Rose Korber 1938 – 2020
It is with great sadness that we report the quiet passing of Rose Korber, a great kindly soul, an art writer and dealer who had an excellent eye for spotting and nurturing young talent, who’s career spanned well over 30 years. Born in a small Karoo town of Carnarvon, Rose went on to great heights through her hard work, study and dedication, together with her beloved husband Morris, with who she had a family of 3 children. In the 90’s she started the well attended Summer Salon at Camps Bay Hotel that served much like a talent barometer of Cape talent of the year. Many of Rose’s artists became well known, she was one of the first art dealers to recognise and promote William Kentridge of which she always spoke of in highest regard. Rose should be more recognised as one of a handful of leading woman art business figure in SA Art History like Linda Givon and Esme Berman, especially at a time of SA fragile and dynamic first years of democracy. Just as Rose often said about William Kentridge’s international success- that “we have given William to the World”, I would like to similarly say, with a deep gratitude that, God has given us Rose, and what a wonderful gift to all of us she is- that she filled our lives with ongoing beauty, wonderment, integrity and hope.
Please find our incredible interview with Rose and SA Art Times’s Lyn Holm November 2014 below.
To go to this article, click here. https://issuu.com/…/docs/south_african_art_times_november_20
Interview with Rose Korber: SA Art’s Grande Dame
SA Art Times November 2014
Rose Korber is one of South Africa’s leading, independent art dealers, consultants and curators, specialising in works by leading and emerging, contemporary South African artists. Over the past three decades, she has become widely known for her significant role in introducing South African art to a local as well as an international art market. Her background experience as a freelance artwriter, critic and UCT Summer School lecturer, proved to be an excellent preparation for her later role. Having covered many international art events over the years – including numerous Documentas and Venice Biennales – she decided on a complete change of direction, when, in 1990, she launched the Rose Korber Art Consultancy (subsequently re-named Rose Korber Art). In 1992, Rose initiated the Art Salon in Camps Bay– the first of 21 further annual Salons – which rapidly became a major annual art event in Cape Town. The Salons brought together a large and diverse showcase of innovative and contemporary South African art in various media and styles that gave a comprehensive overview of the current state of South African art: paintings, mixed media works, original limited- edition prints, photography, sculpture, ceramics and, later, contemporary Shangaan beadwork. One of Rose’s great strengths is her uncanny ability to spot talent and to launch both established and emerging artists to newer heights. She and her husband and business partner, Morris, were able to attract some of the finest artists to their gallery and their Salons, over the years. These included William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Willie Bester, Sam Nhlengethwa, Claudette Schreuders, Norman Catherine, Deborah Bell, Simon Stone, Stephen Inggs. But new, emerging artists were always introduced.
Rose has recently moved her Camps Bay enterprise and relocated to Sea Point. The SA Art Timeswas recently allowed to explore her private collection and enquire about her amazing career in support of South African art.
AT: How and why did you start dealing in South African art?
RK: I hail from Carnarvon, a very small town in real Karoo country, north of Beaufort West. My parents ‘emigrated’ to Cape Town when I was eight, to provide me with a ‘good education’, but, more and more, I was drawn to art.
By the time I began to study fine art and art history through UNISA, I already had three young children, which wasn’t easy. But I took my time – five years in all – to get my BA (Fine Arts), followed shortly afterwards by an Honours degree in Art History. My first job was writing a regular art column for the Argus, but I was frequently reminded by the then arts editor that their statistics indicated that only a miniscule percentage of their readers was at all interested in art! Next, I was commissioned by the SA in-flight magazine, The Flying Springbok (later renamed Sawabona) to do a series of articles on contemporary Cape Town and Johannesburg artists. This necessitated several journeys to Johannesburg, and gave me the opportunity -of meeting many established and emerging artists (still relatively unknown in Cape Town) and viewing their works up close.
My entry into the business side of art happened quite by chance a few years later. Invited by an acquaintance to lunch on their Franschhoek farm, I was taken aback when our hostess asked me casually if I would undertake to assist her to find new, quality art for their Cape Town home, which was undergoing a huge facelift. I nervously agreed, as I had had no experience in this field whatsoever. The result was that I spent the following three months, taking the client around to galleries and studios, and enjoying every minute. During this process, my confidence grew tremendously. I had managed, in that time, to put together a fine collection of works for her, and, at the same time, had finally found the direction my career was to take.
AT: Can you name some person who inspired you or mentored you along the way?
RK: Two people who inspired me enormously– and, in fact, turned my life around – were Kevin
Atkinson, an abstract painter and inspirational art theorist / philosopher who taught at Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Art, and Prof. Neville Dubow, head of Michaelis for many years – a brilliant lecturer, art historian, art theorist and photographer, whotravelled extensively in the course of his lectures, bringing back with him news and images of the most contemporary art events and movements abroad. In the early days, I was also influenced by outstanding gallerists in Cape Town, such as Joe Wolpe the doyen of gallerists), Louis Schachat (the expert on South Africa’s ‘old masters’) and Esther Rousso, who introduced Cape Town to many exhibitions by Johannesburg artists such as William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Deborah Bell and Penny Siopis. I became personal friends of these gallerists, and they were always happy to share their knowledge with me.
AT: Is there any advice that has stayed with you?
RK: I am a firm believer in clients buying artworks that they love rather than for investment only. Of course, the more knowledgeable you are about contemporary art and the market, the more sophisticated your taste will be. In earlier days, buying for investment only was never a major issue, while today – with the increasing commodification of art, worldwide, particularly contemporary art, buying primarily for investment has become the rage.
AT: I think that core relationships must essentially be the core of your business and knowing how to please specific clients.
RK: Yes, I realised at a certain point that it wasn’t a regular gallery that I wanted to establish. It was a place where art-lovers could come together to view selected, quality South African art in an informal setting on a personal, ‘one-to-one’ basis, and share my passion for art. The Camps Bay house – with its stunning views of sea and mountain and its extraordinary light, was perfect for that purpose, and drew a great many clients over the years, both local and international. The greatest compliment they could pay me was, on departing: ‘We have learnt so much from our visit’.
AT: Your career has put you in contact with many interesting people. Do you have any interesting stories about dealing with them?
RK: William Kentridge was one of the first artists I approached when starting out. I called to advise that I would no longer be having long interviews with him, as I was now starting a business, and would love to have some of his work. His response was most encouraging, and he invited me to visit his studio whenever I was in Johannesburg. In those early days, he was not yet so well known: only those really in the know were aware of his extraordinary talent and versatility. I’ll never forget my first visit to Kentridge’s studio. He opened drawer after drawer of magnificent drawings and original prints, and what a choice there was! It has been one of the highlights of my career to have gotten to know him and help promote his work over the years.
I also vividly remember my first big client – Oprah Winfrey – who was in Cape Town on a private visit, and was recommended to visit our home/gallery by the manager of her exclusive hotel. Although she had not yet become a household brand in South Africa (as her television shows were only aired here later), I was sworn to secrecy about her identity, and was forbidden to even inform the artists whose work she purchased, until long after she had returned to the USA. I fetched her from her hotel early in the morning, and she spent several hours going through every artwork in our gallery, including a large stock of unframed original prints in two print cabinets. She had an extremely good eye (especially as she was not familiar with the South African art scene), was totally charming and very generous. It was near Christmas, so she spent liberally and there was great excitement, all ‘round!
Several years later, we were delighted to welcome Sir Ian McKellen, the great stage and screen actor, to one of our Art Salons at the Bay. Better known to the younger generation for playing Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies, he was entranced with several pieces of ceramics on display and purchased some fine pieces, which had to be hastily packed for his early departure to London the following day.
AT: Very few South African dealers can claim some 30 years in the industry. After all this time, how has your way of doing business changed? Does it still amount to quality and trust between artist, dealer and client?
RK: Absolutely. Just like people trust their doctor or lawyer, they need to trust their art consultant for the tried to keep up to date with what is going on in the art world and the art market, so that I can inform clients to the best of my ability.
AT: How has the way people collect art changed during the course of you career?
RK: The past two decades have seen an enormous shift in South African art, with our local artworks becoming increasingly internationalised and our artists taking their rightful place on a world stage, and making huge inroads into the global market. What changed everything in this country was when South Africa finally became a democracy in 1994, and the 30 years of cultural boycott was lifted. Over the last two decades, visitors, and especially museum and gallery directors, have flocked to Post-apartheid South Africa and come to know and appreciate South African art.By purchasing South African art, and taking it home with them, they were exposing our artists to a global audience. Big group shows also began touring overseas and many of our artists became household names overnight. That was terribly exciting, as the interest in contemporary South African art – from both local and international collectors – has continued to grow unabated.
AT: Is there any advice that you could give to artists starting out?
RK: It’s a very tough world out there. If you have the will, the passion and stamina, you could well make it; but you’ve got to stick it out. Another important aspect of the SA art scene, which has changed dramatically over the last few years, is the recognition given to younger, ground breaking artists: talented art school graduates are now being snapped up by curators and major galleries almost before they graduate.
AT: Any advice for those who want to start their own collections?
RK: Attend as many exhibitions as you can to familiarise yourself with what is happening: then find yourself a reputable gallery that you can relate to and trust. This will help you feel confident in that you are getting the best advice possible.
AT: So what’s next for Rose Korber?
RK: I am considering a number of options, but will still be available for consultations to advise on art purchasing and investment, as well as sourcing artworks from the artists. I look forward to continuing to share my passion for art with clients, both old and new.
AT: Do you think you will ever retire from being an art dealer/consultant?
RK: I believe ‘retirement’ is the worst word in the English language! People seem to go one way
when they retire, unless they have many other interests to pursue. My interest in South African art remains unchanged, and I certainly plan to go on. A recent Observer article featured Marian Goodman, who is one of the foremost gallerists in the world, with her principal gallery in New York, as well as one in Paris. She is now opening her third big gallery in London. Not bad for her age: she is 86, with no talk of retirement whatsoever! I too am feeling very positive, so watch this space!