Paintings dominated the top 10 lots sold at Strauss & Co’s much-anticipated contemporary art sale in Cape Town, but Athi-Patra Ruga’s vibrant colour photograph of a balloon-clad figure astride a zebra 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).
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 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 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 the young Cape Town painter placed in the top-ten lots sold: Bride Dressed as Cake, an energetic expressionist study of a smiling bride, sold for R261 740.
Ed with Bubbles, a portrait of artist Ed Young, fetched R250 360.
Other young painters who did well at the sale included Zander Blom, Mia Chaplin, Alexandra Karakashian, Banele Khoza, Simphiwe Ndzube and Pierre Vermuelen.
Strauss & Co’s 107-lot contemporary art sale grossed R12.8 million.