New light on the South African art market

04 Sep 2017

Aspire Art Auctions has, in recent months, fashioned a prominent place for itself in the local auction market by focusing strongly on work by contemporary South African artists, and in particular on under-represented black artists, in its sales.

There is no doubt that the secondary market continues to be dominated in terms of collecting value by canonical historical and modern works by the likes of J. H. Pierneef, Irma Stern and Alexis Preller. These heavyweights are often joined by other top modernist artists – for instance, in its most recent live auction, Aspire successfully sold major works by household South African names like Edoardo Villa and Cecil Skotnes. The top-end market is well established for contemporary work too, and is perhaps most notably represented by the renowned William Kentridge.

In its upcoming November 2017 auction in Johannesburg, Aspire brings to the market some superb examples of such high-value work. Highlights include a powerful painting by Pierneef, The Commando Tree, on the road to Sibasa from 1930, when he was perhaps at the height of his powers; as well as a rare early drawing by Kentridge, taken from the film Mine, one of the celebrated 9 Drawings for Projection.

But Aspire is also concerned to look deeper into the market, and to grow the pool of collectible artists to include work by South African and African artists in the diaspora – artists whose work is relatively under-represented, but whose work will gain in value and traction.

Says Aspire art specialist and director Ruarc Peffers, “As a business, we are focused on bringing high value and collectible works to market in the historic, modern and contemporary fields. But in certain niches of the auction market, we believe we can do a lot to develop opinion and educate our potential buyers about the quality that exists in South African and African art. Many of the modern and contemporary artists we bring to auction are relatively under-collected and under-represented in the secondary market, but we believe the work is of the quality to fetch high prices and sustain the local market more meaningfully.”

Aspire’s Winter 2017 auction demonstrated the validity of this approach, with top prices fetched for work by African artists such as Dumile Feni,  Moshekwa Langa, Peter Clarke, George Pemba, Lucas Sithole, Sam Nhlengethwa and Pascal Marthine Tayou.

The focus on modern, historic and contemporary art, and growing the exposure of South African and other African artists to the secondary market, goes along with Aspire having pioneered the administering of Artist’s Resale Rights (ARR), whereby a royalty is paid by Aspire to living artists whose work is sold on its auctions. This is unprecedented in the SA market, is administered solely by Aspire at its own cost, and pre-dates the pending copyright legislation by the SA government. Indeed, Aspire was called to give expert testimony to government at the recent hearings on the Copyright Amendment Bill.

One of the main reasons for Aspire championing the ARR is their commitment to ensuring the market grows, and to support especially under-represented South African artists.

Says Aspire’s director MJ Darroll, “our explicit agenda is to bring such important but under-represented works by black South African and other African artists to the secondary market, and to nurture and develop the reputation and value of these works”.

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