The fourteen exciting lots by pre-eminent South African artist William Kentridge on Strauss & Co’s May Virtual Live auction span nearly forty years of the artist’s evolving career as a print maker of international repute. The mostrecent work in the sale, Refugees (You Will Find No Other Seas) (estimate R 600 000 – 800 000), dating from 2017, was produced as part of Triumphs and Laments (2016), a monumental ‘drawing’ project using large-scale stencils and pressure-cleaning equipment to create images reflecting the artist’s personal interpretation of the history of the city on the walls that line the Tiber River in Rome. The technically distinctive large-scale aquatint etching on the Strauss & Co sale was printed using 36 separate plates on paper, mounted on a raw cotton support, which unusually folds up into a clam-shell presentation box.
The oldest Kentridge work in the sale is Domestic Scenes – A Wildlife Catalogue (estimate R 200 000 – 300 000), another multi-plate image which dates from 1980. It casts a satirical eye at a motley crew of human and animal characters including cats and a warthog that sometimes reappear elsewhere in Kentridge’s extensive repertoire. Four single-plate etchings from the same series are also on the sale and, at estimates of R 30 000 – 50 000 each, are likely to be snapped up by novice collectors keen to grow their investment in contemporary art.
A highly unusual work dating from 1994, when Kentridge was less famous than Afropop sensation Mango Groove, is a stand-out work on the upcoming sale. The charcoal and pastel drawing was used in the stop-motion animation music video created and directed by Kentridge in support of the band’s studio album, Another Country, only months before the South Africa’s landmark democratic elections. The band’s eponymous single, infused with a powerful sense of optimism for the country’s democratic future, became the anthem of the country’s joyful crossover period. Video of Claire Johnston, the band’s vocalist, was inserted into the charcoal-drawn narrative that moved between evocative mine-dump landscapes, banner-carrying crowds, towering pylons, wrapped monuments and booming megaphones. Poignant images of a violent past flashed across billboards and drive-in screens, but clear starry skies and cleansing rains promised clarity and renewal. The artwork shows a jostling mass of figures surrounding a megaphone-topped pylon, with banners in Kentridge’s familiar colours of red and blue a shock beneath the grey sky. Often seen as a symbol of authoritarian control, this megaphone tower crumbles to dust in the final frame of the video.
Although best known for his drawings and films about Johannesburg, Kentridge’s sensibilities as an artist have also strongly been influenced by his travels. A particularly noteworthy mid-career lot is Untitled Drawing Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (estimate R5 – 6 million), which depicts the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The drawing was one of roughly 40 drawings Kentridge made for the very first opera he directed, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse, commissioned by the organisers of the Kunsten Festival des Arts in Brussels in 1998.
Two lots demonstrating Kentridge’s mastery of large-format graphic composition – Music Box Tondo (estimate R 200 000 – 300 000) and the diptych Rumours and Impossibilities/Entirely Not So (estimate R 300 000 – 500 000) – will appeal to knowledgeable contemporary art lovers and institutions alike, along with the lithograph Undo, Unsay, Unremember (estimate R 120 000 – 160 000), which depicts the ubiquitous Kentridge typewriter loosely rendered in sloshy black ink on a ‘found’ book page.
Two characteristic Kentridge Irises, an etching and a digital print, round out the artist’s offering on the May Virtual Live sale, which takes place in the company’s Johannesburg offices. The action starts on Sunday 16 when a single-owner private collection of fine wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne goes under the hammer, and continues with three sessions of modern, post-war and contemporary art on Monday 17 and Tuesday 18 May.
“The range and breadth in our May catalogue is astonishing,” says Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co. “Besides Hugo Naudé’s luscious riverine study of Port St Johns and various otherworldly Namibian landscapes by Keith Alexander, Adolph Jentsch and Maud Sumner, there is a gorgeous triptych, Three Views (estimate R 220 000 – 280 000) from Durban artist Andrew Verster’s glorious Fragile Paradise series. Another highlight has to be John Meyer’s remarkable photorealist rendering of an eastern Free State landscape at Golden Gate”.
All the lots as well as interactive digital catalogues are available on the Strauss & Co website along with easily accessible, user-friendly information about registering for the auction, bidding and buying.