A Guide to Contemporary Art
Fine art sales have been a key driver of trends in the auction market in recent years. The Modern Art and Post-War Art sectors combined with the Contemporary Art sector have led the global market since the 1990s. Contemporary Art is broadly defined as the art of ‘today’, produced in the second half of the 20th century and the 21st century. However, more specifically, many view the ‘start’ of the contemporary era in art as the 1980s, which saw a proliferation of artistic approaches and aesthetic contention in painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper, installation, video and performance-based art – and the rise of graffiti art. In South African art history, the Resistance Art movement introduced the country’s contemporary art chapter.
According to the 2019 Artprice Contemporary Art Market Report, contemporary art currently accounts for 15% of the global secondary art market – compared to only 3% in 2000. Driven by a new phase of growth in 2018/19, the Contemporary Art market generated $1.89 billion, its third best performance in auction history. One of the most remarkable developments in 2019 was the record number of lots sold: 71,400, an average of 195 works per day. This total has risen by 131% in the past ten years and by 480% since 2000. And as market demand for contemporary art has expanded – both numerically and geographically – so has its share of the total art market increased with its price index posting a 22% growth over the 2019 twelve-month period. For art collectors and investors, this market segment has demonstrated the strongest price increases over the short, medium and longer terms.
The contemporary art market is particularly vibrant right now, with strong growth in the major centres. South Africa is following suit, with Aspire Art Auctions having achieved world record prices at auction for works by some of South Africa’s leading contemporary artists including William Kentridge, Lisa Brice, David Golblatt, Moshekwa Langa and Mary Sibande, amongst others. According to Artprice’s Contemporary Art Index, South Africa ranks 13th in the world currently, but with only 0,3% market share in global turnover. However, the South African market punches well above its weight and is responsible for some of the top contemporary art produced and traded globally – including major art centres like London and New York. According to the Africa Art Market Report, as of 2017, seven of the top twenty contemporary artists (born after 1940) are South African – an assessment judged by the artists’ value at auction and the number of exhibitions in museums and commercial galleries.
Aspire is highly regarded for its success in the contemporary art market. The combination of strategic positioning, depth of understanding and expertise in the field has contributed to the diversification and general growth in the market. This has further encouraged an increased focus on, and understanding of, the quality, desirability and collectability of contemporary art in South Africa.
Since inception, Aspire has realised significant results for works by Zander Blom, Athi-Patra Ruga, Penny Siopis, Wim Botha, Deborah Bell, Diane Victor, Willem Boshoff, Sue Williamson, Pieter Hugo, Kate Gottgens, Jake Aikman, Mikhael Subotzky, Guy Tillim, Nandipha Nntambo and Robin Rhode, amongst others.
Aspire has also achieved local and international auction records for Sam Nhlengethwa, Angus Taylor, Billie Zangewa, Kay Hassan, Frances Goodman, Peter Eastman, Georgina Gratrix and Mohau Modisakeng, amongst others.
In 2019, Aspire offered a Marlene Dumas painting at auction, for the second time only in South African history. The early work, Love Lost, sold for just over R7.2 million, a significant local auction record for the artist. Subsequent to that, in 2020 Aspire presented another large-scale early work by Dumas, Oktober 1973, which sold for over R7 million, currently the second highest price achieved for a work by the artist at auction in South Africa.
Aspire consciously works at introducing and developing the market for promising young artists at auction and currently holds records for Simphiwe Ndzube, Benon Lutaaya, Siwa Mgoboza and Pierre Vermeulen, amongst others.