New collectors scour online art auction to snatch art despite economic uncertainties

By Edward Tsumele

The state of the global economy is currently not in its best position, partly due to the effects of the coronavirus that is curtailing full uninterrupted economic activities. But the state of the economy is seemingly not deterring people from investing in art. A recent online art auction featured by Strauss &Co. a leading fiune art auction house in South Africa, which ran four days, ending on Monday, performed well at over 75% percent sale through (selling 75%the number of items .offered for sale.

Among the collectors who did bid successfully for the art works are first time buyers, suggesting that the interesting in investing in art is enduring the difficulties of the current uncertain economic situation.

Sales results released by Strauss &Co. for its recent online auction, yesterday, August 26, show that 25% of the successful bidders of the 415 pieces that were bought are new buyers on its online platform. In the 2008 global financial instability, art interestingly did well as investors put their money in art as the value of art does not get affected by financial instabilities such as inflation.

More than 500 bidders from a dozen countries participated in Strauss & Co’s successful online-only sale celebrating Women’s Month, which concluded on 23 August with sales totalling R6.1 million. The sale, which included a session of works selected by Amohelang Mohajane, curator of the NWU Gallery at North-West University, saw new buyers place more than a quarter of the winning bids. Of the 415 lots sold through Strauss & Co’s automated online trading platform, the great majority sold either within or above their pre-sale estimates.

“We aspire to consistency in our diversified line up of sales throughout the year,” says Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co. “The sale yielded generally strong prices for sellers and the lot sell-through rate surpassed the industry standard of 70%, with three quarters of the lots finding buyers. The wine session, which presented first-class French and South African producers, did unbelievably well, achieving a 97% lot sell-through rate. We achieved solid results for historical artists like Errol Boyley, Hugo Naudé, Larry Scully and Maud Sumner, while at the same time providing a platform for women artists through our collaboration with Amohelang Mohajane and partnership with RMB’s Talent Unlocked programme.”

The top-selling individual lot in the sale was Maud Sumner’s delightful School of Paris oil on board genre piece, Still Life with Fruit and Jug of Flowers, which sold for R128 975. Originally acquired from the artist by Professor Geoffrey Pearse, the first head of the architecture department at the University of the Witwatersrand, the Sumner lot featured in Amohelang Mohajane’s wonderfully eclectic selection of 31 pieces by a multi-generation cohort of acclaimed women artists.

Other lots included in Mohajane’s session that performed well were Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi’s mythological oil composition, Modern Life: You Have Lost the Bird, You Only Have the Feathers, which sold well above estimate for R58 625. Two silkscreens by Esther Mahlangu also went above estimate, as did an abstract composition on paper by Nel Erasmus. An early painting by Cecily Sash portraying a sculpture of an African head sold for R37 520.

“Amohelang Mohajane is an incredibly passionate curator and enthusiastic collaborator,” says Susie Goodman. “She made a vital contribution to our sale through her selection, which showcased the breadth of art produced by South African women across the twentieth century up until today.”

Other notable artworks sold in this sale included paintings by Errol Boyley, Walter Meyer, John Murray and Larry Scully. Meyer’s 2008 depiction of a rural railway station, which sold for R99 663, formed part of eight lots in a dedicated fundraising session for Welgemeend Art Month 2021. Strauss & Co chairperson Frank Kilbourn and his wife, Lizelle Kilbourn, generously donated the Meyer composition. The Kilbourns are patrons of Welgemeend Art Month, an annual art festival held in Cape Town. 

A diptych by John Murray depicting two female heads with face paint from 2001 sold for R82 075. Bidder enthusiasm for Errol Boyley’s Marshland with Geese in Flight saw this undated impressionist landscape sell for R82 075, well above estimate. A long horizontal composition by Larry Scully dated 1973, when this abstract painter was at the height of his acclaim, fetched R76 213. Hugo Naudé’s hymn to spring in Namaqualand achieved the same price.

As part of its commitment to honouring Women’s Month, a national event paying tribute to the role of women in challenging apartheid, Strauss & Co partnered with RMB’s Talent Unlocked, a professional mentorship programme, to offer work by 12 women artists. The programme was developed by RMB Private Bank to empower South African artists and raise their profile and prospects of prosperity. Paintings by Selloane Moeti, Tayhe Munsamy and Tamara Osso all found buyers. The pick of the crop was Moeti’s The Matriarchy, a frontal portrait of three female figures produced from oil, red clay, coal and holy ash, which sold for R49 245. Three enigmatic paper constructions by Michele Rolstone also sold above estimate.

Strauss & Co’s wine department has been posting consistently strong results since its first sale in 2019. This sale was no exception. The wine session achieved R727 185 from 100 of 103 lots sold. Standout lots sold included half-dozen cases of De Trafford’s 2009 CWG Syrah, sold for R15 243, and Hartenberg’s 2005 The Stork, sold for R 11 725. The sale included four lots of Porseleinberg’s celebrated Syrah, all of which sold above estimate. The 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages of Callie Louw’s Swartland wine achieved R25 795 each, and the 2015 vintage sold for a no less respectable sum of R19 933.

Strauss & Co’s next sale is a specialist live virtual auction titled Impression/Expression. This bespoke sale continues with a recent programme at Strauss & Co of hosting specialist sales focussing on particular aspects of South African art history. Impression/Expression commences at 6pm on Tuesday, 14 September 2021 and will be livestreamed from Strauss & Co’s offices in Johannesburg.

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