Archive: Issue No. 115, March 2007

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Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas
Portrait of Kendell Geers 2004
60.8 x 46 cm

Kendell Geers

Kendell Geers
T.O.T.I. (101) 2005
hazard tape and found object
29 x 15 x 15 cm

Irma Stern

Irma Stern
Portrait of an Indian woman 1936
oil on canvas

Auction action in Cape Town

Two art auctions in Cape Town this month surprised observers with prices achieved, and confirmed the increasing buoyancy of the local art market.

The first was a fundraising event which followed a banquet sponsored by Investec, with the funds realised from the sale of work going to the Red Cross Children's Hospital. The event raised R2.8 million rand, a figure which exceeded expectations, and will be used for the upgrade of the hospital's 50 year old operating theatre complex.

Predictably, the highest price achieved was for the masterly watercolour Portrait of Kendell Geers by Marlene Dumas, an artist who holds the world auction record for a piece of artwork by a woman. Her portrait fetched R750 000. Geers himself presented T.O.T.I. (101), one of his iconic found object figures wrapped in red and white hazard tape, a work which fetched R40 000.

Second top price was R501 000 for William Kentridge's charcoal and mixed media work, Red Cross Rhino. Those who bid on the first lots of an auction often get bargains - an untitled photo of a group of children from Usha Seejarim fetched R1 500, and Tracey Rose's large light jet print Zombie town Mnemosyne: Santa Anna of a Father Christmas figure with a frowning child, went for a modest R5 000.

The second auction was run by Stephan Welz at Kirstenbosch, and on offer were 46 pieces from the private collection of Helene and Jack Kahn, a Cape Town couple of modest means but a passion for art who bought work by South African artists when they were still relatively unknown. The couple died in 2005 and 2006, leaving instructions that proceeds of the sale of their collection were to go to charity.

Top price at the Kahn sale was R6.6 million for Irma Stern's 1936 portrait of an Indian woman holding a bunch of flowers. This is an auction record for the artist. Presale estimates were R 1 - R1.5 million, though an eventual price of R5 million was considered possible.