Aspire WINTER 19 Pre-sale press release

21 May 2019

In a South African art world seemingly obsessed by quantity and price, and by the same roster of artists deemed valuable by the wider auction market, Aspire’s latest sale to be held in Johannesburg on June 2 is a breath of fresh air, presenting a focused and insightfully compiled selection of top-quality modern and contemporary art. The company is developing value for its clients in newer and underdeveloped segments of the market, while still demonstrating their expertise in achieving the best prices for well-known signatures.

 

This commitment to innovation in different parts of the market has led to a bold and signature move for Aspire in this sale, which features a special section dedicated to photography. This medium has been traditionally strong among South African artists, many of whom have an international reputation. But it has been without a proper focus in the local auction market – till now.

 

Says Aspire MD Ruarc Peffers, “Our concentration is on quality rather than quantity in every live sale we present. A focused selection of lots means that we can pay proper attention to individual works, the requirements of their sellers, and the tastes of their potential buyers, and hone in on the best works we can put together in our chosen segments. Our special section on photographs here is a great example of the strategy in action.”

 

While demonstrating its contemporary thought leadership, Aspire is also capable of looking after the auction market’s big signatures – none more so in this sale than the offer of the very last painting worked on by Alexis Preller before his death. Forensic analysis by Gerard de Kamper’s team at the University of Pretoria showed that Preller had deliberately painted a border around the Christ Head pictured in the work (which gives the painting its name), prior to adding more detail had he remained alive. It goes on sale at estimates of R4,000,000 – 6,000,000. A lecture will be conducted on 1 June on the work, and Preller’s market, in the run-up to the auction. Elsewhere among the traditional powerhouse painters, J.H. Pierneef has two significant works on offer – a beautifully observed casein and a majestic Limpopo landscape in oil – and similarly good examples of the landscape work of South African post-expressionist painter Maggie Laubser.

Alexis Preller, Christ Head

Aspire has an established reputation for achieving high prices for contemporary work, and has led the industry in the introduction, growth and development of this significant market at auction. A strong showing in this sale is led by a drawing from South Africa’s international star William Kentridge. His work Untitled (Woman and Café), from 1992, relates in its subject matter to Kentridge’s early animated films, as does Aspire’s world record for a Kentridge drawing, Stereoscope (Soho in two rooms). This sold for R6,600,400 in November last year. Untitled (Woman and Café) will be accompanied prior to the sale by a lecture and a screening of Kentridge’s early films. Other top contemporary lots on offer include a brilliantly realised drawing by Diane Victor, from her Disasters of Peace series; and a compelling marble bust by highly respected multimedia artist and sculptor Wim Botha, Untitled (Nebula 5 with bywoner). Comments Aspire Director and Senior Art Specialist Emma Bedford, “Our successes at auction in both the modern market and the high end of the contemporary segment is testimony to our expertise and to our burgeoning track record – it’s a winning business cycle that we look to continue in every sale, with a balance of work by traditionally strong signatures and work in emerging segments.”

William Kentridge, Untitled (Woman and Café)

Showing once again its commitment to the development of value in different market segments, Aspire also has a burgeoning track record in selling the work of previously under-represented black artists. The representation of black modern and contemporary artists has become much more of a hot topic in the country in recent weeks, with the magisterial exhibition A Black Aesthetic at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank Gallery. This auction has one of the biggest complements of black modernist and contemporary work on sale of any South African auction house to date. This segment is led by splendid examples of the work of the two most important early black modernists, Gerard Sekoto and George Pemba. Sekoto brings a lambently beautiful early figure study, Lady in Red, from 1940, made before the artist had left South Africa to go into voluntary exile in Paris. The work is estimated at R800,000 – 1,200,000. Dumile Feni, another central figure in under-represented twentieth century black artist’s, is represented with a rare bronze sculpture on auction, Head, from 1980.

Gerard Sekoto, Woman in Red

In the contemporary segment among black artists on offer, several highly collectable signatures are available in June. Powerful works by artworld stalwarts Kay Hassan and Sam Nhlengethwa appear alongside local Johannesburg doyen David Koloane, and a beautiful seascape by Peter Clarke, already an established figure at auction. The latter’s peaceful, nostalgic acrylic work Atlantic Sunset (1972) is on offer at estimates of R250,000 – 400,000. On the more recent contemporary front, work by the late visionary philanthropist-artist Benon Lutaaya is on sale along with the ever-popular celebrity artist Nelson Makamo and Bambo Sibiya.

Benon Lutaaya, Extended figure

The groundbreaking photography segment of the sale features a wide range of the most important and influential South African photographers, with some of their best work. Pieter Hugo brings in the lead lot in the segment, with the cover image from his famous book collection The Hyena and other Men. This rare lot, titled Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Abuja Nigeria 2005, is estimated at R400,000 – 600,000. Iconic images from the legendary David Goldblatt’s famous On the Mines series are also available, along with works by international figure Mikhael Subotzky, a complete folio of the 40 prints from Guy Tillim’s important 2003 book Departure, and a photograph by current international sensation Zanele Muholi, who is exhibiting at the Ralph Rugoff-curated show May you live in interesting times at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Pieter Hugo, Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Abuja Nigeria 2005

Concludes Peffers, “The quality of the work we have on offer in this auction fully justifies our more selective approach and our focus on quality in all our sales segments”.