This March, Strauss & Co draws attention to the importance of photography as a collectable with a sale of works by internationally acclaimed proponents of the medium. The online-only sale of modern, post-war and contemporary art, decorative arts and fine wine, which commences on 22 March and ends a week late on 29 March, includes a number of important photographs including works by contemporary artists Jane Alexander, Penny Siopis and Athi-Patra Ruga, a trans-disciplinary artist attracted to photography. Invited guest curator Kim Kandan of the KZNSA Gallery in Durban has selected a compelling work by Ruga to lead his personal curation of works from the sale that make up Session 1. The portrait of Ruga in a balloon costume, The Intervention on the Anglo-Boer Monument by FWWOA (estimate R20 000 – 30 000) was taken during a 2012 street performance in eMakhanda (Grahamstown). Mikhael Subotzky took the photo.
Iconic works on the sale by David Goldblatt, Guy Tillim and Pieter Hugo are also held in prominent international collections. Goldblatt’s street scene, Saturday Morning at the Corner of Commissioner and Trichardt Streets, Boksburg, 1979–80 (estimate R70 000 – 100 000) is from his book In Boksburg (1982). Another edition of this photograph is held in the Walther Collection, Germany. Artist Zanele Muholi has selected another edition of this photograph for a curated survey of Goldblatt’s work currently on view at Pace Gallery, New York.
Guy Tillim’s study of youths from the Athénée Royal High School in Lubumbashi, DR Congo (estimate R60 000 – 90 000) was made in 2007 and forms part of his acclaimed Avenue Patrice Lumumba series. The Museum of Modern Art Collection, New York, owns a print in the edition. Pieter Hugo’s portrait of the Nigerian travelling performer Abdullahi Mohammed with his hyena Mainasara (estimate R15 000 – 20 000) was taken in Ogun State, Nigeria, in 2007, and forms part of his career-defining series, Gadawan Kura – The Hyena Men II.
The photography lots aside, Strauss & Co senior art specialist Wilhelm van Rensburg says the March sale includes notable works by Walter Battiss and Norman Catherine, as well as lots that establish a conceptually interesting dialogue between painter Sipho Ndlovu and sculptor Julius Mfethe. Van Rensburg’s pick of the painting lots is Sipho Ndlovu’s 2011 oil Remember J. Mfethe (estimate R25 000 – 35 000), a conceptually interesting painting of sculptor Julius Mfethe making the sculpture Horse and Rider, that also appears on the sale. The March sale includes three sculptures by Mfethe, a much-admired artist who died in 2008. Notable among them is Man with Oxen and Sled (estimate R20 000 – 30 000), a diminutive work that encapsulates his assiduously crafted way of working.
Jane Alexander, better known as a sculptor, is another artist who is drawn to photography as an alternate medium. Faith (estimate R20 000 – 30 000) depicts a suited figure from her celebrated sculptural installation African Adventure (1999–2002), which in 2016 was acquired by the Tate Collection.
Subotzky has three early-career works in this sale. They include his 2007 portrait of blind fishermen Kwabla and Yaovi Ahotor taken on assignment in Ghana in 2007, and a 2005 portrait of Zambian detective Lindiwe Mutoma originally commissioned by a British weekend newspaper. The pre-sale estimate for each is R15 000 – 20 000. Alexander, Hugo, Ruga and Subotzky are all past winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, an important early-career accolade.
In 1997, Penny Siopis made the film My Lovely Day using old home-movies shot by her mother in the 1950s and 60s. The film has been widely screened, notably at the Tate Modern, London, and Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town. The March sale includes a digital colour print from this acclaimed film (estimate R5 000 – 8 000).
Strauss & Co’s regular online-only sales are a popular platform for acquiring works on paper by William Kentridge and Namibian printmaker John Muafangejo. The March sale includes five linocuts by Muafangejo, among them Oniipa Rebuilding of Printing Press from 1981 (estimate R10 000 – 15 000) and the 1984 composition Camels are in Desert (estimate R8 000 – 12 000).
Now a sought-after collectable, Walter Battiss’s serigraph Orgy II (estimate R20 000 – 30 000) forms part of a larger series of joyously candid sexual scenes. “When he showed all five in the series in Pietermaritzburg in 1971, the police were called in and the show was closed for obscenity reasons,” says Van Rensburg. A protégé of Battiss, Norman Catherine has a number of works on paper in this sale. The early lithograph Curriculum Vitae (estimate R20 000 – 30 000) details the artist’s youthful trials and tribulations, including spearing his tongue with a fishhook at age six.
Battiss and Catherine’s legendary collaboration, Fook Island, is commemorated in a two-metre quilted textile, A Lick of Fook (estimate R3 000 – 4 000). The work was designed by Catherine and fabricated by his wife Janet Walker. “Fook was a complete material culture with everything from currency, postage stamps, food, ‘fookball’ teams and clothes and other textiles,” elaborates Van Rensburg.
Georgina Gratrix’s colour lithograph Loot Pop! (estimate R5 000 – 7 000) highlights the enduring appeal of paper as a contemporary medium. Other contemporary artists with works on paper represented in the March online-only sale are Mia Chaplin, Karlien de Villiers, Banele Khoza, Nelson Makamo and Colbert Mashile.
Highlights from the painting selection include Johann Louw’s 1998 Head of a Man (estimate R20 000 – 30 000) and Mia Chaplin’s Floral Composition I (estimate R5 000 – 6 000), a recent work that establishes her affinities to Irma Stern