In May 2015, Pablo Picasso’s 1955 painting Les Femmes d’Alge (Version ‘O’) made headlines when it fetched $179.4-million dollars at Christie’s in New York in under eight minutes. In the same year, South African artist Irma Stern’s The Arab in Black sold for $1.3-million after it was found being used as a kitchen notice board in London.

So, what makes some art so expensive?

When we talk about the value of art, people’s minds usually jump to the artists themselves: Who were they? What were they known for? Are they still alive?

Beyond the visual appeal and provenance of an artwork, a valuable artwork has social value attached to it, be it negative or positive. Art is a reflection of the times. This year, the local art industry is ablaze with auction houses and galleries showcasing work that serves as a probe into the social and political landscape.

This month, Aspire Art Auction’s sale includes works of social and cultural value by exiled artists Dumile Feni and Louis Maqhubela, as well as a first for South Africa — a photograph of Marina Abramovic, who is described as the grandmother of performance art. read more