Aspire X Tonic | Fine Design Auction

17 Nov 2020

In a year in which businesses worldwide have been challenged to rethink every given and to come up with new solutions, Aspire Art Auctions has forged innovative partnerships to share expertise and support fellow creatives. Now AAA teams up with the dynamic Tonic duo, Greg Gamble and Phillippe van der Merwe, to bring the finest in local and international modern and contemporary design to auction.

Says Ruarc Peffers, Senior Art Specialist at Aspire Art Auctions “As contemporary fine art from Africa is increasingly coveted by a growing local and international community, our intention is also to promote the finest contemporary design produced on this continent alongside signature pieces from international designers”.

According to Greg Gamble and Phillippe van der Merwe of Tonic, “We’re really passionate about design and this auction is special in that it’s a celebration of the kind of design we value. We’ve created spaces that are not just about new furniture. The appeal of a good interior is the mix of the right items that can’t always be found in shops. So often, exciting pieces come from auctions”.

Amongst the international designers, the pair of LC2 Poltrona chairs (R90,000-110,000) designed for Cassina by world renowned modernist architect, Le Corbusier, his brother Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, are must-haves. Created to enhance conversation, these form-follows-function chairs will be talking points for generations to come.

The hunting chair (R70,000-90,000) designed in 1950 by Børge Mogensen for Fredericia Furniture, with its oak frame and saddle leather, is ideal for daydreaming or relaxing with a favourite read. Pair it with the daybed (R80,000-100,000) by Danish architect Ib Kofod-Larsen for the ultimate leisure experience.

The architecture and design department of the Sao Paulo School of Arts & Crafts is renowned for its furniture created during the second half of the 20th century. The design department was led by Lúcio Marçal Ferreira Ribeiro Lima Costa, the inspiring Brazilian architect and urban planner, best known for his plan for Brasilia. Three lounge chairs (R160,000-180,000) in red and black leather over wood epitomise their 1960s visionary design.

Finnish designer, Eero Aarnio’s interest in the potential of fiberglass-reinforced plastics led to the creation of his iconic Ball chair or the Globe chair (R80,000-100,000) in 1963. A playful combination of funky but ground-breaking design, it was exhibited at the 1966 Cologne Furniture Fair to great acclaim. By contrast, Vico Magistretti’s black leather and tubular steel Veranda lounge chair (R25,000-35,000), also for Cassina, is a marvel of 1980s engineering that adjusts to reconfigure the seat, opening and retracting with ease.


The line between art and design is a fine one, as any lover of fine art and design will happily acknowledge. William Kentridge was the first patron ever to buy a Gregor Jenkin table. Excited by the possibilities of collaboration, Kentridge sent Jenkin pieces of jagged torn paper, the exact shape of which were laser cut to form the table legs of the prototype round table (R80,000-90,000) produced by the Gregor Jenkin Studio in collaboration with William Kentridge. Each leg of each table is different from the next: from one side, a jagged, organic shape; from the other, a classically curved table leg. This initiated a fruitful collaboration that was both conceptual and a hands-on, step-by-step exchange of ideas and suggestions, putting various parts together in sequence to create a whole. Kentridge and Jenkin continue to collaborate on specific furniture pieces which are integral to Kentridge artworks and exhibited in galleries around the world.

South African design has been inciting wide interest locally and abroad. It’s worth noting that the table tennis table which Gregor Jenkin Studio produced for Paul Smith is available on this auction at R60,000-80,000.

Bringing together cross-cultural story-telling, traditional skills and cutting-edge technology, the Hlabisa Bench (R100,000-150,000) represents the epitome of collaborative South African design. Conceived by Thabisa Mjo for Mash. T Design Studio, the spindle-backed bench by Houtlander is finished with exquisitely woven ilala palm by Beauty Ngxongo, whose work is represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Not surprisingly, Mjo was named South African designer of the year in 2019 and most recently, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, purchased two of her pieces–the first by a South African designer to be included in their permanent collection.

The undulating curved-back design, inspired by memories of Mjo’s childhood visits to the rolling hills of KZN, provides an embracing experience that encourages the exchange of ideas. What’s more, it comfortably accommodates social distancing, thanks to its 2 metre width.

Another fruitful collaboration between House Union Block (formerly known as Spier Artisan Mosaic Studios), designer Laurie Wiid van Heerden, founder of Wiid Design Studio and Glorinah Khutso Mabaso, founder of Renaissance Design, produced the collectible set of three trays (R60,000-70,000).

The trays are crafted from Wiid’s signature cork material, and embellished with a pattern design by Mabaso, inspired by the face and body painting of Ethiopia’s Karo people. This was then translated by Cape Town based House Union Block’s mosaic artisans, Prettynes Marau and Sandile Dlamini, in hand-cut tesserae of smalti—a specialised richly coloured mosaic glass from Italy—and ceramic tiles, made in-house by House Union Block. The designs are informed and inspired by Mabaso’s vision to merge history and modernity through design, and the tray’s mosaic inserts have been created following an ancient style, using modern materials and technique.


“We previously collaborated only with visual artists, and in a way, we feel this new approach is a return to the roots of mosaic as a surface covering. This evolution is the birth of a new enterprise that will give our graduates more opportunities to use their exceptional skills from the Academy and make a living”, says Mirna Wessels, the CEO of House Union Block. 


Joe Paine’s Mechanical Bureau Mark II (R90,000-120,000) is a laptop-friendly bureau inspired by laid-bare, old-world mechanical technology reminiscent of late 19th and early 20th century farm machinery. The bureau opens and closes using a system of gears, cranks, and rack and pinions. As one turns the handle, the worktop lifts up, while a rack and pinion pushes the timber worktop out towards you, providing extra work space.

The Kent armchair (R30,000-40,000) designed by South African, Yaniv Chen, is a celebration of form and fabrication. A svelte armchair inspired by elements of Italian 1950s design, from the angular lines of Gio Ponti’s 811 chair to the upholstery of the Mercedes Benz 300, it places equal emphasis on feel and functionality. The American walnut armchair (R30,000-35,000) upholstered with fabric designed by Nicole Levenberg of Aureum Design was Anatomy Design’s entry for the Southern Guild in 2013.

Tonic Design’s solid African mahogany Hawker bench (R12,000-16,000) was awarded The Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA) award at the Design Indaba Expo in Cape Town in 2019. And if you think you’ve seen that Hawker bench before, you’re right! It features in one of Sam Nhlengethwa’s Tribute series.

And the last word from the Tonic team. Says Greg Gamble “Putting good local design on a par with its international equivalents elevates South African products and reminds us that if we buy good, well-designed furniture, wherever it comes from, it can have and retain resale value”.

Philippe van der Merwe endorses these words of wisdom: “We should be comfortable with the fact that if we buy a good piece of design it’s going to cost a bit more. If you buy wisely, you can enjoy its beauty and benefit later from its resale”.

Browse the catalogue here:

ONLINE BIDDING OPENS: Monday 16 November at 9am

AUCTION CLOSES: 26 November 2020 from 7pm


All lots are on view at Aspire Art Auctions’ Johannesburg gallery from Monday 16 November 2020. Viewing by appointment.



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