Company achieves sparkling results despite tight economic conditions, selling rare works by Irma Stern, and setting a new world mark for Peter Clarke. World records are also set for Zander Blom, Paul Stopforth and Andrezj Urbanski in a major coup in the contemporary segment.

Aspire Art Auctions’ latest Johannesburg sale was held on 17 June 2018. In a slow and unresponsive market, amid tight economic conditions generally in South Africa, the dynamic and innovative auction house made impressive statements, and set several world records. Led by two rare and important Irma Stern still lifes, both of which were fresh to the market, the sale once again took place in the august and elegant surrounds of the Illovo campus of the Gordon Institute of Business Science, and featured a world-class selection of contemporary, modern and historical fine art. The fine art was joined by a small, intimate private collection of antique furniture, an area into which Aspire has recently branched out.

The top lot by value on the sale was the superb Irma Stern: Still life with magnolias, apples and bowl (1949), which fetched R6 828 000. While not a South African record by the artist, it is the highest price achieved for a work by Stern for over a year. The painting has an impeccable provenance, having been in the same family since 1950, when it was first purchased in Johannesburg, and has never been exhibited.  

Another significant Stern still life, one which also has never before been at auction, was sold. Still life with chrysanthemums in the artist’s handmade ceramic jug, from 1950, sold for R3 414 000. Says Aspire director and senior art specialist Emma Bedford, “The sales of these two Stern paintings prove that Aspire has already gained enough gravitas and traction to compete in the established end of the market with work by canonical South African artists. Collectors are clearly feeling that the auction house can achieve the results they’re looking for, despite a lean market.”

Among other mid-twentieth century fine art to attract substantial bids and sale results were two works by Alexis Preller, The Wounded Soldier (1944) and Celestial twins (1955). Preller’s work has been solidifying its reputation in the auction market in recent times, and these two fine examples proved no exception, fetching R796 600 and R1 046 960 respectively, both in line with estimates.

Aspire has led the auction market recently with sales of work by Cape Town artist Peter Clarke, achieving a world record for one of his gouaches in 2017. The company has now proved itself to be the premier purveyor of Clarke’s work in the country, achieving a substantial world record – and beating their own previous best – for his seductive acrylic and gouache on paper from 1975, Lazy Day, whichsold for R1 479 400, a mark which also obliterates his overall auction record achieved in 2016 for one of his oil paintings. The success Aspire has cemented with the market for Clarke was extended with a price of R432 440 achieved for his gouache Sunset at Windemere (1957), more than double its high estimate. The sale of both works ensures that Clarke’s reputation in the auction market as a subtly ironic commentator on apartheid life is maintained.

Taken as a group, work by the 1960s Amadlozi Group based around collector Egon Guenther and the Polly Street Art Centre under Cecil Skotnes is becoming more and more significant among collectors. Several works by Skotnes himself appeared on the auction, and the top lot among them, The Legend of the Judean War, (1984) sold for R819 360, just below its high estimate and a resounding price for a work from this period. A sculpture by perhaps the best known Amadlozi alumnus, Edoardo Villa, fetched a world record with Aspire in 2017, when his Vertical composition (1958) sold for R1 818 880. Villa’s work is at last being provided with an appropriate retrospective exhibition context, with the newly-opened Norval Foundation staging a major show. On this sale Villa’s successful association with Aspire continued, with his Sculpture VIIIfetching R1 138 000.

Aspire has since its inception been a leader in the industry for contemporary fine art. The segment is a specific strategic focus for Aspire, and its contemporary benchmark was set in November 2017 when the company achieved a South African record price for a drawing by contemporary doyen William Kentridge. His Drawing from Mine (Soho with coffee plunger and cup) (1991),sold for R5 456 640.

On this sale the company set a number of records for contemporary work. World records were achieved for an early abstract by Zander Blom, Untitled 1.5 (2010), which fetched R386 920; and for a new artist at auction, Andrezj Urbanski, whose work A0037 47/47/16 (2016) reached over its high estimate at R125 180. At the other end of the contemporary experience spectrum, the elder statesman of South African fine art photography, David Goldblatt, achieved the second highest South African price ever of R318 640 for his magisterial photograph from 2003, Johannesburg from the Southwest. Finally, another world record for a contemporary artist was reached when Paul Stopforth’s Steve Biko’s Right Hand (1980) sold for R79 660, an important record to have achieved in the context of post-apartheid South Africa. These successes in very different areas of the market segment provide definitve evidence that Aspire is the chosen destination for sellers and buyers of contemporary art at auction in the country

Ruarc Peffers, Director, Senior Art Specialist and auctioneer, comments: “We are delighted to be doing so well with this kind of work. Our Artist’s Resale Rights project sees all these living South African artists gain royalty payments from the successful sale of their work on our auctions. The fact that we have also set so many records in the process makes it all the sweeter.”

Peffers concludes: “It’s clear that our brand values and business approach are finding deep resonance in the market. As our reach expands and our market grows, we remain committed to business ethics and integrity, museum quality presentation, and innovation in the fine art auction industry in the country.”

Upcoming Auction details:
Aspire’s next sale is on 28 October 2018, at GIBS in Johannesburg.

For gratis and obligation-free valuations, and to consign works of art to the upcoming Johannesburg live auction on 28 October, please contact:

Jacqui Carney | | +27 71 675 2991
Mary-Jane Darroll | | +27 82 567 1925
Ruarc Peffers | | +27 84 444 8004

Cape Town
Emma Bedford | | +27 83 391 7235
Marelize van Zyl | | +27 83 283 7427