Headlining the work on offer at Aspire’s Cape Town auction is a rare Alexis Preller intaglio work from 1970, Gold Angel (Arêté), exhibited on his very last show at the Goodman Gallery. Among other modern art highlights are two other significant works by Preller – one expressionistic early work, of dancing figures in an interior, The Dance, and a mid-period work from 1956, Vase and head in profile, which prefigures many of the themes and styles of his later work. Two beautifully rendered small sculptures by Sydney Kumalo are also on sale, titled Figure on Bull and Leopard, following on from the success achieved by Aspire in November 2017 at their Johannesburg sale. At that sale, Kumalo’s Mythological Rider fetched a world record R1 932 560.
The auction also has a special focus on contemporary art, an area in which Aspire has consistently led the auction market. Leading the work on offer in this area is an extraordinary work by highly respected contemporary painter Robert Hodgins. This massive canvas was executed between 1997 and 1998, and was the eponymous work of his exhibition at the Goodman Gallery. A Night at the Awards is a triptych measuring almost 5 metres by 2 metres, and is a brilliant example of Hodgins’ renowned talents for colour and composition.
It is significant that some of the major works on the sale are from up-and-coming contemporary artists with a growing, younger following and a dynamic in their work that is setting a new agenda in the South African art world, one focused strongly on race, gender and identity politics. One of the leading lights in this shift is Athi-Patra Ruga. This Cape Town-based artist works in performance and staged photography, in which he enacts an idiosyncratic world peopled with characters of his own making, all with humorous, colourful yet politically charged identities and fluid sexualities. Two outstanding works appear on the sale: The Night of the Long Knives III (2013), a staged photograph set in the imaginary realm of Azania, and exhibited at the opening show of the prestigious Zeitz MOCAA contemporary art museum in Cape Town; and a tapestry work also from 2013, Uzukile the Elder. This arresting piece is newly arrived on consignment from the prestigious Fondation Louis Vuitton show in Paris entitled Being There, which featured new South African talent.
Another cutting-edge South African contemporary artist also features prominently in the March sale. Mohau Modisakeng’s work on the auction, from 2012’s Frames series, Untitled (Frame XVI), also stages a character, one in a series of tableaux featuring the artist himself, staged in ‘frames’ of implicit violence, which are indicative of the global situation of the black body. In this particular instance from the series, the trope of the blinkers implies both violence and control over the subject. In another significant recent photographic performance work, Passage (2017), commissioned for last year’s Venice Biennale, Modisakeng muses on slavery, colonialism and forced migration. The work was exhibited to much acclaim in Cape Town late last year.
The prominence of these artists, and the urgency and necessity of the positioning and political intention of their work, means that they are ideal beneficiaries of the Aspire Art Auctions Artist’s Resale Rights (ARR). Committed to the growth and development of the African art market, Aspire Art Auctions is the first auction house in South African history to pay living South African artists royalties on the resale of their works of art. The initiative is undertaken entirely at Aspire’s own cost, and demonstrates its commitment to the growth and development of the African art market and, in particular, living South African artists.
Aspire’s intention in implementing the scheme is to help ensure the development of the art industry by contributing towards the sustainability of the practitioners and the professionals that have made this market what it is today. While this benefits established living artists, the ARR also builds a market for the future, and assists artists like Modisakeng and Ruga to benefit from their growing reputations.
Aspire has, to date, earned royalty dues through their sales for over 80 living South African artists, across the career spectrum. The upcoming Cape Town sale is no different, with its focus on contemporary work enabling many current local artists to benefit.