The week started with Strauss & Co’s Johannesburg winter sale which generated R15.53 million in sales from seven lots sold on Monday, June 4 at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg.
Cementing his stature at auction, Alexis Preller posted three of the top five auction results at this live sale, the climax to an energetic programme of art events hosted by the company.
The auction generated overall sales of R56 million with a sellthrough rate of 74%. The result was the eighth highest combined result for a live sale since Strauss & Co launched in 2009 and is a remarkable feat in a challenging economy.
The top lot was a mesmerizing oil from Preller’s celebrated Seychelles period, Head (Adapting Itself to the Unendurable) from 1949, which sold for R7 055 600.
A museum-quality drawing by William Kentridge, Deep Pool (1996), from his series Colonial Landscapes, was the sale’s second biggest lot and the top earner in the contemporary art category, selling for R3 414 00.
The balance of the top five lots were made up by Preller’s intaglio Poseidon (1970), a unique depiction of the mythical Greek god of the sea executed in the artist’s sculptural late-career painting style, which sold for R3 414 000; and Preller’s Contrapuntal Figures II (1964), an abstract work in delicate lilacs, warm yellows and cobalt blues, that fetched R2 731 200. The fifth biggest earner was a vivid portrait of a traditional healer holding a green snake by Vladimir Tretchikoff, which sold for R2 276 000.
In the lead up to the sale, Strauss & Co annually hosts a vibrant programme of events that includes artists’ talks, lectures, walkabouts and a dedicated children’s programme devised by Strauss & Co specialist Wilhelm van Rensburg.
Susie Goodman, an executive director of Strauss & Co, Johannesburg said: “We want to broaden the audience for art and open up the auction process to new buyers.”
“Our efforts definitely paid dividends. We welcomed more than 1 500 visitors to our preview weekend and saw a large number of new bidders vying for works at our sale, particularly in our specialist sale focussing on abstract art.”
Strauss & Co’s catalogue included two lightly curated sections drawing collector attention to fine examples of abstract and contemporary art.
The sale confirmed the status of auction regulars like Douglas Portway and Sam Nhlengethwa, both of whom posted positive results. Nhlengethwa’s largescale Thupelo workshop period abstract composition, Image IV (1990), sold for R227 600, and Portway’s London 62 (1961), a post-emigration oil work dominated by remnants of his African colour scheme, sold above estimate for R238 980.
New names at auction, like Henry Davies, Wilfred Delporte and Anton Uys, also yielded solid results. Davies, who taught artists Peter Schultz and Keith Alexander, had two carved wooden sculptures on offer: Pig’s Head I sold within its estimate for R25 036, while Lithops surpassed its estimate, achieving R22 760. Delporte’s steel sculpture Flight Form (1969) sold for R34 140.
“It’s all about building the market,” said Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co’s executive chairperson, who was greatly encouraged by the increasing audience for new and unheralded artists at auction.
“A significant number of recently introduced artists have started to perform very well at auction.”
Strauss & Co’s market activism has also been focused on the contemporary art market. In February the company launched its inaugural contemporary art sale in Cape Town, with young Cape Town painter Jake Aikman emerging as a star performer.
Aikman’s brilliant form at auction continued in Johannesburg with his enigmatic seascape in shades of grey and green, Beneath, R341 400, doubling the pre-sale estimate and establishing a new world record for the artist.