Alexis Preller, Adam

2018 proved a momentous year for the South African fine art auction market, and for Aspire Art Auctions, its newest entrant, in particular. The auction house hosted a total of six online auctions and four live sales, which saw the setting of many world record prices, especially in the contemporary segment.

Aspire’s first sale of the year was held on 11 February 2018. The Contents of Deodar House sale comprised over 100 lots of selective fine arts, decorative items, antique and modern furniture, luxury jewellery, watches, and wine. The unique point about the sale was that the entire seller’s proceeds were donated to seed fund a new children’s leukemia charity. The sale achieved the phenomenal sell-through rate of 82%, well above the industry average. 

The top seller was a sumptuous still life by Irma Stern, Hydrangeas and St Joseph lilies in the artist’s hand-made ceramic jug, which sold for R4 774 560, above its high estimate. The sale of the fine art lots on the Deodar sale was dominated by an exceptional collection of large outdoor sculpture. Among these, a highly coveted piece by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx, Fire Walker (2010) achieved a price of R3 978 800. The sale also achieved world records for well-known South African contemporary artists Angus Taylor and Willem Boshoff, whose works Sit en Staan (2008) and Clast Mar (2009), which respectively attained top prices of R2 159 920 and R682 820.  The associated Deodar House online sale, comprising various house contents and collectables, had the rare distinction of being a ‘white glove’ sale, with 100% of lots sold. 

Peter Clarke, Lazy Day

The second sale of the year was held in Cape Town, on 25 March. Headlining its success was a rare intaglio by Alexis Preller, Gold Angel (Arêté), which sold for R4 638 400. This outstanding piece was part of Preller’s last body of work shown at the Goodman Gallery in 1975. However, the sale was perhaps most notable for its concentration of top quality contemporary art, led by a magnificent oil painting by Robert Hodgins, Night of the Awards, which fetched R2 087 280. Aspire was pleased to see a strong performance for the work Night of the Long Knives III by cutting-edge new South African star Athi-Patra Ruga, indicating the growth and diversity of contemporary collecting trends. The photographic work fetched R295 568, well above its high estimate. Other contemporary artists in this category included Zander Blom, whose painting Untitled 196 went for R170 520, and the well-known Penny Siopis, whose Help fetched R79 576, more than double its high estimate. A challenging painting by counter-cultural artist Conrad Botes, Origin, went for R170 520, by some distance the best price ever achieved by the artist at auction. 

A Winter sale followed in Johannesburg, held in June. Here Aspire made impressive statements, and set several more world records. The top lot by value was Irma Stern’s Still life with magnolias, apples and bowl (1949), which sold for R6 828 000. The world records on the sale began with the sale of Peter Clarke’s work Lazy Day (1975), for R1 479 400, a mark which also obliterated his previous auction record achieved by Aspire in 2016. Aspire’s strong showing in the contemporary segment delivered world records for Zander Blom (Untitled 1.5 (2010), R386 920), Andrezj Urbanski (A003747/47/16 2016, R125 180), and Paul Stopforth’s Steve Biko’s Right Hand (1980), which sold for R79 660, an important record to have achieved for such a work in the context of post-apartheid South Africa. 

The company’s most recent sale took place in Johannesburg in October. Again, the records tumbled. The top lot by value on the sale was a superb and vibrant Alexis Preller oil, Adam, which fetched R9 104 000, a world record for the artist, beating the previous mark of R8 433 924. This world record was joined by that achieved for a drawing by William Kentridge, of R6 600 400 for the Drawing from Stereoscope (Double page, Soho in two rooms), significantly beating the previous mark, achieved in Paris, of R5 744 788The successful strategic focus on the contemporary segment continued in this sale. Highlights included a new world record for Cape Town painter Georgina Gratrix, whose work I Love You All the Time sold for R591 760, beating the R318 304 previously achieved for the artist by almost double, and further almost doubling its high estimate. Another record was achieved in the segment when photographer Pieter Hugo’s famous 2005 work The hyena men of Abuja sold for a South African record of R375 540, almost three times its high estimate. Mohau Modisakeng saw considerable success with his Ditaola XV, which sold for R261 740, a record, and beating the previous record of R204 624, also held by Aspire. A contemporary sculpture by David Brown, from 2011, entitled Engine Driver from his Eleven Deadly Sinners series, sold for R273 120, a new world record for this artist, bettering the previous mark, again held by Aspire. 

In the online sphere, Aspire held five sales in the year, as well as the online auction for Deodar House. The company was the first in the country to launch a bespoke app for conducting its online sales, and became known in the course of the year as the place to be to trade in art books, after several sales in the year focused, partly or wholly, on books. Aspire themes each of its online sales, and is seeing good user uptake and sales growth for the platform. 

The innovative and agile auction house saw continued success for its Artist’s Resale Rights (ARR) initiative, a self-funded royalty project which sees Aspire pay royalties on a sliding scale to living South African artists whose works sell on its auctions. The project is run by Aspire to help sustain the art industry in the absence of a nationally legislated royalty scheme for visual art. To date it has paid out almost R500 000 to around 100 artists. The project was awarded official recognition in the year, earning the Best Strategic Project Award at the annual Business Arts South Africa awards.