This SA artwork by Irma Stern could fetch R5m+ in Sotheby’s 1st modern African art sale

2017-05-10 06:30 -
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Cape Town -  London's prestigious auction house Sotheby's, dating back to the 1700s, will for the first time host a Sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art, including the work of late South African artist Irma Stern as the star piece. 

Sotheby’s announced its Inaugural Sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art, set to take place on Tuesday 16 May, after a pre-exhibition in London from Friday, 12 until Monday, 15 May.

Stern's Sunflowers, oil on canvas (86x86cm) dated 1942, is expected to fetch £350 000 - 550 000 / US$435 000 - 685 000 (about R5.6ml at R12.95/$). 

The sale will also feature works by over 60 different artists from 14 countries across the continent, including Algeria (North Africa), Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal (West Africa), Ethiopia and Uganda (East Africa), Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo (Central Africa), Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe (Southern Africa).

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“The marketplace for modern and contemporary art from Africa has transformed dramatically over the past decade, but despite this long-overdue correction, there’s still a considerable way to go towards addressing the under-representation of African artists, who account for just 0.01% of the international art market," says Sotheby’s Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art Hannah O’Leary.

Exponential increase in market demand from collectors in Africa

O’Leary says in recent years, she's seen an exponential increase in market demand from collectors in Africa and the African diaspora, as well as international art collectors and influencers who are embracing art from Africa as exciting, innovative and relevant.

"Sotheby’s entry to the market is in direct response to its current strength and its even greater potential over the coming years," says O’Leary. "In our sale, you’ll find works by the giants of Modern and Contemporary African Art, who’ve established auction prices over $1 million (about R13 ml at R12.95/$), alongside little-known artists who have never, or barely, appeared at auction before.

"This is our opportunity to redress some of the current price anomalies; to identify those artists who we think currently undersell but have huge potential."

O’Leary says Modern and Contemporary African Art spans many different decades, themes, cultures and geographies.

"We're not suggesting that the art included in our sale forms one cohesive body, but hope that the auction and our international exhibitions will provide a fresh platform for these artists, attracting the interest of new collectors and enthusiasts who have not yet explored this field,” says O’Leary.

Homegrown talent

For those wanting to experience more of Stern's artwork, a visit to the The University of Cape Town's Irma Stern Museum is certainly a must.

The Museum, established in 1971, encapsulated the life, work and travels of this major South African artist by displaying a collection of her art and artefacts in the domestic setting of her home.

Stern's work reflects a life-long interest in depicting people and two illustrated journals published of her travels are said to vividly capture her experiences in Zanzibar and the Congo. 

The museum also regularly hosts exhibitions by other contemporary South African artists. 

Further to this South Africa has a thriving art scene as galleries have turned into places of social fun rather than mere places to stare at paintings in a detached fashion.

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In particular, Cape Town's art scene has been invigorated over the years with First Thursdays and public art installations making it easy for urbanites and visitors to the city to enjoy art in all forms.

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