New team out to promote South African art

05 Jul 2016

“There is never a better time to do something than now,” goes the saying. So when the art market is weak, like it currently is worldwide, it could be the right time to establish a new business.

This is one of the motives behind the decision of two well-known figures in the world of art – Mary-Jane Darroll and Ruarc Peffers – to establish a business specialising in art auctions. Their Aspire Art Auctions is planning its first auction in October  in Johannesburg at The Park on 7, Hyde Park Corner.

“Our goal is to promote, advance and sustain the South African art market – not only on home soil, but with a specific and intentional international reach,” says Darroll, who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in auction, as well as curating important historical and contemporary exhibitions, among others, the Winter Sculpture Fair at Nirox.

Since the 90s, the South African secondary art market has come to the fore and reached a high when Bonhams sold Irma Stern’s Arab Priest in March 2011 for R34.4m – the most that has ever been paid for a work of art by a South African artist.

According to Darroll, the market for art has given rise to many more artists, galleries, traders and auctioneers over the past 20 years. “The mechanisms of the industry, however, have been slow and resistant to change and have not entirely kept pace with the rate of development or with new areas of growth,” says Darroll.

Peffers, an art expert and experienced auctioneer, continues: “Although South African art is on par with art worldwide, and is in certain respects superior, it does not fetch the prices attained by international works of art. South African art is in fact unrealistically cheap. Where a piece of art by a young American artist would, for example, fetch $25 000 (approximately R380 000), you could get a similar piece by a South African artist for about R20 000.”

Instead of just spurring on the peak of the market towards greater success, Aspire Art Auctions will aim to promote the whole South African art market and get better prices.

Aspire Art Auctions is supported by two well-known businessmen, Brian Joffe, founder of the Bidvest Group, and Adrian Gore, founder and CEO of Discovery. Both are avid art collectors.

Regarding the model used for art auctions, Darroll and Peffers want to think outside the box without underestimating the success of the proven format.

With the aid of possibilities offered by technology, they wish to meet the needs of a growing market for younger collectors and at the same time move away from the standard “salon” approach when offering works of art. “If it is an important work of art, we want to offer it as an important work, with catalogues with more research into the work and with auctions that support the work to the fullest – something similar to ‘curated’ exhibitions.”

And in addition, Darroll and Peffers will soon also strive to establish artists’ right to a portion of the income from secondary sales, or droit de suite, which is already included in legislation in the EU, the US and Australia. This stipulation, which forms part of the Berne Convention, which, among others, protects copyright on literary works and works of art, entitles artists and their heirs a right to a portion (between 0.25% and 4% in the EU) of the resale price of works of art.

Darroll and Peffers regard starting up a new auction house in these relatively difficult economic conditions as a real challenge, but then Darroll refers to the weak British art market shortly before 2000. “It was a time when contemporary art was not regarded as important. All it required to get the British art market back on its feet was an individual like Charles Saatchi and the establishment of Tate Modern. In this way it engendered trust, which filtered through to buyers.”

Aspire Art Auctions aims to create new energy and trust in the South African art market. And this they wish to do in conjunction with galleries for the benefit of the whole art industry.

More details, for instance regarding the directors and staff of Aspire Art Auctions, will be released shortly.

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