Positive Response by Online Buyers to Property of a Johannesburg Book Designer

“Our sale featured the personal property of an award-winning specialist book designer who relocated from Johannesburg after living here for many years,” said Strauss & Co executive director Susie Goodman, who is based in Johannesburg. “Single-owner collections always attract interest because of their particularity and personality. Encompassing works by acclaimed post-war artists working in a figurative idiom, as well as pieces by emerging contemporaries working in an abstract style, this collection had definite personality. The sale included an encyclopaedic library that revealed its former owner’s worldly travel and viewing preferences.”

The top-selling lot was a monochromatic etching by the acclaimed American artist Richard Serra, Ballast I, which sold for R99 663. The work forms part of Serra’s well-known 2011 print series Ballast, published by Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles, and quotes the form of an outdoor steel sculpture from 2005 with the same name.

The much-admired Durban painter Andrew Verster’s Fragile Paradise, No. 22, a fauvist botanical landscape produced in 1991, posted the second highest total when it sold for R82 075. Rounding off the top three lots sold was emerging Cape Town sculptor Rodan Kane Hart’s six-metre stainless steel and wire piece Structural Palimpsest, which sold for R70 350. All 12 lots by Hart sold. Other notable works that attracted bids were Edoardo Villa’s 1979 bronze, Standing Figure, sold for R56 280, and a pastel nude by Alexis Preller, which fetched R32 830.

A session devoted to art and design books yielded a result that five-fold the pre-sale estimate. Offered in bundled lots curated by curated by Strauss & Co’s senior art specialist Wilhelm van Rensburg and research specialist Hazel Cuthbertson, the white-glove session – an auction term used when all the lots in a session or sale are sold – earned just short of R500 000.

The top-selling lot featured a selection of 11 art reference books – among them Edward Lucie-Smith’s Art Today and Kenneth Clark’s Looking for Civilisation – and sold for R32 830. Books by South African artists performed especially well. A lot featuring nine books on William Kentridge, including the hardcover monograph for his Tapestries exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008, sold for R9 380.

Often produced in small editions to high standards of scholarship, design and printing, art books appeal to a crossover audience of art collectors and bibliophiles. A subset of the artist’s monograph, photobooks (being books overwhelming made up of photos) have emerged as a popular collectable in the past decade. A lot containing eight photobooks by photographer David Goldblatt sold for R19 933. A lot surveying South African photography in 12 books, among them two copies of Ernest Cole’s formerly banned photobook House of Bondage, sold for R16 415.

Along with its regular offering of seven timed online sales and four marquee live sales (reformatted as hybrid events since the 2020 pandemic), Strauss & Co also hosts a number of specialist house sales and boutique auctions. In 2020, a liquidation sale of the art collection of a luxury Johannesburg hotel saw all the lots on offer sold. The white-glove sale not only achieved liquidity for the sellers, it also identified new collector interest in contemporary ceramics when a large consignment of Ruan Hoffmann’s ceramic earthenware attracted competitive bids. In November 2020 Strauss & Co introduced contemporary ceramics as a new collectable category in its sales.

Strauss & Co’s next online-only sale of modern, post-war and contemporary art, decorative arts and fine wine will commence on Monday 22 March and concluded on Monday 29 March, 2021.