Museums, the proverbial trophy cabinets of the artworld, are bookended by two commercial environments; the primary and the secondary markets. To date the primary market has been more fluid, with galleries consistently opening and closing. On the secondary market however, where auction houses predominate, the scenario is a little different.
If museums absorb the taste set by the primary market at the time, then auction houses are the fancy restaurants where collectors go to eat. Auction houses don’t open with the same frequency as say, a pop-up gallery, or even a boutique art fair. So when a new place opens on the block, the first thing one does is to check out the menu.
Aspire Art Auctions officially opened in June this year to much interest. The thing about collectors is that they are not fussy; when it comes to satiating ones appetite it doesn’t matter who is doing the cooking.
Another thing about auction houses, more so in South Africa than internationally, is that they have predominantly been defined by historical and modern works with contemporary art having a relatively subdued presence. The past eight years have seen that change to a certain degree, with Aspire seizing the trend of a diversified portfolio that reflects a healthy weight between the balance of historical, modern and contemporary lots.
The result of such a fare is that one gets a exciting journey through South African art history, as well as being given a unique set of indicators as to what fancies the market place might hold.
Perhaps the most ambitious offering of the upcoming sale is sculptural. Michael MacGarry’s fetishized futuristic weapon, “Personal Grammar II” and Ed Young’s mimi-me “My Gallerist Made Me Do It” find a calming riposte in works by Peter Schutz and Eduardo Villa whose “Found Chair” and “Homage to Maillol” opens up a three dimensional dialogue between the past and the future.
Coming to painting one can also trace an interesting conversation taking place around abstraction between Stanley Pinker, Robert Hodgins, Penny Siopis and Zander Blom. Likewise, on the historical front keen interest is sure to be drawn by Irma Stern’s “Malay Girl”, Gerard Sekoto’s “Senegalese Dancers” and Maggie Laubser’s “Portrait of a Woman with Head Scarf”.
Those looking for regular performers on the secondary market will not be left wanting either, with examples of William Kentridge, J.H. Pierneef , Alexis Preller and Walter Battiss featuring.
Whilst the market place certainly resides in many of the twentieth century masters, as it ages, less and less will become available as they find their place deep in the bellies of hungry collectors and bowels of institutions that increasingly rely on the patronage of the private sector for their survival.
What the range of lots at Aspires first sale at the end of October resemble is an organic shifting of market desires. New precedents are being set and the once risqué begins looking attractive as older collectors start broadening their scope, and players new to the secondary market begin to flex some muscle.