Chairperson’s Report by Frank Kilbourn
I am happy to report that Strauss & Co performed very well in 2018, achieving its second highest turnover ever. This satisfying result was achieved despite challenging macro-economic circumstances and increasing competition in the art auction market. Various factors contributed to this upbeat outcome.
We expanded our active buyers by more than 10% in the past year. Importantly, there was a remarkable uptick in international buyers.
Strauss & Co has transacted with new clients in Lithuania, New Zealand, Portugal and Spain.
The company’s online sales platform also flourished in 2018, generating R18 million in sales. These are encouraging numbers indeed.
The year kicked off briskly with our new contemporary art sale in February. This sale was an exciting addition to the Cape Town art calendar and coincided with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair. The 71-lot sale generated total sales of almost R14 million and established 18 new artist records. The fact that this inaugural sale was well received by the market bodes well for the future. These sales will, I believe, grow to become a significant draw for international collectors.
In the last two to three years, we have seen the very strong emergence of South African and African contemporary art internationally as a collectable. There are various strategic reasons why Strauss & Co is responding to this dynamic market. Whereas modern art tends to trade hands every 10 to 20 years, with top-end works only coming to market every three or four decades, contemporary art has a far shorter horizon of three to five years during which people update their collections.
Contemporary art is also a vehicle for Strauss & Co connecting more with the African continent.
In December Strauss & Co facilitated a charity sale of contemporary African art at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Held in partnership with Strauss & Co, the live auction featured 23 artists from 10 countries. The white-glove sale drew a packed audience and raised over R6 million from just 28 lots.
Every year we host approximately ten charitable auctions. We also support various initiatives such as the Cassirer Welz Award, Stephan Welz/Strauss & Co lecture series in Hermanus and Art Month at Welgemeend. The latter collaboration aims to support the historic Cape home of Welgemeend and every year includes an exhibition. In 2018, Shifting Boundaries: A Selection of Works showcasing South African Women Artists of the Past 100 Years celebrated the great diversity and pioneering spirit of women artists in South Africa.
The past year was characterised by continuous innovating in various aspects of our business.
Together with a group of colleagues I travelled to Amsterdam and London to promote works on our November live auction in Johannesburg.
Outreach like this is important if we are to grow awareness and interest in our South African masters, many of whom are either overlooked or forgotten internationally.
In this regard, Strauss & Co was happy to lend support to our colleague Wilhelm van Rensburg, whose exhibition The Safest Place is the Knife’s Edge at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg surveyed the career of pioneering abstract painter Christo Coetzee. Much in the way William Kentridge is internationally celebrated now, Coetzee was a vital force in Europe and America in the 1950s. There is significantly more critical mass around the research and curatorial presentation of modern and contemporary South African art.
Initiatives like Zeitz MOCAA and the Norval Foundation, as well as the soon to be opened Javett Art Centre in Pretoria, expand the options for the display and study of art. These ambitious new ventures will greatly benefit collectors by affirming careers and identifying highpoints.
It was particularly gratifying to attend the 21st BASA Awards where Strauss & Co received the discretionary Chairman’s Premier Award for our various initiatives supporting the South African art community. Our outreach to improve the whole art eco-system is not a legal duty, but rather an expression of our belief in corporate citizenship and the need to build a market for tomorrow.
Looking ahead, I am delighted to announce that collector and philanthropist Jack Ginsberg will join the board of Strauss & Co in 2019. His support of art in South Africa is legendary.
Over and above his in-depth knowledge of the market, Jack will greatly assist Strauss & Co in our art education and philanthropic initiatives.
Strauss & Co will be ten-years-old in 2019. To date we have sold nearly R2 billion worth of art. The average price for the almost 21 000 lots sold is just under R100 000 per lot. That is an incredible track record and was achieved by continuously exploring and expanding the market for art. I am confident for the long-term future and success of the South African art market, and Strauss & Co’s pivotal role in it.