Art curators often juggle numerous roles.

They are publicists for artists – but also the ones selecting the best work to ensure artists’ work at any given exhibition or public showcase, or even auction, gain reverence. And they ensure that artists’ names and work are captured in books or literature.

At the same time they often need to get feet through gallery doors.

This role becomes even more strenuous when entering the secondary art market, where authorities like art specialists need to preserve artists’ legacies, but also valuate pieces.

It’s easy to say that the art should speak for itself, but often buyers need advice when it comes to purchasing new pieces, meaning specialists need to become walking encyclopedias of the South African art landscape.

On top of newcomers entering the market, many South African artists’ works have become especially important posthumously – and that is when art specialists really step in to show the influence of those artists and explain their lasting impact.

Wilhelm van Rensburg, an art specialist at Strauss and Co, this week presented a dialogue tracing Peter Clarke’s work. Strauss and Co’s current online auction (ending on Monday) features a range of Clarke’s work.

It highlights again how art needs its specialists and its creators for a robust community.

Van Rensburg trained many artists at the University of Johannesburg and he is a freelance curator and the force behind retrospective exhibitions for Standard Bank Gallery of the work of Irma Stern, Judith Mason and JH Pierneef.

Later this year he’s curating an exhibition of the work of Christo Coetzee. His knowledge of local artists means that the work of Clarke gathers appreciation.

But why was Clarke such a fascinating South African artist? Read more