That’s not just money on the wall
The year 2010 proved to be an exceptional one for South African art. It was the year an 87 x 71 cm oil on canvas was sold by Bonhams in London for R26.42m. That’s R4 277.15 per square centimetre. Irma Stern’s Bahora Girl, a world record price for South African art at the time, is worth about 70 times the value of the world’s most expensive properties centimetre by centimetre.
In March 2011 another Stern painting, entitled Arab Priest, was sold for $5m (almost R54m), also by Bonhams. With sales exceeding $18m in 2011 alone, Bonhams is the global market leader in SA art. Interestingly, the auction house holds the world record for selling the artwork of major SA artists.
If these records seem impressive, international art is even more so.
In March this year, following world- wide interest, Vladimir Tretchikoff ’s Chinese Girl painting – estimated to sell for £300 000 to £500 000, made £ 982 050 (R13.8m) in London. Bonhams was once again the auction house handling the sale. The question is, why is Irma Stern’s painting of a pretty girl worth almost twice as much as Chinese Girl? And why is her Arab Priest worth twice as much as her Bahora Girl?
Says Bonhams’ Elizabeth Callinicos: “Oil on canvas is known to be the most expensive of the various art mediums as well as the most durable. Pierneef, Stern, Maggie Laubscher, these continue to be the most sought after among South Africa’s modern artists and their works continue to hold their value. Each artist has a strong and established market. The high prices they are realising on auction is an indication that collectors want the best quality artworks and they are prepared to pay premium for them.”
Callinicos continues: “The auction market, indicates the fair market value, in other words, the sale results illustrate what a willing buyer is prepared to pay or what he/she believes the artwork to be worth. As auction houses are obliged to release their sale results, there is greater transparency. The auction estimate indicates to potential bidders what the auction house considers to be the value of the work, based on their knowledge of the market.”
Is there a difference between buying from a gallery and an auction house? “I think buying from a gallery and on auction are two completely different experiences,” says Callinicos. “A gallery is a private, closed transaction. Buying from an auction house can be more exciting or thrilling, especially when there are two collectors vying for the same piece.”
Callinicos points out that while works on paper used to be priced lower than canvas to account for their greater fragility, this has changed. “Works on paper [prints, etchings, watercolours] have increasingly escalated in value, and world records have been achieved for works on paper.” Callinicos, who is also a cataloguer of South African art based in Bond Street, London, believes the contemporary print market “is exceptionally buoyant at the moment”. WHAT’S IN A NAME? But Stefan Hundt, curator of Sanlam’s art collection, says: “One cannot buy artists. Each work needs to be judged on its merits. The artist that produced the painting is only one factor to be considered. For the uneducated consumer a critical realisation is that they do not have the knowledge they need to make [ good investment decisions]. There are [many] galleries in malls out there
Irma Stern’s Arab Priest