Irma Stern’s The Smoker from 1945 estimated to get R15 – 17 million / $785 150 – 890 000

94-lot live auction includes works by Tate alumni Lisa Brice and Zanele Muholi

More than a dozen artists in live auction catalogue linked to Venice Biennale

CAPE TOWN – The Venice Biennale, an important recurring international art exhibition that this year celebrates its sixtieth edition, has over time become a reliable benchmark for judging artist careers. The catalogue for Strauss & Co’s flagship live auction of modern and contemporary art on Tuesday, 19 March 2024 includes work by more than a dozen artists linked to this prestigious international showcase, among them Irma Stern and Zanele Muholi.

Strauss & Co’s 94-lot flagship auction includes a highly important Zanzibar-period portrait by Irma Stern, The Smoker, from 1945 (estimate R15 – 17 million / $785 150 – 890 000). Included in two major surveys of Stern’s work held in 2003 and 2021, this work predates by five years Stern’s stellar run in South Africa’s national pavilion at the Venice Biennale throughout the 1950s.

Zanele Muholi, a star of the 2019 edition of the Venice Biennale, has two photo self-portraits in the auction. They include Mumu X (estimate R400 000 – 600 000 / $20 930 – 31 400), from Muholi’s renowned “Somnyama Ngonyama” (“Hail the Dark Lioness”) series. The photo was made in London shortly before the artist’s Tate Modern solo exhibition in 2020, which will be restaged at the same museum in June 2024.

“The line-up of for the main curated exhibition of the 2024 edition of the Venice Biennale includes 331 modern and contemporary artists, among them Kudzanai Chiurai, Maggie Laubser and Gerard Sekoto,” says Jean le Clus-Theron, Head of Sale, Strauss & Co. “We are delighted that our auction includes works by all three these artists, as well as previous Venice Biennale exhibitors like Walter Battiss, Peter Clarke, Marlene Dumas, David Goldblatt, Cecil Higgs, Alexis Preller, Mary Sibande, Berni Searle, Irma Stern and Edoardo Villa.”

Chiurai is represented in the auction by a satirical 2009 photo The Minister of Finance (estimate R100 000 – 120 000 / $5 255 – 6 280) from his Dying to be Men series. Laubser’s recto-verso painting, (now two separate works to be sold as one lot), Malay Girl and Still Life with Cat (estimate R900 000 – 1.2 million / $47 120 – 62 825) is one of two powerful portraits by this pioneering expressionist in the sale. Sekoto has two late works on offer; they include Senegal and Paris from 1973 (estimate R300 000 – 400 000 / $15 705 – 20 940).

“Much in the way this year’s Venice Biennale draws attention to both globalised contemporary practices and modernisms of the Global South, our March live auction will draw attention to pioneering modernist and trailblazing contemporary artists,” says Jean le Clus-Theron. “Our live auction will open with a 2016 self-portrait by Zanele Muholi. This contemporary focus will be sustained throughout the next 21 lots and features works by internationally recognised contemporary artists like Lisa Brice, Marlene Dumas, Georgina Gratrix and  Sthenjwa Luthuli.

Much like Zanele Muholi, Lisa Brice’s current global renown was made, in part, by her 2018 solo exhibition at Tate Britain. Strauss & Co is delighted to offer two important works from the decade Brice returned to painting: an untitled nude from 2005 (estimate R800 000 – 1.2 million / $41 885 – 62 825) and a dreamlike landscape made in Trinidad in 2009, titled Ten Years Gone-Gr (estimate R1.6 – 2 million / $83 770 – 104 715). The sale also features works by Blessing Ngobeni, Mary Sibande and Berni Searle, all past winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, as well as a large painting by exciting new painter Brett Charles Seiler.

South African painters have for generations held the awe of collectors, and consequentially also commanded dear prices. Among an earlier generation of sought-after painters in the catalogue, Strauss & Co is excited to be offering a vivid portrait by Vladimir Tretchikoff, Flower Seller from 1949 (estimate R1.8 – 2.4 million / $94 250 – 125 668). J.H. Pierneef’s Mountains in an Extensive Landscape from 1940 (estimate R3 – 5 million / $157 050 – 261 760) is one of four works by this foundational modernist.

The March live auction will also include four impressive mythical works by Alexis Preller, among them his magnificent paintingYoung King from 1964 (estimate R4 – 6 million / $209 450 – 314 170). In the lead up to the sale of Preller’s works in Cape Town, and as part of our wider drive to internationally promote neglected modernist painters, Strauss & Co will host the exhibition Alexis Preller: Surreal Discovery at Cromwell Place in London (5 – 10 March 2024). This will be the first time that works by Preller, a preeminent modernist who studied in London in 1934, are celebrated in this way in the English capital.

“Alongside our live flagship Evening auction, we are presenting the Day Sale – a separate online auction, which concludes on Wednesday, 20 March 2024,” says Jean le Clus-Theron. “Presented under the title Re/Presentation of the Figure, the 65 lots in this separate auction include exciting contemporary painters like Banele Khoza, Talia Ramkilawan and Mostaff Muchawaya, as well as ceramics by Nico Masemola, Hylton Nel and Ben Orkin.”

Strauss & Co’s will host a dedicated programme of social and educational events in support of these important auctions at its gallery in Woodstock, Cape Town.

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