Naturally, it was the Irma Stern painting, Still Life with Lilies (1947), that fetched the highest sum at last night's Strauss & Co auction in Cape Town, drumming up just over R10-million. However, my attention and interest is in the contemporary art market, living artists, so my focus was on the artworks fetching the highest sum in this area, which turned out to be the Penny Siopis's Lace Cloth which fetched over R1-million - as did William Kentridge's charcoal drawing, Woman with Pink Knees. Oddly, I would have thought that Kentridge's Black Box/Chambre Noire wooden viewer-cum-stereoscope was more valuable, but that only fetched around R20 000. A gross oversight; the charcoal drawing is very ho-hum and does not embody the essence of his practice in the way that the Black Box work does. Dealers, the public, like a painting, a female body above all it seems. Is it a conservative buyer that you find at auction?
The secondary market for contemporary South African art is limited, which somehow does not match the buoyancy in the fast-expanding gallery scene where prices are getting a little silly. The Zander Blom works that I wrote about in the previous post did not perform that well with the more important piece only fetching R102 312. One of the smaller works from 2012 only fetched R20 463. In other words you would be best off snapping up a Blom at auction than via a gallery.
Colbert Mashile's Priest (pictured above) fetched R53 430, which was a decent sum for his work. I hear he does well, which is why Everard Read took a body of his work to 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. A page from Malcolm Payne's old ID book and a sleek wooden sculpture by Willem Boshoff did not sell.
The activity and trends in the gallery scene are not filtering down into the secondary auction market; there was not I believe a single work on auction by an artist from elsewhere on the continent. This is hugely significant given the focus that all the larger auction houses in London, New York and now France have all set up divisions dedicated to art from the continent.