These include three online auctions, participation at the recent Investec Cape Town Art Fair and an exhibition that allowed in-person attendance.
By Edward Tsumele
The past two years have been difficult years for businesses all round, particularly those that rely on in-person contact for ease of doing business, such as those in the creative arts sector such as art galleries, fine art auctions, theatre, dance, art fairs, concerts and music festivals. Yes, the lingering danger of the virus is still there in the air, but with numbers of infection having markedly gone down, and the recent Omnicron virus having proven to be mild, coupled with an increasing number of people having vaccinated, this opened a window of opportunity for trading in the arts.
Now with the situation of Covid-19 having eased somehow, allowing in person trading, there is cause for celebration in the creative sector.
One such company that trades in the creative arts business, which has recently successfully taken advantage of the leeway when it comes to in-person trading conditions in the country is fine art auction house Strauss &Co.
The company recently organized and participated in a series of events that went well, both those that needed in person attendance and those that happened online.
Strauss &Co.’s recent three online auction sales went well, its participation in the Investec cape Town Art Fair, which allowed in-person attendance went smoothly, and so did its non-selling exhibition in Cape Town, the company reports.
In celebration of the return to in-person trading and hospitality, a welcome moment marked by the return of the 2022 Investec Cape Town Art Fair following a two-year hiatus, Strauss & Co successfully hosted an intensive programme of events. They included a well-received exhibition of figurative art, entitled Giving Direction: Figuration, Past and Present, held at Welgemeend in Cape Town, as well as three online-only auctions of art, decorative art and fine wine, the fine art auction company reveals.
“Our vibrant programme of educational and sales events started with a series of webinars in support of our non-selling exhibition of African historical, modern and contemporary artists working in a figurative tradition, and culminated with three online auctions,” says Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director. “The exhibition Giving Direction: Figuration, Past and Present featured nearly 70 African artists. This remarkable project curated by our team of experts showcased figuration as a powerful conceptual thread linking artists of various nationalities and time periods.”
Strauss & Co continues to invest heavily in education, supporting the production of exhibitions that promote its core business. In 2021, during lulls in the rolling pandemic, Strauss & Co presented two important non-selling exhibitions. “Strauss & Co is committed to producing vibrant and relevant educational content as part of its social obligation to the arts sector,” says Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co. “Giving Direction: Figuration, Past and Present was an important opportunity to reconnect with old friends and existing clients, but it also provided an important platform to introduce a transforming Strauss & Co to international collectors visiting Cape Town again after a long absence.”
Curated by Strauss & Co staff members Mia Borman, Leigh Leyde and Wilhelm van Rensburg, Giving Direction: Figuration, Past and Present included works by important moderns and auction bellwethers Ben Enwonwu, Gerard Sekoto and Irma Stern. The exhibition also included works by important contemporary artists such as William Kentridge, Zanele Muholi, Cinga Samson and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, all now well established at auction. A series of educational webinars curated by Kate Fellens, Strauss & Co’s Belgium-based client liaison responsible for expanding the company’s international presence, explored themes proposed by the exhibition.
The vigorous talks programme commenced with a presentation from Oliver Enwonwu, a former president of the Society of Nigerian Artists (2009–21) and son of influential Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu. Other notable contributors included Cape Town businessman and collector Atose Aguele, Investec Cape Town Art Fair director Laura Vincenti and Zimbabwean art dealer Valerie Kabov, a key figure behind the Emerging Painting Invitational (EPI) Prize. Kabov spoke on a panel with three artists: Ayobola Kekere-Ekun from Nigeria, Helen Teede from Zimbabwe and Teresa Kutala Firmino from South Africa.
“The turnout at the opening of this impressive exhibition was extraordinary and reinforced the importance of in-person contact,” says Bina Genovese. “It was a joy to see Cape Town once again host artists, dealers and collectors from all parts of the world. The desire to rebuild and reconnect was palpable. At Strauss & Co we recognise that social contact is integral to the business of promoting and selling art.”
Strauss & Co’s involvement in the activities that mushroomed around the 2022 Investec Cape Town Art Fair coincided with the launch of three timed online-only sales. A seven-session auction of art and decorative arts netted R5.8 million from 340 lots sold. The first wine sale of 2022 featured an exciting Rhône valley and Rhône-style offering and netted R590 354 from 81 of 91 lots sold. Strauss & Co also renewed its commitment to the EPI Prize by hosting a standalone sale of works by artists shortlisted for this pan-African award.
William Kentridge and Dylan Lewis posted the top results in the general auction of art and decorative arts. Kentridge’s Dancer in Red Sash, an editioned screenprint from 1996, sold for R175 875. The sale price tied that achieved by Lewis for his Centennial Black Rhinoceros Maquette (S039); the bronze sculpture is dated 1995. Rounding out the top five lots were Adriaan Boshoff’s undated oil Ox Wagon (sold for R152 425), Walter Meyer’s 2008 oil Dirt Road with Truck (sold for R140 700) and Gregoire Boonzaier’s 1990 oil Yellow House and Large Tree (sold for R117 250).
The consignment of jewellery and silver in the decorative arts session attracted enthusiastic bidding. A silver two-handled tray by Samuel Godbehere and Edward Wigan, London, 1799, sold for R32 830. An assembled set of Victorian silver “Fiddle” pattern flatware that included pieces by Joseph Rodgers & Sons and John Round, London & Sheffield, 1893–1903, sold for R23 450. A Victorian red-glass and silver-gilt-mounted scent bottle by Sampson Mordan & Co, London, 1856, sold well above estimate for R9 967. A gem-set charm bracelet with flat curb link chain suspending various charms drew considerable interest and achieved a sale price of R37 520.
Wine collectors demonstrated remarkable appetite for wines by Porseleinberg and Sadie Family. Three separate lots of Porseleinberg winemaker Callie Louw’s 2015 vintage Syrah fetched top prices. A lot containing a dozen bottles of this standalone vintage sold for R32 830, while the two lots featuring six bottles sold for R21 105 each. The 2007 vintage of winemaker Eben Sadie’s long-ageing Columella achieved the top price among the three vintages offered, achieving R25 795 for six bottles. The 2012 vintage sold for R21 105 and the 2011 vintage achieved R18 760; both lots featured six bottles each.
Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co’s chairperson, commenting on the successes of the wine department in the newly published 2021 Annual Review, states: “Our wine venture has certainly come of age and the results achieved underscore our deep belief in the quality and value of fine South African wines.”
South African artist Ravelle Pillay won the third edition of the EPI Prize and was awarded $3 000 in prize money. Her monochrome painting Cake sold to an online buyer for R21 105. All proceeds from the sale will go to the artist. “Supporting the EPI Prize is an important part of our on-going commitment to young artists on the continent,” said Susie Goodman. “We were particularly encouraged this year to see outstanding work by artists from eight different African countries – Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, and Tunisia – with really strong woman artists making their voices heard.”
Strauss & Co’s next sale is a general online-only auction (7–14 March 2022). It includes important lots by artists Gregoire Boonzaier, William Kentridge, Fred Page, Ruth Prowse, Maud Sumner and Guy Tillim.