From Venice To Virtual: Strauss & Co’s Sale Features Acclaimed Contemporary Artists

Works by acclaimed artists Wim Botha, William Kentridge, Misheck Masamvu, Athi-Patra Ruga, Penny Siopis and Portia Zvavahera – artists who have all exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale – form part of the extensive contemporary art offering from Strauss & Co’s forthcoming winter Live Virtual sale, due to be held over three days from 26 to 28 July. Bidding for the contemporary consignment will commence on Monday, 27 July at 4pm with a work on paper by Kentridge, Telegrams from the Nose (estimate R90 000 – 120 0000). 

One of South Africa’s most celebrated living artists, Kentridge has twice appeared in the main curated exhibition of the Venice Biennale, in 2005 and in 2015. Kentridge has 13 lots in the sale. They include 9 Films (estimate R400 000 – 500 000), an edition of the drawing used to promote Kentridge’s 2004 outdoor film screening at the newly opened Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. Man with Baggage from Processione di Riparazioniste (estimate R280 000 – 350 000) is a laser-cut steel maquette derived from a body of work presented as a site-specific commission at the Castello di Rivoli Museum in Turin, Italy.

Athi-Patra Ruga’s sumptuous four-metre wide tapestry The Sacred Versatile Queen and Autocrat of all Azania (estimate R700 000 – 1 million) is one of the highlights of Strauss & Co’s contemporary offering. The work portrays a reclining figure and visualises the artist’s queer-positive cosmology of the Versatile Kingdom of Azania, a fictionalised South Africa ruled by a non-dynastic line of female monarchs. Ruga’s Azania mythos also informed his 2013 performance at the Venice Biennale.

Also by Ruga, The Ever Promised Erection (estimate R120 000 – 180 000) derives from a series of neo-classically inspired sculptures festooned with gilt flowers and decorative baubles that the artist created to variously comment on contemporary society.

Strauss & Co is proud to offer two large canvas works by Zimbabwean painters Misheck Masamvu and Portia Zvavahera. Both artists achieved international prominence after they were selected to show in the Zimbabwean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Masamvu in 2011 and Zvavahera in 2013.

Zvavahera’s Pakatangira Rudu (Where Love Began, estimate R250 000 – 350 000) depicts two figures embracing and is typical of her emotional figuration. A vibrant colourist, Masamvu’s Da Da (estimate R200 000 – 300 000) portrays a figure whose raised legs shield a brood of waterfowl. Both works date from 2014.

Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale has over time emerged as a reliable benchmark. Many of the top-performing historical artists in Strauss & Co sales over the past decade, including Walter Battiss, Alexis Preller and Irma Stern, were selected to exhibit at this biannual art event. In 2015 Strauss & Co became a supporting partner of the Friends of the South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale to ensure the continuity of this international platform for African talent.

Both Wim Botha and Penny Siopis have exhibited work in the South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Representations/Passim (estimate R700 000 – 1 million) is a pastel drawing from 1989 and is informed by Siopis’s research into Sara Baartman. Botha is best known for his imaginative reinterpretation of classical sculpture. His Smutsdrift diptych is composed of silver-plated bronze figures mounted on a plinth of steel plate and government documents. Many of the artist’s future working methods and material concerns are present in this student work from 1996.

Other notable contemporary sculpture lots in the July sale include Deborah Bell’s ensemble of four mythical figures collectively titled Custodians (estimate R350 000 – 450 000), Willem Boshoff’s helical curl in wood titled Tshidumbumukwe (estimate R100 000 – 120 0000) and Walter Oltmann’s woven-wire piece Infant (estimate R100 000 – 150 000). The catalogue includes another Zimbabwean artist, sculptor Moffat Takadiwa, whose hanging sculpture Printed Modernity (estimate R100 000 – 150 000) is made from found objects such as keyboard parts. 

“Our fantastic contemporary art selection is really comprehensive and covers everything from oil paintings by Georgina Gratrix and Nelson Makamo to Gerhard Marx’s magnificent collage piece using map fragments,” says Strauss & Co executive director Susie Goodman. “Over the past decade, as the shock of 

the new has settled, we’ve seen established collectors enthusiastically integrate works by contemporary artists into their historical collections. The programming of our sale makes clear the stylistic lineages and affinities that connect past and present artists, be it Clive van den Berg with Christo Coetzee, or Athi-Patra Ruga with Alexis Preller.”

Painting remains an important medium, even in the contemporary category. Highlights from the painting selection include Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi’s large oil depicting rural communion, Horse Spirit (estimate R600 000 – 900 000), and a noteworthy trove of six works by Robert Hodgins. The standout Hodgins is an unusual study of an urban landscape, Memo Painting #1 (estimate R1.2 – 1.6 million), which references a 1993 film he made in collaboration with Deborah Bell and William Kentridge.

The photography selection includes a number of prominent photographers, among them Jane Alexander, Jabulani Dhlamini, Greg Marinovich, Zanele Muholi, Thabiso Sekgala and Guy Tillim. Two of the photographers, Muholi and Mikhael Subotzky, have previously been exhibited in the main curated pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Dhlamini is currently exhibiting in London, a portfolio documenting lockdown in Soweto.

Strauss & Co’s forthcoming Live Virtual July sale will follow the format of its successful May sale, with auctioneers hammering down lots from physical salerooms in Cape Town and Johannesburg, but bidders participating remotely from the safety and comfort of their homes. The sale will be livestreamed via the Strauss website, which is integrated with Invaluable.com, the world’s leading international platform for buying art, antiques and collectibles online, and offer buyers a seamless transactional environment. Bidders can place live bids on Strauss & Co’s website, or bid with a company representative on the telephone during the sale. Strauss & Co’s salerooms have back-up generators in the event of loadshedding.

Art by Sam Francis

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