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From Pierneef to Pefection: Aspire Has It All

The line-up for Aspire Art Auction’s inaugural sale at The Park on 7 in Hyde Park, Johannesburg included an extraordinary selection of art with wide appeal.

Works offered by Aspire Art Auctions range from JH Pierneef’s breathtaking Karoo near Hofmeyer, painted in 1930 probably while travelling to gather visual documentation for the new Park Station panel commission, to Dan Halter’s ultraviolet light, Pefection, inspired by an embroidered scatter cushion depicting a cheerful scene and the word ‘pefection’ (without the letter r), a reflection on the “state of denial or ignorance at play in the Zimbabwe political landscape,” according to Andrew Lamprecht, art academic and curator.

Top works by Irma Stern and Alexis Preller will enhance any serious collection. Stern’s Malay Girl, painted in 1946 after a second sojourn in Zanzibar, shows one of the treasured woven raffia mats she included in her Zanzibar book and exhibitions to evoke the island that so inspired her. The painting’s great appeal results from Stern’s ability to empathise with her sitter, gaining sufficient trust to capture the young girl in an unguarded moment. What is conveyed is the loveliness of youth – her intelligence, confidence and curiosity.

Alexis Preller’s painting, Profile Figures (Mirrored Image) of 1968, was so highly regarded that it was selected by the artist and Dr. Albert Werth, the then-director of the newly built Pretoria Art Museum, to be prominently displayed on Preller’s acclaimed retrospective of 1972. Its installation at the front entrance, to be seen directly on entering the exhibition, is keenly remembered by art historian and artist, Professor Karel Nel, whose authoritative catalogue text provides unique insights into this rare work.

Good quality works at modest prices were found amongst the pages of Aspire’s highly sought-after catalogue which features sumptuous images accompanied by texts from many of South Africa’s most respected art historians, art critics and cultural commentators, offering their acute insights into key works of art.

The earliest work offered, Drying Fruit, painted in 1896, is a fine example of Hugo Naudé’s early academic training at the Slade School of Art in London during the years 1989-90. However, as art historian Dr. Eunice Basson points out, before returning permanently to South Africa in 1896, Naudé spent a year working with the artists known collectively as the Barbizon Group at Fontainebleau in France and this painting provides evidence of their proto-Impressionist influence.

From Pierneef to Pefection: Aspire Has It All
Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, South African 1886-1957, Karoo near Hofmeyer, 1930, signed and dated, oil on board, 40 x 55cm.

By comparison, the most recent work also offered by Aspire Art Auctions, a tapestry of wool and gold thread entitled Convention…Procession…Elevation made in 2013 by Athi-Patra Ruga is described by multi-award winning arts journalist, Lwandile Fikeni, as “a work of extreme beauty and imagination” that “refuses to be hemmed in by the visual language deployed in poverty pornography, which trades in graphic African despair”.

Landscapes by artists such as Paul du Toit and Erik Laubscher capture the beauty and particularities of the local, while Stanley Pinker and William Kentridge disturb any sense of equilibrium in their magnificent landscapes that are, as James Sey remarks in the catalogue, “much more obviously contested and mutable terrains”.

Maggie Laubser’s Portrait of a Woman with a Head Scarf, from her Langebaan phase, brings, according to Johan Myburg, the expressiveness of her German period to bear on her deepening understanding of the working people around her. Whether painting Senegalese dancers or a group of women talking, Gerard Sekoto’s paintings “evidence his lifelong connection to the spirit, nature, people, culture and forms of Africa,” as Alexandra Dodd points out.

From a sexy, gender-bender Battiss that radically subverts the history of the nude to Penny Siopis’s feminist-inspired engagements with subject and material in her sought-after Cake paintings, artists provide works that challenge preconceptions. Robert Hodgins never fails to expose and entertain through his incisive critiques of human nature.

Sculptures vary from Edoardo Villa’s acknowledgement of French artist, Aristide Maillol as one of the great masters of modernism to Wim Botha’s heads that draw on classical and contemporary sources and Ed Young’s cheeky nude self-portrait. Impressive photographs by award-winners, David Goldblatt and Pieter Hugo, explore, respectively, questions of what constitutes a place in the South African landscape and the economically marginalised of Nigeria.

For more information on Aspire Art Auctions, visit their website at or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

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