A vital contributor to summer art activities

February is traditionally a busy month at Strauss & Co, marking the start of its annual programme of auctions and complimentary educational initiatives.

This past February, Strauss & Co hosted five auctions of modern and contemporary art, collectable wine, and decorative arts, as well as hosted an art-business symposium in Cape Town and presented a memorial exhibition in Johannesburg devoted to painter Alfred Thoba.

Coinciding with Cape Town’s vibrant art month, a time of robust trade and convivial networking increasingly patronised by international collectors, Strauss & Co presented Curatorial Voices: African Landscapes, Past and Present, a landscape-themed auction of collectable art from across the African continent, and Woven Legacies: Celebrating African Artistry, a specialist auction devoted to African textiles and woven objects. Strauss & Co also handled the prestigious Zeitz MOCAA Benefit Auction.

“In the excitement of the Investec Cape Town Art fair, we thought it appropriate to remind art lovers of the modernists who preceded the popular contemporary artists of today and to highlight their mutual infatuation with the land that binds all Africans together, while highlighting the ancient craft traditions of weaving and basketry,” says Frank Kilbourn, Executive Chairperson, Strauss & Co, who also presented collector Louis Norval with the Zeitz MOCAA Honorary Award for Philanthropic Achievement at the museums 2024 Gala.

In February, Strauss & Co continued with its role of affirming established careers and setting new benchmarks for up-and-coming artists. Strauss & Co achieved notable results for Jake Aikman, Bheki Dlamini, Ablade Glover, David Goldblatt, William Kentridge, Esther Mahlangu, Angeline Masuku and Gerard Sekoto in its various auctions. A work by Zandile Tshabalala, a star of Zeitz MOCAA’s recent survey of black figurative painting, sold above estimate for R380 000 / $19 713 in the Zeitz MOCAA Benefit Auction. J.H. Pierneef’s historically important 1929 painting of Tulbagh’s Church Street, offered in Curatorial Voices: African Landscapes, Past and Present, sold within estimate for R1 715 625/ $89 598.

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef
Church Street, Tulbagh
ZAR 1 500 000 – 2 500 000/ USD 77 671 – 129 452
Sold for ZAR 1 715 625

It is still too early to take a reliable barometer reading on trends for 2024. Excellent sell-through rates were achieved in Strauss & Co’s Rhône-themed wine auction and also in Woven Legacies: Celebrating African Artistry. Trade in artworks offered in Curatorial Voices: African Landscapes, Past and Present was somewhat uneven – but not without encouraging moments. A late work by veteran painter Esther Mahlangu, whose career retrospective opened at the South African National Gallery this past February, sold above estimate for R257 950 /$13 471. A large 2014 painting by the Ghanaian master Ablade Glover, titled People Scene B12/14, traded within estimate for R438 995 / $22 926. Encouragingly, new buyers accounted for a fifth of the works sold in Curatorial Voices: African Landscapes, Past and Present.

“We are thrilled with the outcome of Curatorial Voices, a pioneering initiative aimed at infusing academic contexts into our auctions and encouraging viewers to deeply engage with the historical legacy of contemporary African art,” say Jean Le Clus-Theron and Leigh Leyde, Joint Heads of Sale, Strauss & Co. “Curatorial Voices presented a diverse array of artworks sourced from 22 African nations and showcased the vibrant cultural heritage and artistic innovation that defines our continent.”

Adds Le Clus-Theron and Leyde in their joint statement: “Central to the success of the Curatorial Voices project is the spirit of collaboration. By amplifying diverse perspectives and voices within the art community, we offered something from the continent, for the continent, to the world. We have not only introduced new artists to the market but also welcomed fresh audiences eager to explore the multifaceted narratives of the works on offer, which encompassed 175 years of art history.”

Creative and artistic expression from the African continent was also the subject of Woven Legacies, a dynamic auction of textiles and woven objects. This highly focused auction encapsulated the new momentum of Strauss & Co’s recently reorganised decorative arts department. A sumptuous historical textile produced by an unrecorded Ewe artist from Ghana introduced a sale that included contemporary fabric pieces by South African textile artists Frances van Hasselt and Sivan Zeffertt. Angeline Masuku’s large Zulu ilala palm and ukhasi grass fibre basket sold above estimate for R 18 760 / $973. Both Van Hasselt and Masuku’s work originated out of collaborative initiatives aimed at uplifting rural communities.

Esther Mahlangu
Untitled (Central Pink Motif)
ZAR 120 000 – 160 000/ USD 6 214 – 8 285
Sold for ZAR 257 950

“Our aim with Woven Legacies was to select a diverse range of beautiful woven pieces to showcase and celebrate the richness of artisanal craftsmanship across the continent,” says Jill Van Dugteren, Head of Sale, Strauss & Co. “This selection included items from collectors, project-based economic empowerment initiatives and artists. There was a strong focus on the unique narratives that weave through each piece, as well as a desire to elevate the artistic finesse inherent in works that have long been considered merely utilitarian.”

Adds Van Dugteren: “Key to the success of Woven Legacies was our collaborative approach and the active participation of contributors. They provided informative cataloguing details and generously shared their knowledge and expertise at the public walkabouts, as well as promoted the sale through their networks. This definitely elevated the presence, reach and credibility of Woven Legacies as both an attention-giving project and sale.”

In addition to these commercial activities, Strauss & Co hosted two educational initiatives in February. In Johannesburg, Strauss & Co collaborated with Kalashnikovv Gallery to honour recently deceased painter Alfred Thoba. The memorial exhibition True Love featured 27 paintings made between 1981 and 2022, as well as featured a reconstruction of the artist’s Hillbrow studio. In Cape Town, Strauss & Co hosted the second edition of Art Business Conference. Sponsored by iTOO Artinsure and hosted by London-based journalist Riah Pryor, the day symposium enabled collectors and industry professionals to debate hot-button issues.

For more information, visit Strauss and Co’s website.

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