ART WORLD’S NEW NOR­MAL

Covid-19 has led to a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to auc­tions, writes Mary Cor­ri­gall

Financial Mail - - LIFE - Grape Packer

ý Art might not be con­sid­ered an “es­sen­tial” item in the con­text of a global pan­demic and lock­down. Yet the art auc­tion mar­ket and sale of high-priced art­works has, sur­pris­ingly, con­tin­ued.

Or­di­nar­ily it would be cause for con­cern that few ex­pen­sive art­works are ex­ceed­ing the max­i­mum es­ti­mates as­signed by the auc­tion house. But in tough trad­ing times such as th­ese it has been com­fort­ing to note that works around the R10m mark are still find­ing buy­ers.

This is par­tially due to the fact that auc­tion houses have been cul­ti­vat­ing on­line plat­forms for some time. In pre-covid times, in­ter­net auc­tions were usu­ally lim­ited to lower-priced, less valu­able items.

High-priced works were flogged in live set­tings, sup­ported by cock­tail par­ties and four-course din­ner events. The think­ing must have been that this was the only way to at­tract buy­ers who’d be in­clined to spend more than R10m on an art­work.

Lock­downs and so­cial dis­tanc­ing in SA and in the UK — with Lon­don be­ing a vi­tal hub for the re­sale of con­tem­po­rary and mod­ern African art — forced auc­tion houses to con­duct ma­jor sales on­line. The re­sults have proved that not only is the mar­ket sta­ble, but so is an ap­petite for art­works with high price tags — and with­out pop­ping a sin­gle cham­pagne cork.

In times of eco­nomic strife it might not be un­ex­pected that the se­condary mar­ket for art is so ac­tive, es­pe­cially given that some may be forced to sell their valu­ables in or­der to sur­vive or soften the blow to their sav­ings. Oth­ers may be wish­ing to in­vest in a mar­ket that is less volatile (than oth­ers) and ac­quire works by lauded artists for lesser sums.

It was the sale of Irma Stern’s Grape Packer at Sotheby’s March sale of Mod­ern and Con­tem­po­rary African Art in Lon­don that sig­nalled that the mar­ket had re­mained sta­ble, de­spite the world turn­ing up­side down, un­der lock­down. Or­di­nar­ily it would not have been much of a talk­ing point that this 1959 oil paint­ing, de­pict­ing a farm worker with a baby on her back, fetched al­most R9m (£435,000). Stern’s

Wil­liam Ken­tridge

Irma Stern’s

Strauss & Co’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Susie Good­man mid-auc­tion

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