- 23 new world records
- 6 new South African records
- Highest price ever achieved in South Africa for photography
Paintings dominated the top ten lots sold at Strauss & Co’s much-anticipated contemporary art sale in Cape Town, but it was Athi-Patra Ruga’s vibrant colour photograph of a balloon-clad figure astride a zebra that ultimately topped the rankings when it sold for R1.707 million, six times more than its presale estimate.
The packed sale established 23 world records and six South African records, notably for painting and photography. Stunned applause greeted the sale of Ruga’s large photograph The Knight of the Long Knives (2013), which had two bidders determinedly chase after it.
The remarkable sale price not only set a new world record for the East London-raised artist, but also marked the first time a photograph has ever sold for more than R1 million at a local auction. The result was the talk of the town and Ruga was thronged by well-wishers when he attended the Investec Cape Town Art Fair the day after the sale.
Timed to coincide with the Art Fair and presented in a beautifully appointed quayside venue at the V&A Waterfront, Strauss & Co’s 107-lot contemporary art sale grossed R12.8 million in sales.
Long valued for its uniqueness, painting reliably performed well at the sale. The top-selling lot after Ruga was an early student work by painter Marlene Dumas, a portrait of her lecturer Dimitri Fanourakis, which sold for R1.593 million, a new South African record for the Amsterdam-based artist. A remarkable colourist landscape painted in 1997 by Robert Hodgins rounded off the top three, fetching R1.024 million.
But it was younger painters and photographers working outside the conventions of documentary who really defined the narrative of the evening sale. Strauss & Co established a world record for painter Mustafa Maluka when it sold his 2008 portrait titled You Say the Things You Think You Have to Say for R477 960.
Collector interest in Georgina Gratrix remains high, with two works by this young Cape Town painter placing in the top-ten lots sold: Bride Dressed as Cake, an energetic expressionist study of a smiling bride, sold for R261 740, while Ed with Bubbles, an affectionate portrait of artist Ed Young, fetched R250 360.
Other young painters who performed well at the sale included Zander Blom, Mia Chaplin, Alexandra Karakashian, Banele Khoza, Simphiwe Ndzube and Pierre Vermuelen. The sale confirmed the auction status of Blom, whose large 2014 abstract work Untitled 1.627 sold for R250 360, and also established credible benchmark prices for Karakashian, Khoza, Ndzube and Vermuelen, all of whom sold work far in excess of the pre-sale estimates.
Said Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co’s chairman: “Our aim when we launched this dedicated sale of contemporary art in 2018 was to build new audiences and widen the base of collectors. We were delighted to see so many new bidders and first-time buyers at the sale. I think the broad and representative selection of art on offer by artists from South Africa, the continent and beyond, all of them working in innovative ways, enticed exciting new collectors into the secondary market for contemporary art.”
The uptick in interest in photography at Strauss & Co’s auction, the first of its five annual live sales, was especially pronounced. Alongside Ruga’s colour-drenched fantasy work, photographs by Jane Alexander, David Goldblatt, Zanele Muholi, Mary Sibande and Wolfgang Tillmans also performed well.
Goldblatt’s 1975 black-and-white photograph of two park-bench sitters in Johannesburg was the first lot to go under hammer and fetched R170 700, well above estimate. A 2006 colour photograph by Goldblatt of a farm at Seweweekpoort, near Ladysmith in the Western Cape, sold for R 341 400, a new South African record. Muholi’s masked self-portrait Isililo XX unexpectedly sold for R113 800, far in excess of the pre-sale estimate.
Until recently photography was the Cinderella of South African art, at least at auction. In 2011, two important vintage prints by Goldblatt, a master documentarian, fetched only modest sums at Strauss & Co auctions. Last year, at the company’s maiden contemporary art auction in Cape Town, a 2007 colour photo by Goldblatt portraying an extensive landscape at Nqondwana, near Port Edward, sold for R329 672.
“The broad interest in photography at our second contemporary art sale was really encouraging and marks an important consolidation,” said Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director and auctioneer. She was particularly delighted by the performance of Ruga’s work. “Milestones are only ever achieved once at auction and we are truly proud to be the first auction house in South Africa to sell a photograph for over R1 million. I believe the stellar result for Athi-Patra Ruga’s work is a sea change for photography, as well as the contemporary art market as a whole.”
While crowded out of the top ten by painters and photographers, sculptors Norman Catherine, Ledelle Moe and Brett Murray all posted solid results. Bidders enthusiasm for Moe’s Congregation, an assembly of concrete heads, saw the work sell for R170 700, an auction record for the artist.
In 2018, Strauss & Co announced the creation of a post-graduate educational bursary. “The bursary was established to encourage and support art and art history post-graduate studies in South African and is funded by 20% of the net proceeds of Strauss & Co’s annual contemporary art sale,” said Frank Kilbourn. “This social initiative by the company recognises the importance of nurturing professional talent that will one day benefit South Africa’s burgeoning art economy.”
The three recipients of 2019 bursaries are: Athenkosi Kwinana (MA, University of Johannesburg), Salomé Le Roux (MA, University of Pretoria) and Arisha Maharaj (MA, University of the Witwatersrand). Strauss & Co congratulates these enterprising students and wishes them all success with their studies.
Strauss & Co’s next live sale will be held on 18 March at The Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, Cape Town, and includes highly important works by Irma Stern and Alexis Preller.