By CityLife Arts Writer
Aspire Art Auctions’ recent sale of Modern and Contemporary art in Johannesburg yielded impressive results, with many lots selling well within and above their estimate range – a resounding statement about the continuing strength of the local art market in challenging economic times and within a newly socially distanced environment.
The auction was conducted virtually from Aspire’s gallery in Johannesburg with bidding taking place in real-time online and by telephone. Featuring 168 works by 103 artists, the auction focused on South African art and included works from 10 African countries (Benin, DRC, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sudan, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe) as well as representing artists from Europe, the UK and USA.
The sale saw a 140% increase in registrants compared to the 2019 Spring Auction, with one fifth of bidders being first time bidders with Aspire. More than 30% of the bidders originated from abroad, most notably from the USA, the UK, Germany and Switzerland. Ultimately, 60% of lots sold were purchased by online bidders, indicating a shift towards increased confidence in buying art via a virtual saleroom.
Top Lots: The star of the sale was Edoardo Villa’s magnificent large-scale steel sculpture Traverse from 1957 which, after competitive telephone bidding, sold for an astounding R4,893,400, more than R1.8 million above its high estimate and setting a new world record at auction for the artist, surpassing the previous record also held by Aspire for the sale of Black Construction (1958) in 2017 by over R3 million.
Almost 6 meters in length, Traverse was initially commissioned in the late 1950s by the celebrated modernist architect Monty Sack, for the original Carlton Hotel complex in Johannesburg. Villa completed the work the same year he was selected to represent South Africa at the São Paulo Biennale in Brazil where he received an Honourable Mention.
“There is no doubt,” said Emma Bedford, Director and Senior Specialist at Aspire, “that discerning collectors are seeking top quality art; and work of the calibre of Edoardo Villa’s Traverse rarely comes up for sale. It offered savvy collectors the unique opportunity to acquire an impressive sculpture unlike any other in his oeuvre – a museum piece!’.
Villa’s other sculpture Standing Form, a large vertical figure of tubular forms also sold well at R820,750.
The auction boasted an impressive collection of works by the world-renowned William Kentridge which performed strongly, further reinforcing the position of the artist and growing demand for his work. The sublime Dancer Twice suite of charcoal drawings from 1996 achieved R2,579,500, while the limited edition bronze sculptures from 2016 Sister Cone and Sister Fan each sold for R1,172 500 and Sister Box sold at R1,113, 875. Kentridge’s iconic print Scribble Cat (2010) achieved R762,125.
Robert Hodgins’ vibrant and comical painting, A Suit of Flames and a Brooks Bros’ Shirt (1997), drew a lot of interest and sold for an impressive R1,081,100.
More than half of the lots on offer were by artists of colour with over a third by women artists. Contemporary art accounted for a solid 70% of the sale while photography and new media works made up over 30% of the collection.
Credited as one of the pioneers of Black Modernism in South Africa, both of George Pemba’s paintings enjoyed attention and sold well above their estimates achieving a shared total of R432,440.
Penny Siopis’ striking painting Spirit Matter (2016) sold for R410,375 while both Zanele Muholi and Mary Sibande’s works performed well with Muholi’s Sasa, Bleecker, New York (2016) selling at R117,250 and Sibande’s Silent Symphony selling at R102,420.
Work by Nelson Makamo continues to be a firm favourite amongst local and international collectors. His emotive drawing Boys Likes Flowers Too (2018) sold for R187,600. Current Standard Bank Young Artist Blessing Ngobeni’s The Gold is Mine (2017) diptych sold for R93,800.
Nelson Makamo, Boys Likes Flowers Too (sic), 2018 | SOLD FOR R187 600
Blessing Ngobeni, The Gold is Mine, diptych, 2017 | SOLD FOR R93 800
Aspire’s continuing emphasis on the excellence and incredible value inherent in South African photography remains proven. The demand for rare and good quality photographs remains high and is evident in the strong results achieved. Following the recent international exhibitions celebrating the work of lauded photographer David Goldblatt, all four photographs from his acclaimed Particulars, Johannesburg, Some Afrikaners Photographed and Fietas series sold at a combined total of R825,050.
David Goldblatt, Philamon Mabunda, flat cleaner, Geraldine Court, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, July 1972 | SOLD FOR R227 600
David Goldbaltt, Fire Place – In Fietas, before its destruction under the Group Areas Act (35CT–03) | SOLD FOR R142 250
South African Records:
In his debut appearances at auction in South Africa, a local record was established when British artist Allen Jones’ large watercolour titled The Knife Thrower (1978) sold for R182,080 – double its high estimate. Records were also set for contemporary artists Michael MacGarry and newcomers to auction Gerald Machona and Khanyisile Mbongwa.
Allen Jones, The Knife Thrower,1978 | SOLD FOR R182 080
“We at Aspire are encouraged by these results” says Ruarc Peffers, MD and Senior Art Specialist. “It indicates that even in trying times, investing in art remains timeless. We look forward to developing our next auctions, serving our clients in managing their collections and to further contributing to supporting and strengthening the art market”.