Billy Apple®

Apple Turns to Gold
500 x 500 mm
UV impregnated pigment on canvas
Courtesy of the artist and Starkwhite, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Estimate: NZD 20,000 — 30,000

Bidding has closed - thank you!

At the heart of Apple’s practice over seven decades is the promise and allure of transformation. Apple is always ‘moving house’ between persona, product and ultimately in a form of secular canonization, a brand. In the early 1960s he transformed suburban Auckland boy Barrie Bates into the international conceptual artist Billy Apple®. In this work Apple Turns to Gold the gestation period has taken some 38 years, but as that quintessential New Yorker Lou Reed once wrote, “between thought and conception, lies a lifetime.”

Apple Turns to Gold also refers to Apple’s numerous forays into the world of precious metals, going back to the early 1980s. This iteration harks back to The Golden Apple collaboration with the Auckland Coin and Bullion exchange in 1983 and is entangled with the artist’s collaboration with the picaresque business man Ray Smith. These Tales of Gold were recorded in Billy Apple’s 2004 exhibition of the same name at Artspace, achieved in collaboration with Wystan Curnow.

Artist Biography & History
with Artspace Aotearoa:


Biographies of Transition: Too Busy To Think (group), 24 March – 28 April 2017

RGB (solo): Red Wall for Artspace, 2015, Green Wall, 2016, Blue Wall, 2017

SUCK (solo), 6 March – 20 March 2015, curated as part of POETRY IN MOTION, March – May 2015

Free New Zealand Art (group), 16 March – 16 April 2005

Tales of Gold (solo), 16 June – 3 July 2004, curated by Tobias Berger

35K (group), 15 June – 3 July 2004, curated by Tobias Berger

Money For Nothing (group), 10 May – 29 June 2003

Who Do I Think I Am, 13 – 30 October 1999, curated by Jim Barr, Mary Barr and Robert Leonard

Action Replay: Post Object Art, 7 October – 28 November 1998, a joint project with Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, with the support of Auckland Art Gallery

Self Portraits 1962-67, 6 August – 29 August 1997, curated by Wystan Curnow and staged at George Fraser Gallery

Billy Apple: Transactions, 17 March — 17 April 1987, staged at George Fraser Gallery


Tales of Gold: The Tale of Ray was published on the occasion of an exhibition of the same name in collaboration with Wystan Curnow, curated by Tobias Berger and exhibited at ARTSPACE from 16 June to 3 July 2004. It includes an essay by Wynstan Curnow and photographic documentation of the exhibition. A second edition was published by Billy Apple® in 2006.

Billy Apple®


Billy Apple® (b. 1935, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland) ONZM was awarded an ICON AWARD by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand in 2018. Beginning life as Barrie Bates, Billy Apple® created a new identity and brand in 1962. From this time Apple has been at the forefront of Pop and Conceptual art across an incredible six-decade career. Since the early 1960s and his time at the Royal College of Art and his participation in the seminal 1964 exhibition American Supermarket at Bianchini Gallery in New York, Apple has operated in the space between art, market and commercial dynamics and the complexities of the art object in the age of mass consumption and the dynamics of reproduction and image dissemination. Apple became a registered trademark in 2007, formalising his art brand status and his interest in intellectual property. Apple was the subject of a major career retrospective in 2015 at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki entitled Billy Apple: The Artist Has to Live Like Everybody Else. His work is held in public gallery collections in New Zealand, Australia and Tate In recent years Apple has exhibited extensively in New Zealand, Berlin, Shanghai, London, Hong Kong and Rotterdam. In 2019, Apple created a unique collaboration with the Tūhoe artist and activist Tame Iti, situated in Ruatoki with the installation of his classic Basic Needs series translated into Te Reo Māori and installed at Te Rewarewa Pā. In 2020 Apple’s career trajectory was the subject of two important publications, The Mirror Steamed Over by Anthony Byrt and Billy Apple: Life/Work by Christina Barton. Apple enjoyed a long and fertile relationship with Artspace dating to the 1990s. His work has featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions.

Apple Turns to Gold by Wystan Curnow, 2021

This is Billy Apple’s last painting. Since then he has turned to ashes. It is also my last Apple, and let me tell you that leaves a taste in the mouth. Dust to Dust. It wasn’t the plan. My Last Apple? What I mean is the words ‘Apple turns to gold’ are my doing, a re-purposing of my title for his show at the Auckland Coin & Bullion Exchange, Parnell, which lasted five days, from the 5th to the 10th of September, 1983. Nigh on forty years ago now. The typography is Billy’s adaptation of his A4 announcement flyer for the show. To my knowledge Apple Turns To Gold was the first and last art exhibition to take place at the Exchange. There was only one work on display: The Golden Apple, a 25c apple cast in 103.599 ounces of pure 24k gold. The idea for the show was his, an enlightening restatement of his best and perhaps his only idea. At the time he said that ‘with this work the substance of art and monetary value are one and the same. My name and the name of this object are, also, one and the same.’ So, the artist meant he is golden now. He has taken the words right out of my mouth and turned to gold! Words to conjure transubstantiation—I mean literally not liturgically.

Apple Turns To Gold was painted to make some dosh at auction for Artspace. Of course, Apple had exhibited at Artspace from its beginning, but there was one show in particular which motivated his making of the work: Tales of Gold: The Tale of Ray. An Installation by Billy Apple with Wystan Curnow, 16th June to 3rd July, 2004. It seemed closest to Artspace’s raison d’etre. That show also featured The Golden Apple, which had originally been sold for a price of $85,000, hence the heavy security — the uniformed guard — so out of place at Artspace. Auckland Coin & Bullion was not your normal art dealer, it was beholden to the bullion not the art market. No more was Artspace your normal public gallery, it was beholden to experimentation and critique, the art knowledge ‘market’. 

The difference between these spaces could hardly have been more stark, the one devoted to the private the other to the common good. The one says, Apple has tried the art market and now for some reason, maybe because the prices are higher there, he’s turning to the gold market. The other says, well, look, didn’t you see, the words pasted on the ceiling panels extracted from a book entitled Where’s the Gold? My Story (1994), by one Ray Smith, the former owner of the Auckland Coin & Bullion Exchange, in which he boasts about his lost wealth and whines about his imprisonment for defrauding his investors. Also in a small publication, I detailed his shady dealings with the moulds of The Golden Apple. Knowing that the abnegation of my own intellectual property rights is inherent in Apple’s work was no help to me, I was as mad as Billy was with Ray Smith, we’d been had.

Having agreed to lend The Golden Apple for The Tale of Ray, and most recently for Apple’s 2015 retrospective at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, its owner declined requests from the Museum Fridericianum, Kassel (1999), Witte de With, Rotterdam (2009), the Belvedere Palace Museum, Vienna (2012). Then in 2020 a request from MTG Hawkes Bay was met with an admission that ‘the Apple,’ as it was described, had been melted down, turned into gold and sold. Apple has been turned (back) to gold and gold to cash. At today’s prices it would have netted its owner over $260,000. He has claimed (counterfactually) that ’it had never been considered as an art object of value and more than its gold content’ and that as an apple had been…’ more of a Liability rather than an Asset. What a sorry experiment in the comprehension and commensurability of value and worth, of as a private and a public good. With Apple Turns To Gold it has another chance.