A New look at Bronze

by Andries Loots 
4 March 2003
Looking at the latest trends emerging in the art markets of today, it is very clear that sculpture is becoming serious business not only in the International but also in the local art markets.

According to a spokesmen of Christie's, the sculpture market was underplayed and under priced so far but experienced an enormous boom from 1998 to 2002, with record prices fetched at auction for sculpture by Rodin, Matisse, Brancusi, and Giacometti. Sculpture was always more affordable in comparison to paintings. As access to major investment paintings became more difficult because all the masterpieces had either been taken up in museums or private collections, buyers started looking at sculpture as a last opportunity to include a significant work in their collection. 

Many of the old master sculptures were cast in very low editions of 8, 9 or twelve and were taken up in museum collections. That left the private collector with very little to buy and thus created huge demand that could not be satisfied by the limited availability. Prices started soaring. If one however can go by the International Auction markets of Sotheby's, Christie' and Phillips, not al bronzes will fetch high prices. The criteria for setting the price are still that the work must be very special or rare.

Two sculptures, one by Giacometti in the foreground
and another by Max Ernst at Sotheby's NY Nov 2002

If one looks at the limited South African sculpture market it is slowly emerging. Although we have few sculptors who have gained International recognition and many of the very best we have to offer will stay a good decorative piece due to the lack of International exposure and promotion, the quality of sculpture in South Africa is high and works are still relatively inexpensive, creating a huge potential for growth with proper marketing and if the International markets can be cracked. Artists need to show their works as widely as possible with respectable Galleries and on international exhibitions if they want to gain this recognition. 

Artists like William Kentridge who has entered the International Art market because of his ingenuity, marketing and excellent publicity has also excelled in the sculpture medium. His sculpture up to now were done in very limited editions ( 7  ) for small works and ( 3  ) for the larger works. In this he has created demand for his work and according to his agent has a waiting list of up to three years on  larger  works and many anxious collectors are on a waiting list for smaller works. 

Other names who have appeared in International catalogues from time to time, include artists like Norman Catherine,  Willie Bester,  Claudette Schreuders,  Jane Alexander,  Dylan Lewis and a few others. 

On the local auction front, Stephan Welz & Co. in Association with Sotheby's, also experience a steady rise in prices of sculpture of artists like Norman Catherine, Ezrom Legae, Lucas Sithole, Sydney Kumalo and Speelman Mahlangu. 

" It is a long overdue catch-up on the market between sculpture and painting. Historians have understood for a long while that many of the distortions and eating's-away of space in the pictures of Picasso and of Matisse in particular,  were first inspired by their sculptures. And now collectors have finally got the message. "
- Art Review,  November 2002,  p.24

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