Over the past two years, the repercussions of Covid-19 have had a devastating effect on many sectors of the economy. Nonetheless, established art auction houses seemed to be weathering the storm. The three biggest global art auction houses – Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s – all recorded their best figures since 2015.
Ironically, market volatility during the pandemic has served to increase the fortunes of the ultra-rich, widening the wealth gap. Unexpectedly, they also benefited from the increased fiscal stimulus. Art economist Clare McAndrew, author of the art market report, commented in Reuters’ analysis of the state of the global art world that the pandemic has accelerated the concentration of art. art in fewer hands – mainly those of very wealthy, high profile buyers and established sellers. Increasing wealth among high-end collectors is good for art sales, but it creates a heavy, winner-takes-all infrastructure. The unequal redistribution of wealth has affected smaller galleries, who are really feeling the effects, as well as young emerging artists who have yet to make their mark in the auction circuit.
Leading local South African art auction house Strauss & Co had a strong year in 2021 despite tight lockdown restrictions and many months of bans on in-person events and exhibition visits. “Last year Strauss & Co’s turnover totaled over R350 million – a sum unmatched by any auction house specializing in South African art in a single year,” says Bina. Genovese, co-CEO of the company. “We have been fortunate to auction eight of the ten most valuable works of art in South Africa in 2021, and this is largely due to the expansion of our technological infrastructure, which has enabled us to successfully switch to a live virtual online sales platform. “This innovation has reached a greater number of international collectors who have shown an increased interest in all genres of South African art.
“While we are so grateful for our results during the pandemic, we are well aware that the economy has come under relentless pressure and that some sectors of the South African art ecosystem have not been so fortunate as us,” continues Genovese. “The art world can be a daunting space for the uninitiated, and as avid art lovers, we are committed to making the industry as accessible and transparent as possible – for buyers and sellers alike. We strive to create a welcoming and relaxed space for customers and art lovers, even if they are not bidding on an artwork.The passion and approach of our consultantsIity, and our proven track record, have cemented our name as South Africa’s leading and most trusted fine art auction house”.
Strauss & Co believes that art auction houses that have weathered the pandemic have a responsibility to the wider art community. “We need to ensure the viability of all levels of the market – attracting first-time collectors, stimulating greater diversity among buyers and supporting innovation among young artists,” explains Genovese.
The company invests in and contributes generously to arts education programs, non-sale educational exhibitions and opportunities for emerging artists across the continent. The company’s first offering of the year was a non-commercial exhibition, titled Giving Meaning: Figuration, Past and Present, which explored the dialogue around Africanness and African identity. Held at Welgemeend Manor House during the Cape Town Art Fair in February, the exhibition was accompanied by free daily walks with curators, guided school tours and a series of online lectures with guest art experts.
Strauss & Co has also partnered with the Association of African Art Galleries (AAGA) to award the Emerging Painting Invitational (EPI), a pan-African award dedicated to supporting emerging contemporary painters and painting. All the works of the 16 finalists, from 8 African countries, were available for sale during an online auction dedicated to Strauss & Co.
Strauss Education has also partnered with Bag Factory Artist Studios to award the Cassirer Welz Prize. This year’s winner, young Nigerian artist Samuel Nnorom, received a 10-week residency at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, along with a stipend for materials and production costs.
“As the art world slowly recovers from the pandemic, we will continue to support and nurture emerging artists in South Africa and across the continent, and connect artists, buyers and sellers. that create a healthy, flourishing and exciting art market. concludes Genovese.