Modern and contemporary art steals the show

Unfortunately, not all artists with unique trademarks are equally appreciated in the art business. The top lot of the sale in the Strauss & Co’s auctions in Johannesburg on June 1st, 2015 is Irma Stern’s Still Life with Roses, estimated R4 million – R6 million. These figures, translated into US dollar, equal $336,000 – $500,000. And that is the price for one of the most representative works of South Africa’s foremost artist and one of the top-selling female artists of all time. As such, the recognizable characteristics between an artwork and its creator is not the sole criterion in determining its market value. What is of crucial importance is the familiarity of the artist’s name to the public. Many of us must have heard about Mondrian, Rothko, Fernand Leger, or Amedeo Modigliani, but how many have heard about Irma Stern, Zulu Maiden, Mustafa Maluka, or Athi-Patra Ruga? Supposedly very few. The low market value of these South African artists compared to that of their Euro-American peers is not wholly illogical: Western art has long enjoyed the dominant status in art industry as well as art history. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder if the price determined by the market can truthfully reflect the artistic value of an artwork. Should we consider the expensive works as more radical, more revolutionary, more historically important than those less expensive ones? Some may go as far as accusing the art market and its institutions of speculation, of attributing false monetary value to artworks for personal gains. Consequently, there is little artistic values in those abstractions or colors, and the intellectual aspect usually associated to abstract art is but the manifestation of art being reserved for the elite. While it can be true to some extent (that is the reason why it is call art “business” after all), one should be reminded that abstract art is not made to be elitist; it is only perceived as such because many people do not care enough to explore the hidden significance of what seems to be lifeless lines and block of colors.


Shrouded Figure in a Landscape . By William Joseph Kentridge

William Joseph KENTRIDGE, South African 1955–, Shrouded Figure in a Landscape [Taking in the Landscape], signed and dated ‘90 chalk pastel and charcoal, 106 by 128,5 cm.

Service Man. By Jane Alexander

Jane ALEXANDER, South African 1959–, Serviceman, signed, dated April 1994, inscribed with the title and ‘XIT Exhibition’on the right back pocket; engraved with the title on a plaque adhered to the base.

Dolly au collier d’argent. By Kees van Dongen.

Kees van DONGEN, Dutch 1877–1968, Dolly au collier d’argent, signed; signed on the stretcher oil on canvas, 62,5 by 45 cm.

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