Top seller: Alexis Preller: Gold angel (arêté) (1970) R 4 774 560
Aspire Art Auctions’ latest auction, on 25 March 2018, was only the second Cape Town sale in the blossoming track record of this dynamic auction business. The Cape Town market was seduced by the insightful mix of historic, modern and contemporary work, sold over two sessions, which Aspire brought to the elegant V&A Waterfront venue.
Headlining the success of the auction were several significant works. The top seller was a rare intaglio by Alexis Preller, Gold Angel (Arêté), which sold for R4 638 400, in line with estimates. This outstanding piece was part of Preller’s last body of work shown at the Goodman Gallery in 1975, and took its place alongside the sale of his mid-period work, the exquisite small study Still life with Vase and Carved Head, featuring some of the artist’s famous ‘household gods’, which sold for R811 720, also in line with estimates. The sale, unusually, was dominated at the top end by contemporary and sculptural work, rather than by the more customary art from the modern or mid-twentieth century segment. But the top lots on the sale also featured some of these. Apart from the success of the Preller works, the highest ever price for one of her portraits at auction was achieved by respected landscape artist and part of the unique Everard family, Ruth Everard Haden. Her portrait study A Seated Woman fetched R637 780, and has only ever been bested by two of her better-known landscapes at auction. Cape Town’s own Peter Clarke, whose auction performances recently have been consistently impressive, again produced respectable prices when his watercolour and gouache work from 1967 called The Bathers sold for R440 648, significantly above its high estimate.
As mentioned, the sale was notable for its concentration of top quality contemporary art, distinguished by its impeccable provenance and ethical acquisition. Topping the sale in the contemporary segment was the magnificent oil painting by Robert Hodgins, Night of the Awards, which fetched R2 087 280, in line with estimates. But successes across the board were notable for contemporary work. Aspire was pleased to see a strong performance for the work Night of the Long Knives III by cutting-edge new South African star Athi-Patra Ruga, indicating the growth and diversity of contemporary collecting trends. The photographic piece fetched R295 568, well above its high estimate. Other contemporary artists in this category included Zander Blom, whose painting Untitled 1 96 went for R170 520, and the well-known Penny Siopis, whose Help fetched R79 576, more than double its high estimate. Finally, a challenging painting by counter-cultural artist Conrad Botes, Origin, went for R170 520, by some distance the best price ever achieved by the artist at auction. Comments Aspire director, senior art specialist and head of the Cape Town office Emma Bedford, ‘our reputation in the contemporary field is unimpeachable, and this is evident in the quality of the work entrusted to us on this sale. The fact that we are helping to grow and develop the contemporary market at auction in this country is proof positive of our expertise in the segment. It is also vindication of the success of our commitment to our Artist’s Resale Rights scheme. The sustainability of the market as a whole is very important to us, and so we are delighted to be contributing to the careers of living South African artists through our royalty initiative – still the only one of its kind in South Africa.’
The small but high quality collection of sculptural work on auction – in both the modern and the contemporary segments – also performed very well. These were led in terms of value by the regally imposing Sentinel VI, by contemporary sculptor Deborah Bell. This work fetched R927 680, to go along with the R521 820 earned by her earlier work Unearthed V. Other contemporary sculpture to have performed well on the sale were Prison Hacks – Mandela panel by Willem Boshoff, which sold for R440 648, and Prism 1 by Wim Botha, which sold for an impressive R463 840, equalling the second highest price ever for the artist. Demonstrating the range of expertise Aspire can show in the segment, Amadlozi alumnus Sydney Kumalo, for whom Aspire previously achieved a world record price, fetched R556 608 for his exquisite small work Leopard. Says Aspire director and senior art specialist Mary-Jane Darroll, ‘while not a huge sculpture collection on this sale, the prices achieved reflect our commitment to quality and our accurate reading of the market. It’s a testament to our expertise that we’ve hit these heights with both modern and contemporary work.”
Concludes director and senior art specialist Ruarc Peffers, ‘As a company, our strategy has always been to diversify and grow the market for South African art. The fact that we have again achieved these successes in the different market segments in this auction speaks volumes for Aspire’s role in doing just that and, through our royalty initiative, playing a positive role in sustaining the industry too.”
Aspire’s next sale is on 17 June 2018, at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, Illovo, Sandton.