William Kentridge’s cat steals the show at Strauss & Co’s Auction Week

·      Kentridge’s bronze Cat from 1999 sells for R4 million/ $213 625

·      Paintings by George Pemba and Moses Tladi go for over 200% of estimate

·      Moderns like Pierneef and Preller hold ground

·      Demand for contemporary artists Georgina Gratrix and Nelson Makamo

 By CityLIfe Arts Writer

A rare bronze depicting a slinking cat, a key icon in William Kentridge’s output, led a solid performance by this acclaimed artist at Johannesburg Auction Week, Strauss & Co’s curated series of auctions of modern and contemporary art (6-8 November 2023). The bronze, titled Cat and produced in a limited edition of six in 1999, went to a buyer in the room for R4 million/ $213 625 following strong competition from a telephone bidder. Presented in the premier Evening Sale, Kentridge posted four of night’s top-ten results, followed by auction bellwether JH Pierneef with three works.

Johannesburg Auction Week featured a strong consignment of lots by Kentridge, including rare and collectable works on paper offered in a standalone auction titled Defining Impressions. Nine of the top-ten earners in this curated auction were by Kentridge, led by an artist’s proof of his sought-after colour etching Dutch Iris II, which fetched R981 963. While demand was soft across the auctions, reflecting a global trend, rare works by Kentridge, Nelson Makamo, George Pemba and Moses Tladi commanded higher than anticipated sale prices.

“We saw works by a diverse grouping of modern and contemporary artists fetch prices well above our estimates, particularly in our marquee Evening Sale,” says Frank Kilbourn, Chairperson, Strauss & Co. “There was extraordinary interest in paintings by George Pemba and Moses Tladi, which enabled us to achieve prices well over 200% of our estimates for clients selling with us. At a time of restrained demand it is encouraging to see strong interest in earlier black modernist painters, as well as contemporary artists. Our print sale Defining Impressions saw a rare lithograph by Nelson Makamo, printed in 2012 and limited to three, sell for nearly five times our estimate.”

Adds Frank Kilbourn: “The art market is subdued, a mood being reported globally at auctions and art fairs, but passion for art remains. Collectors are judicious and there is still strong demand for artists with institutional pedigree. We saw robust bidding for works by Kentridge, Pemba, Tladi and Alexis Preller, all artists with significant museum presence. Encouragingly, we also saw robust bidding in our Evening Sale for important artists like Georgina Gratrix, Sydney Kumalo, Alexis Preller and Cecil Skotnes. This diversity is important to note.”

Johannesburg Auction Week comprised three discrete sales of modern and contemporary art. The three sales earned a combined total of R39.6 / $2.1 million. 

After Kentridge’s Cat, the top-selling works in the Evening Sale included Alexis Preller’s 1952 painting Vibrating Figure, sold to a telephone bidder for R2.1 million / $109 864, and a gorgeous study in yellow of a willow tree by JH Pierneef from the estate of Professor Danie Joubert, which achieved R1.7 million / $91 553. Pierneef’s iconic Rustenburg Kloof exchanged hands for R3.2 million /$170 766 in a post-sale arrangement that met the pre-sale estimate.

High-value works traded in Defining Impressions included two multi-panel aquatint etchings by Kentridge depicting horses, Skeletal Horse and Triumph of Bacchus, which achieved R866 438 and R635 388 respectively. A trio of early etchings by Kentridge, Carlton Centre Games Arcade Series, dated 1978, drew considerable interest sold above estimate for R164 150 / $ 8 760. 

The concluding Day Sale saw Alexis Preller’s late composition Three Mangoes from 1963 top the results when it achieved R346 575/ $18 495. Works by Walter Battiss, Deborah Bell, David Goldblatt, Walter Meyer, Sam Nhlengethwa, Lucky Sibiya and Angus Taylor also achieved strong prices in this online-only presentation.


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