“Collecting is a journey,” says Frank Kilbourn, executive chairman of South Africa’s leading auction house, Strauss & Co. It usually starts with curiosity and, with research and good advice, that can also become a rewarding activity.
Collecting and selling art is also a reciprocal relationship. Trust and an impeccable track record form the basis between an art auction house and its clients, whether they entrust the ownership of their beloved to the company for sale or are looking for a work of art. special art to expand their collection. “Numbers are important in quantifying the meaning and outcome of this journey and the outcome almost always matters. “However, the relationships forged by the decision to embark on a collecting journey are more important. They are often life changing, and we are grateful and proud of the role we have been able to play in our customers’ collection journeys,” continues Kilbourn.
Over the past two difficult years, the Covid-19 pandemic has dried up the incomes of many households. Auction houses like Strauss & Co have been instrumental in helping individuals and businesses sell their assets for quick access to cash. Nevertheless, parting with a treasured work of art or a family collection spanning many years can be an emotional undertaking. Naturally, clients not only seek the best price for their assets, but also a team of auction professionals and art specialists with impeccable connections and knowledge, who can ensure that the legacy of their assets lives on. perpetuates thanks to the right buyers. Over the past two years, Strauss & Co has emerged head and shoulders above its competitors, underscoring its status as a market maker and pioneer in the South African secondary art market.
The numbers speak for themselves
In calendar year 2021, Strauss & Co achieved a record turnover of R356.3 million. “In 2021, we processed over 8,500 batches. This is an extraordinary volume for a small business with less than 50 permanent employees. We are very proud of this result, especially as this dynamic trading provided our valued clients with liquidity when market conditions demanded it,” said Kilbourn.
The auction house’s record number of auctions and white-glove sessions in 2021 – five in total – confirms the success of the venture. In 2021, Strauss & Co held its first auction of its kind solely dedicated to an artist, Pierneef, which saw all 69 lots sell. The sale brought in a remarkable turnover of R24.5 million. This year, Pierneef once again affirmed his status as a darling of the South African modernist among collectors during the second sale dedicated to him entitled “JH Pierneef: On the Road”. The career-spanning sale saw all but one lot find a buyer and reached a total of R20 million. “The strong results produced by this highly anticipated follow-up to our 2021 single-artist auction underscores the importance of asset class and brand,” says Susie Goodman, senior executive at Strauss & Co. “
Generous investment from CSI
“Strauss & Co is essentially a market maker, but we recognize that sales are only part of the role we play within the larger artistic ecosystem of which we are a part,” says Kilbourn. For the company to thrive as a business, the art ecosystem must also thrive.
Strauss & Co invests heavily in education and supports the production of organized non-commercial exhibitions. In 2021, they hosted social positions, an exhibition of the work of Robert Hodgins and George Pemba at their gallery in Johannesburg. This year Dream invisible connectionsoffered the public a rare opportunity to view a wide range of works by leading contemporary South African artists, Mary Sibande and Dorothy Kay.
The company has also affirmed its commitment to being a good corporate citizen by supporting developing art awards, such as the Cassirer Welz Prize, an annual award given to an artist under the age of 35 working in painting, drawing or the sculpture. “Strauss & Co is committed to producing dynamic and relevant educational content as part of its social obligation to the arts sector,” says Goodman. “It is even more imperative that we support the arts in these difficult times and bring people together to engage and learn.”
Industry savvy like their customers
“It has been a bittersweet pleasure and privilege to manage the estate of the dean of South African art, writer and collector Porf Leon Strydom,” says Kilbourn. “We spent many happy hours at the Strydom Gallery in George, learning not only about art, but also about ourselves and the privilege and excitement of living with art.” Last year, Professor Strydom succumbed to Covid-19. Together with the David Hall Collection from Linn Ware, a highly sought after South African pottery brand, the Strydom Collection has achieved a combined total of over R10 million.
In April last year, Peter and Della Jerling’s ‘Kraak’ collection of blue and white porcelain sold all 34 lots. The Jerlings were descendants of the first free burghers to settle east of the Keurbooms River, and their porcelain collection was an expression of a lifelong interest in collecting. “It is with great sadness that the two sons of Peter and Della parted ways with their parents’ collection. It was a central part of their home during their childhood. However, their sadness is offset by the fact that these items were acquired by knowledgeable collectors who share the same deep love and interest in historic Chinese porcelain,” said Vanessa Phillips, Head of the Decorative Arts Department.
At the forefront of cutting-edge technology
The migration of the art market to the virtual sphere of the Internet is now a reality on five continents, almost relegating the need for physical sales rooms to the historical past, according to the latest Art Market Report, published in March. The report says live online sales by auction houses have increased by 720% globally in the two years of the COVID pandemic. This level of growth was previously forecast for 2025-2027.
The growth in online art sales has also spread to South African shores and has been readily embraced by Strauss & Co, driving significant growth in recent years.
“We are very proud to have sold more items than ever before,” says Frank Kilbourn. “However, it was clear to us in 2021 that catering to an expanding international customer base requires significant investment in logistics, infrastructure, human resources and service delivery. Our investments in technology and people have enabled us to ‘have a more comprehensive program than ever before,” says Kilbourn. The South African art market has struggled in recent years. Despite headwinds, collectors have continued to pursue their passion with focus and commitment.” It is extremely gratifying, and I read it as a clear indication of the continued dynamism of the art, design and wine market in this country, despite social and economic tensions,” concludes Kilbourn.