his experiments in alternate reality (with pay). He officially changed his name to the Wizard of New Zealand.
The Wizard of New Zealand looks like a wizard, dresses like a wizard, behaves as a wizard, and regularly gives public speeches.
More bizarre is that the University of Melbourne gave him the official position of “Wizard” and chair of his own Department of Cosmology.
The New Zealand Art Director’s Council recognized him as a living work of art.
Christchurch City Council officially recognized him as the Wizard of Christchurch.
Prime Minister Mike Moore recognized him as the official Wizard of New Zealand (1990).
In 2009, the Wizard of New Zealand was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal.
I first read about the Wizard of New Zealand in Art Today by Edward Lucie-Smith. He’s covered under the performance art section of the book. Performance art often falls within the domain of conceptual art and I love conceptual art. The best conceptual art challenges all intuitive sense of what art really is. Forget the artist who paints a single line across the canvass, Marcel Duchamp signed his nom de plume to a urinal and Piero Manzoni canned his own feces and sold them with the label Artist’s Shit. Manzoni produced 90 cans in 1961 but what really makes this interesting is that in recent years his cans are auctioning for over $150,000.00! Does that make sense?
Anyhow, I was talking to an artist friend of mine about Lucie-Smith’s inclusion of the Wizard of New Zealand in Art Today and was utterly surprised when my friend hastily declared, “Lucie-Smith is over reaching.” Evidently my friend—an abstract assemblage artist—either didn’t know a whole lot about the state of contemporary art or, more likely, had a very strong biased reaction. Nonetheless, we generally consider performance to be an art form and it’s hard to deny that the Wizard of New Zealand is anything other than a living performance. In fact, I believe the Wizard of New Zealand is the ultimate statement in self-determination.
Despite very impressive recognitions here and there, the Wizard hasn’t shared the wild financial success that many high profile conceptual artists have enjoyed. Despite occasional recognition as an artist, the Wizard appears to give primacy to his role as Wizard. Conceptual artists often make tangible products such as photographs of their performance or products of some kind (for commerce), and I am not sure the Wizard does this. I have read that the Wizard lives on modest stipends and by the support of friends. This is an indication that he has not cracked the contemporary art superstar scene where a few hundred thousand dollars is pocket change.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the Wizard’s property has been subject to vandalism and his house burned in arson. Some people evidently hate non-conformist!
What makes the Wizard of New Zealand interesting is that an individual case like this can lead to some serious philosophical, sociological, and psychological enquiry. For example, I’m compelled to ask why such trivial cases incite extreme emotional reactions from love to hate. Is the Wizard just another eccentric or something more than that? What are the sociological borders between eccentricity, insanity, and art? What are the sociological statuses of eccentricity, insanity, and art? What are the psychological consequences of disregarding an organic identity for an alter ego? But what really interests me about this case (and about contemporary art in general) is the issue of legitimacy and its relationship to authority and capital.
All that said, I’m seriously considering commissioning some work by the Wizard of New Zealand and the Baron of Caux (for diversification) after which I will launch an advertising campaign in Art News to increase my chances for inclusion in Art Basil where I will triple my investors’ money. But don’t get too excited guys! First, I need a couple hundred thousand dollars Any takers?
In the mean time, the Wizard stars in a documentary film…Check it out!