Stephen N Welz says there is an interesting conundrum about South African art on auction. Welz, who heads up fine art auction house Strauss & Co, says: “It is easier to sell a R1-million painting than a run-of-the-mill R10000 painting – unless the latter is a remarkable example of the artist’s work.
The lower market is feeling the pinch, but you’ll find that those who could afford to pay R1-million can still afford to pay that.”This would suggest that entry-level collectors could pick up some bargains at the Johannesburg Country Club in Woodmead on May 24, if they have the cash available. That is when Strauss & Co’s next fine art auction takes places. Welz describes it as “undoubtedly the largest number of major paintings to come on to the market for a long time”.A selection of prime Irma Stern still lifes from different periods of the artist’s career will take pride of place. Still Life with Gladioli and Fruit is estimated to fetch R4.5-million, and Welz says Still Life With Dahlias and Fruitcould set a collector back R6-million.Also going under the hammer is JH Pierneef’s 1949 painting Barberton, which should fetch up to R1-million. “It’s one of Pierneef’s more painterly landscapes,” says Welz.There are also a number of works by the likes of Alexis Preller, Maggie Laubser, Maurice van Essche and Maud Sumner up for auction, with Welz advising that Sumner is an “underpriced” South African artist whose work should make a sound investment – especially her The Thames at Sunset. Preller’s major work, The Flower King is a noteworthy addition to the auction palette.Other major artists whose work can be snapped up are William Kentridge, Colbert Mashile, Robert Hodgins, Helen Sebidi and Gregoire Boonzaier.A fascinating feature of the auction is a number of sculptures by a loose association of artists known as the Amadlozi Group – Edoardo Villa, Cecil Skotnes, Sydney Kumalo, Giuseppe Cattaneo and Cecily Sash.Amadlozi – meaning “spirit of the ancestors” – held their first exhibition, co-curated by art dealer Egon Guenther, in his Johannesburg gallery in October 1963. The exhibition also toured Italy, but they never exhibited again together as the Amadlozi Group. Despite this, the influence of these pioneering artists’ on the development of South African art is regarded as profound.Welz talks about the “last-chance syndrome” of auctions, when a collector who has been waiting years for a particular work will “beg, borrow or steal” the money to purchase it. “Most art collectors buy with their hearts,” he says. “The investment aspect is there, but is relatively low.”He says that “in the 40 years I’ve been in the industry, South African art has held up remarkably well, and now people who had confidence in it are reaping the rewards. “