That’s not just money on the wall

Finweek English Edition - - MONEY -

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

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