The hubbub of a working harbour provided the backdrop for Strauss & Co’s inaugural contemporary art sale, the first such auction in South Africa to focus exclusively on this burgeoning category of art.

Held in a stylishly transformed warehouse adjacent to Duncan Dock in the Port of Cape Town, the hour-long sale comprised 71 lots representing three generations of contemporary artists and generated total sales of R13.551 million, with a sell-through rate of 80%.

The successful sale affirmed the reputation at auction of senior artists like Robert Hodgins, William Kentridge, Karel Nel and Penny Siopis, but also – and importantly in the context of this new sale – uncovered collector appetite for works by a younger generation of artists, notably painters.

This enthusiasm was registered early on when rival bidders vied for Lisa Brice’s gesso work depicting lovers kissing, Untitled (2006). This formative work was knocked down for R250 096, more than double the high estimate. The following lot, Kiss, Kiss (2013), a striking oil work by Georgina Gratrix, was also the subject of intense competitive bidding and eventually sold for R318 304, more than double the high estimate.

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Left: Lisa Brice’s Untitled; Right: Georgina Gatrix’ Kiss, Kiss.

Cape Town painter Jake Aikman’s Adrift II (2014), a mesmerising canvas with an oceanic theme, had seven telephone bidders competing but was eventually secured by a commission bidder for R250 096, trebling the high estimate. Similarly, multiple telephone bidders initially chased after Mongezi Ncaphayi’s ink and mixed-media diptych, Treasure Hunt (2017), which eventually sold for R193 256, trebling the high estimate.

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Left: Jake Aikman’s Adrift II; Right: Mongezi Ncaphayi’s Treasure Hunt

The top lot at Strauss & Co’s contemporary sale was a charcoal drawing from William Kentridge’s stop-animation film, Felix in Exile (1994), which fetched R2 273 600, within its estimate.

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William Kentridge’s Felix in Exile

A generation older than both Kentridge and Koloane, late-career bloomer Robert Hodgins performed reliably well too. Drunk in the Docks (1996-97) is an autobiographical painting evoking London-born Hodgins’s arrival at Cape Town’s harbour in 1938. It sold for R1 250 480 and was the evening sale’s second highest lot by value.

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Robert Hodgins’ Drunk in the Docks

Karel Nel posted the third biggest individual result when Schism I (1993), a pastel and sprayed pigment drawing of foliage and studio objects, sold for R1 023 120, well above its high estimate. Reflecting its status as a classic example of Siopis’s breakthrough “Cake paintings” series, Cake (1982) sold for R852 600, achieving the fifth biggest sale price. Oltmann’s brass wire sculpture, Locust (2004), sold for R193 256, also well above its high estimate.

Strauss & Co.
Left: Karel Nel’s Schism I; Middle: Penny Siopis’ Cake; Right: Walter Oltmann’s Locust


Although strongly focussed on South African art, Strauss & Co’s contemporary sale included a selection of art from the African continent. Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru is best known for his hand-made sculptural eyepieces, an example of which was on offer with a photographic portrait. The pairing of Kabiru’s sculpture and photo fetched R204 624, above the high estimate.

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Cyrus Kabiru

20% of the net proceeds from the inaugural contemporary sale have been earmarked for the Strauss & Co Bursary Fund, an initiative aimed at providing bursaries for post-graduate art and art history study at major South African universities. The next contemporary sale will be held in February 2019 and will once again, coincide with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair.