ART WORLD’S NEW NORMAL
Covid-19 has led to a different approach to auctions, writes Mary Corrigall
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
Strauss & Co’s executive director Susie Goodman mid-auction