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What is the future of South Africa's art ?

30 January 2000 -  Andries Loots

When one reads an article on the state of South Africa's art like, "SA art has a bright future, says Welz " that appeared in The Sunday Times, Metro section, 23 January 2000 , one is once again filled with excitement as well as a bit of caution.

Mr Stephan Welz well known art auctioneer of Stephan Welz & Company in Association with Sotheby's, spoke to Antony Wiley about the end of the year sales and also on what his predictions are for the future...

In November 1999 a work by the artist Irma Stern ( 1894 -1966 ) fetched R 1.1 million at a Sotheby's, Johannesburg, auction, which was definitely the highlight of the year and also the century in the history of art and auctions in South Africa. This opened up the market for artists of the '60 and the '70 ( Cecil Skotnes, Erik Laubscher, Frieda Lock, Alice Tennant, Gwelo Goodman, J.H. Pierneef, Pieter Wenning, Frans Oerder and W.H. Coetzer ), to follow as they were grossly under valued up till now. During 1999 Stephan Welz sold works by Irma Stern to the value of R 11.85 million. 

One would have thought that everybody who bought works by artists like Irma Stern would be rushing to the Auction Houses to try and cash in on their " investment " but like Mr. Welz says it is because of the shortage of good works that the prices are rising with every sale. 

Artists with an intellectual appeal and a well-publicized career are usually the ones that have the biggest success. A book on the life and the work of an artist tends to push up their prices as the artists work become better known.

Not only are our artists now more regularly seen at exhibitions abroad, but South African art is also starting to feature prominently on international auctions. In 1999 a work by the young contemporary artist Willie Bester fetched R 110 000 at a Sotheby's London sale. It is for this reason that these auction houses now send out representatives to South Africa to source works for their sales. Christie's London's next sale of South African art will be on the 18 April 2000 and it will form part of their " Exploration and Travel " sale, with which they had some good results last year. There would also be some works by South African artists in their Amsterdam " Africanists " sale, which will go under the hammer on 24 May. 

Although Mr. Welz didn't like the idea of auctions on Internet, it has been proven to be a very powerful marketing tool and also a very fast way of communicating with potential client's world wide. Images sent to potential buyers via an e-mail messages or on a web page would be as good as the pictures being printed in catalogues. Sales results can be published world wide within a few minutes after a sale to give people an instant result of what to buy next. The international auction houses have been using the Internet successfully for their marketing for some time now:


If  predictions are correct, the financial markets will be booming this year. This fact on the one hand is not good news for the art market because people tend to invest in shares in stead of the art market but this could also generate funds that could be utilised to invest in art. South Africa's art prices are reaching new heights locally and internationally and the future looks bright for  the year. 

We will report on the first sale at Sotheby's Cape town planned for 6 March 2000 

" Under the hammer ", Antony Wiley, The Sunday Times, ( Metro ) 23 January 2000