Strauss & Co appointed Frank Kilbourn as its new executive chairman and added to its team of art specialists.
Co-founder, Elisabeth Bradley, has retired as Chairman of the board, however, will remain a board member. Welz’s wife, Carmen, joined the Strauss board. The company has also brought in Wilhelm van Rensburg and Marion Dixon as art specialists based at the company’s Johannesburg office. Frank Kilbourn shared his vision for his new role as Executive Chairman at this successful South African art auction company with Lore Watterson of Creative Feel.
‘Every year we do an annual charity event at Welgemend in Cape Town for the upkeep of the Boerneef Collection, which includes works by Irma Stern, Maggie Laubser, Cecil Higgs, Jean Welz, JH Pierneef and Alexis Preller, among others. We raise money together, I exhibit some of my artwork, we do an auction and have a very exclusive function and at the end of the evening, we can renovate a room per year at Welgemend. It was an ideal opportunity to work together with Strauss & Co and through that, Stephan and I became friends.’
‘I knew Dr Strauss from my Standard Bank days so he asked whether I would consider getting involved and I said: “yeah, one day I will think about it”. One day became tomorrow and the event arose a lot quicker than we ever thought.’ Kilbourn’s personal background with regard to the arts date back many years. When asked how that came about and what the first purchase of his collection was, he remembers, ‘The first piece of art we bought when Lizelle and I first got our salaries, was a little work by Gordon Vorster and another work by Anine Barnard. I just did it because I really loved it and I paid it off.’
If you don’t get enjoyment out of looking at art and it doesn’t give you that emotional return, then it’s better to buy listed shares. If you don’t love it, buy something else. You have to love it – that is the core of it. It’s a good investment; you’ve got a double whammy because you love it.
Creative Feel asked if he sees Strauss & Co as strictly appealing to the South African art market or as an international auctioneer, able to compete with the likes of London-based auction houses. Kilbourn says, ‘We’re a relatively small market by world terms, but we’re becoming a higher-profile market. And with African art really becoming a focus point and something that people worldwide are more and more interested in.’
‘For South African art, if we hold our own, have higher visibility, more people internationally will start collecting it. So I think, there’s going to be greater profiles. And I think one of the questions that we’re going to have to figure out over time is how do we actually compete in that market? By going to London? Or do we compete the way that we do right now, by actually giving a very competitive commission structure that is significantly cheaper in terms of sellers and buyers who trade in South Africa.’
‘In terms of how you do your business and how you interact, I think that is where Strauss has built up a really good reputation in the market. And I think we’re going to have to keep on doing that to do even better. I always say, it’s Strauss’s very successes that created the opportunity for other competitors to come into the South African market. Success always brings competition and I say competition compels excellence. I think it’s good for the art market.’
All images are courtesy of Strauss & Co.