The entry of Sotheby’s to the Modern and Contemporary African Art market last year was a game-changer that brought the region to the attention of the art world at large, and saw the world-renowned auction house emerge as the new leader in this field. The world’s oldest and largest internationally recognised firm of fine art auctioneers has a global network of 80 offices and the company’s annual worldwide sales turnover is currently in excess of US$4 billion (R50 billion).

Sotheby’s first sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art in May last year proved to be international in scope, boasting works by 63 artists from 14 different countries and attracting bidders from 29 different countries on 6 continents. The sale set a new benchmark for an auction of this category, setting a record sale total and achieving record breaking prices for 16 African artists. South African artists performed especially well, demonstrated by the success of museum-favourite Nicholas Hlobo’s mixed media work ‘Untitled’, which sold for £60,000 (over R1 million)—soaring above its pre-sale estimate of £8,000-12,000 and setting a world record—and Irma Stern’s ‘Sunflowers’, which sold for £416,750 (over R7 million). The sale also saw a record-breaking price for South African photographer and rising star, Mikhael Subotzky, whose ‘Ponte City from the Yeoville Ridge’ achieved £8,125 (R140,000).
Building on the success of this inaugural sale, Sotheby’s will return this March with another impressive selection of works from across the African continent, with several South African lots being amongst the sale’s stand-out works. Highlights include ‘Untitled (Qhatha series)’ an imposing triptych by Mohau Modisakeng, whose work in the South African pavilion was celebrated as one of the most critically-acclaimed exhibitions at the 2017 Venice Biennale, as well as ‘The Exile According to the Elder’, an intricate self-portrait in tapestry by Athi-Patra Ruga, who has recently enjoyed museum exhibitions at the newly-opened Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. The auction will also feature works by artists such as Pieter Hugo, Wim Botha, Irma Stern, Dumile Feni, Gerard Sekoto, Maggie Laubser as well as works by Cecil Skotnes and Willie Bester formerly in the Peter Stuyvesant Corporate Art Collection.

Sotheby’s director Hannah O’Leary adds, “We are particularly excited to include a selection of artworks from the collection of the well-known New York collectors and philanthropists Jerome and Ellen Stern. The Sterns were true art lovers who loved to travel and to discover new artists and follow their careers. They first visited South Africa in 1995 at the time of the first Johannesburg Biennale, and it was there that they discovered many South African artists, including Marlene Dumas, whose work they continued to collect for the next twenty years. It gave me such a thrill to see a Dumas hanging next to a Picasso in their Manhattan apartment, and to find Nandipha Mntambo’s bronze busts in their sculpture garden in the Hamptons.”

Following Jerome’s death in early 2017, Sotheby’s was entrusted with the sale of an array of artworks that illustrate the diversity of media, stylistic currents and movements from the Sterns’ collection, as well as the relationships that they cultivated with these artists over the years. Works from the collection have already numbered among the highlights of the market-defining November auction season in New York, including ‘The Hours Behind You’ by British-Ghanaian artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, which sold for a record-breaking US$1,575,000 (R19.6million), and Marlene Dumas’s ‘Magdalena (Underwear and Bedtime Stories)’ which sold for US$3,615,000 (R45million).

TO LIVE WITH ART: Property from the Jerome & Ellen Stern Collection in the 28th March auction includes a selection of work by the Cape Town-based Claudette Schreuders, Pascale Marthine Tayou from Cameroon, and Swazi-born artist Nandipha Mntambo. A solo exhibition of Mntambo’s work is currently on view at Zeitz MOCAA, including another cast of ‘Sengifikile’ (£10,000-15,000, R170,000-255,000). The artist explains, “The bronze, Sengifikile, uses my own features as a foundation, but takes on the guise of a bull. Referencing the head-and-shoulder busts of the Renaissance tradition I challenge male and female roles in society and expected associations with femininity, sexuality and vulnerability”.

The Sterns were strong supporters of international museums and were dedicated to cultivating the arts with a global audience. Their collection was routinely loaned to international institutions including the National Gallery, London, the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, as well as American institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the New Museum and the Studio Museum of Harlem. Indeed, Mntambo’s ‘Europa’, ‘Zeus’ and ‘Sengifikile’, as well as Schreuders’ ‘Ma-Trix’ and ‘Three Sisters’, were included in the well-received exhibition ‘Disguise: Masks & Global African Art’ at the Seattle Museum of Art (2015) and the Brooklyn Museum (2016). All will be included in Sotheby’s upcoming sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art on 28th March.

Sotheby’s will be offering free and confidential valuations in Cape Town (Thursday 15 & Friday 16 February) and Johannesburg (Monday 19 & Tuesday 20 February) for future international auctions. Enquiries: +44 (0)207 293 5696