#artmarket Blom, Mahlangu and Mthethwa
Tonight three paintings by Zander Blom will go under the hammer at Strauss & Co's Cape Town auction. The untitled work pictured above is the best of the three, which is reflected in the estimate in the catalogue: between R80 000 and R120 000. It will be interesting to see what it fetches; an older work from one of his early Rooke Gallery exhibitions was recently being sold at the Ebony Gallery for R125 000. That piece was probably more collectable as Blom dispensed with that mode of photographing in situ paintings. With the Stevenson whip hovering above his back he has consistently produced a collection of paintings annually, except for 2015. As such he has produced numerous paintings since he nailed his mast to the wind and bravely committed to painting rather than photographing 'failed' paintings. Given the punishing exhibition schedule, his painting experiments have been on exhibition and has sort of become part of his modus operandi, even if the results are at time disappointing. To be sure it is always interesting to see what he will do with paint each year.
He has been on a journey not only of discovery but is actually rather interestingly compelled by novelty. He is also more obsessed with painting than the final products in a way so he often produces some hellish works that naughtily test the taste of art consumers, who apparently would buy anything by Blom - some of his shows notoriously sell out (or close to) before opening night. Undoubtedly he is one of the country's most interesting abstraction artists and embraced that mode again before it was fashionable. He may have made it fashionable, actually.
So where does the value in his work lie? Why are people auctioning his work off now, rather than holding onto it to let it accrue more value or has the Blom novelty train reached its end destination already? Will his work continue to fetch high prices in the long-term? Sometimes when an artist is too fashionable, they can just as quickly become unfashionable. Selling Blom now is a good idea, while the appetite for abstract art remains firm and his reputation and art cachet is still solid. If he produces a couple of bad shows in future, gets dropped by Stevenson and falls off the art radar, this work might lose value. The buyers probably got it for a reasonable price back in 2011; it was his second show with Stevenson and the value of his work was beginning to rise - now it is probably through the roof.
He has a German dealer (probably others too) and I expect his international sales might be good and the value of his work there might be holding regardless of his local 'coolness' factor. This would all make this work a good investment but for the fact that it is one of his least interesting. It might not be as challenging as some of his crazy blobby works but it is not terribly novel either; I can think of many other paintings and phases he has been through that are far more interesting.
Beadwork is not collectable. Is this a terrible oversight or is it indicative of the fact that the craft aspect in art, which has been taken up by a new generation of artists has become embedded in a conceptualist and abstractionist modes that can be readily distinguished from African tradition? The sale of this work ties in very nicely with the fact that BMW appear to have renewed their relationship with this celebrated Ndbele artist. This piece is visually compelling; it has art deco undercurrents and reveals the undeniable beauty of African aesthetics, traditions. Mahlungu is extraordinary; she has carved out a place that few of her ilk have done. She is getting on too and much of her work is probably is not very object based or readily accessible. All of these factors make this an excellent investment. I believe it will fetch far more than the R30 000 estimate.
This painting by Zwelethu Mthethwa titled by The Light of the Moon is eerie and haunting to consider given he is alleged to have murdered a young prostitute in the wee hours of the morning. There is a reason that Mthethwa is known as a photographer rather than a painter; his photography is far stronger than his painted works. Barring the heinous crime he is thought to have committed this painting would probably not receive any attention at all or be on auction, or would be expected to fetch very little. This is the twisted reality. The outcome of Mthethwa's trial has yet to be determined - the evidence suggests he is guilty. Should an artist's deeds and attitudes have any impact on how we read or value their art? In this instance where such a terrible crime was committed, my opinion would be swayed. If you owned this piece you probably would want to offload it; it will be interesting to see who would want to buy it, though I doubt they will ever consider hanging it in their home for all to see.