CityLife Arts

Aspire Auctions hosts iconic Irma Stern and William Kentridge works

By Edward Tsumele

Art collectors are definitely looking forward to Aspire Auction’s first fine art auction this year, which takes place in Cape Town on March 4. Not only is this auction taking place amid uncertainties about the current situation of Covid-19, that again will see the auction going the virtual way, but also because some of the country’s most popular collectable artists  William Kentridge and Irma Stern, will have their works up for bidding. The two artists’ works are always popular with collectors at auctions.

Both artists’ works  graced many an auction event in this country, including last year when the art market had to navigate its way around the complications of Covid -19 by hosting hybrid events, that is both in the physical as well  as virtually.

Irma Stern’s best works confirm her stature as a consummate artist and celebrated colourist. Nowhere is this better observed than in her still life paintings. Dahlias and Fruit is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant examples Stern ever produced. Alive with colour and bursting with energy, it draws the viewer into the heart of its luscious array of flowers and fruits. Complementary colours are made to animate one another: crimson reds vibrate against lush greens, the vivid lemon vase accentuates the lilac blooms and cloth, while orange dahlias pulse against the blue background.
Her joy in both the subject and her medium of paint is palpable reminding us how much Stern enjoyed food and flowers, whether capturing their voluptuous forms or consuming them in ample quantities! This glorious still life has all the immediacy of a work painted with passion and completed in the heat of the moment without hesitation.    

Kentridge’s works captivate audiences in galleries and museums worldwide and set sale rooms alight with competitive bidding. This was the case when we set a world record with Drawing from Stereoscope (Double page, Soho in two rooms) selling for R6,600,400 in October 2018, beating our own world record of R5,456,640 for Drawing from Mine (Soho with Coffee Plunger and Cup) set in November 2017. More recently we sold Drawing for Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris (Soho Eating) for €232,200 in an auction in Paris in 2020. The drawings from Kentridge’s celebrated animated film series, combining both his artistic and literary sensibility, are undoubtedly amongst the most sought-after works.
“We are extremely pleased to present Kentridge’s Drawing from Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Old (Mrs Eckstein, preparing for the day) in our 4 March auction in Cape Town. Kentridge won the Rembrandt Gold Medal at the Cape Town Triennial in 1991 for the animated film from whence this drawing stems, in which Soho and Felix resume their contest for the affections of the beloved Mrs Eckstein, the object of desire. In fact, she is the real subject of the films, as the artist’s brother Matthew Kentridge states in his celebrated book. And here she is — Mrs Eckstein in all her splendour, giving herself over to the pleasure of dancing in anticipation of what lays ahead.,” says Aspire ahead of the auction.
Another Kentridge work that will grace the auction, Untitled (Scene before the Paris Opera) was likely produced around 1985/6 – a time of political upheaval in South Africa to which Kentridge responded with powerful works that marked his emergence as a significant multi-disciplinary artist. Since studying at the l’École Jacques Lecoq in the early 1980s, Kentridge has had an abiding interest in the city of Paris, evident in this early drawing with its ornate façade evoking the Paris Opera. As the home of the original phantom of the opera and the primary theatre of the Paris Opera until 1989, it provides the backdrop to naked wrestlers observed from an urbane coffee shop counter, an ideal vantage point from which to contemplate a scene of intense passions.
 Kentridge’s colourful Dutch Iris prints are highly sought-after. Exceeding the limitations of printmaking, they capture painterly effects exquisitely. No longer is intaglio a means of replication, but the artist’s mastery of the medium is said to achieve such heights and flexibility that it rivals painting.   .Currently Aspire is hosting a series of Johannesburg previews of the auction at their Illovo offices, and attendance by collectors is through prior-booking due to Covid-19 protocols in place.
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