New team out to pro­mote South African art A new art auc­tion house will soon hold its first auc­tion and aims to get South African artists on par, es­pe­cially fi­nan­cially, with their in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts.

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is never a bet­ter time to do some­thing than now,” goes the say­ing. So when the art mar­ket is weak, like it cur­rently is world­wide, it could be the right time to es­tab­lish a new busi­ness.

This is one of the mo­tives be­hind the de­ci­sion of two well-known fig­ures in the world of art – Mary-Jane Dar­roll and Ruarc Peffers – to es­tab­lish a busi­ness spe­cial­is­ing in art auc­tions. Their As­pire Art Auc­tions is plan­ning its first auc­tion in Oc­to­ber in Jo­han­nes­burg at The Park on 7, Hyde Park Cor­ner.

“Our goal is to pro­mote, ad­vance and sus­tain the South African art mar­ket – not only on home soil, but with a spe­cific and in­ten­tional in­ter­na­tional reach,” says Dar­roll, who has en­joyed a long and dis­tin­guished ca­reer in auc­tion, as well as cu­rat­ing im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions, among others, the Win­ter Sculp­ture Fair at Nirox.

Since the 90s, the South African se­condary art mar­ket has come to the fore and reached a high when Bon­hams sold Irma Stern’s Arab Priest in March 2011 for R34.4m – the most that has ever been paid for a work of art by a South African artist.

Ac­cord­ing to Dar­roll, the mar­ket for art has given rise to many more artists, gal­leries, traders and auc­tion­eers over the past 20 years. “The mech­a­nisms of the in­dus­try, how­ever, have been slow and re­sis­tant to change and have not en­tirely kept pace with the rate of de­vel­op­ment or with new ar­eas of growth,” says Dar­roll.

Peffers, an art ex­pert and ex­pe­ri­enced auc­tion­eer, con­tin­ues: “Al­though South African art is on par with art world­wide, and is in cer­tain re­spects su­pe­rior, it does not fetch the prices at­tained by in­ter­na­tional works of art. South African art is in fact un­re­al­is­ti­cally cheap. Where a piece of art by a young Amer­i­can artist would, for ex­am­ple, fetch $25 000 (ap­prox­i­mately R380 000), you could get a sim­i­lar piece by a South African artist for about R20 000.”

In­stead of just spurring on the peak of the mar­ket to­wards greater suc­cess, As­pire Art Auc­tions will aim to pro­mote the whole South African art mar­ket and get bet­ter prices.

As­pire Art Auc­tions is sup­ported by two well-known busi­ness­men, Brian Joffe, founder of the Bidvest Group, and Adrian Gore, founder and CEO of Dis­cov­ery. Both are avid art col­lec­tors.

Re­gard­ing the model used for art auc­tions, Dar­roll and Peffers want to think out­side the box with­out un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the suc­cess of the proven for­mat.

With the aid of pos­si­bil­i­ties of­fered by tech­nol­ogy, they wish to meet the needs of a grow­ing mar­ket for younger col­lec­tors and at the same time move away from the stan­dard “sa­lon” ap­proach when of­fer­ing works of art. “If it is an im­por­tant work of art, we want to of­fer it as an im­por­tant work, with cat­a­logues with more re­search into the work and with auc­tions that sup­port the work to the fullest – some­thing sim­i­lar to ‘cu­rated’ ex­hi­bi­tions.”

And in ad­di­tion, Dar­roll and Peffers will soon also strive to es­tab­lish artists’ right to a por­tion of the in­come from se­condary sales, or droit de suite, which is al­ready in­cluded in leg­is­la­tion in the EU, the US and Aus­tralia. This stip­u­la­tion, which forms part of the Berne Con­ven­tion, which, among others, pro­tects copy­right on lit­er­ary works and works of art, en­ti­tles artists and their heirs a right to a por­tion (be­tween 0.25% and 4% in the EU) of the re­sale price of works of art.

Dar­roll and Peffers re­gard start­ing up a new auc­tion house in these rel­a­tively dif­fi­cult eco­nomic con­di­tions as a real chal­lenge, but then Dar­roll refers to the weak Bri­tish art mar­ket shortly be­fore 2000. “It was a time when con­tem­po­rary art was not re­garded as im­por­tant. All it re­quired to get the Bri­tish art mar­ket back on its feet was an in­di­vid­ual like Charles Saatchi and the es­tab­lish­ment of Tate Mod­ern. In this way it en­gen­dered trust, which fil­tered through to buy­ers.”

As­pire Art Auc­tions aims to cre­ate new en­ergy and trust in the South African art mar­ket. And this they wish to do in con­junc­tion with gal­leries for the ben­e­fit of the whole art in­dus­try.

More de­tails, for in­stance re­gard­ing the di­rec­tors and staff of As­pire Art Auc­tions, will be re­leased shortly.

Ruarc Peffers and Mary-Jane Dar­roll, the team be­hind As­pire Art Auc­tions.

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