Chairperson’s Report 2020
9 Feb 2021
2020 was a year for the ages and presented challenges at every level of our operations. Despite the ravages of a global pandemic, Strauss & Co remained committed to its vision of being an innovator and leader in the sale of modern, post-war and contemporary art, decorative arts, jewellery and fine wine.
A brisk schedule of auctions, including three hybrid sales held after the introduction of Covid-19 health regulations, saw the company successfully defend its turnover, grow the number of lots handled and vastly improve its geographical reach and new-client list.
In a year marked by widespread social and economic turmoil, Strauss & Co achieved a combined turnover of R316.6 million. This sum is not far off the 2019 total of R319.4 million and represents a very credible result in the circumstances. The company grew its lot sell-through rate to 76% from 65% in the preceding year, and, very encouragingly, new buyers accounted for almost a third of all completed sales. I ascribe our successes to the amazing commitment of our staff, integrity and scalability of our digital infrastructure and – most importantly – the incredible support of our clients.
When the reality of Covid-19 dawned on us in March 2020, Strauss & Co’s management team redirected its energies to developing new business protocols. Health and safety was paramount, but so too was ensuring the economic wellbeing of everyone involved in the auction trade. We operate in a very public sphere and Strauss & Co functions almost like a bourse. To cease trading for a prolonged period would have significant negative effects on South Africa’s art economy, as collectors require the assurance of a transactional platform that offers liquidity.
Our immediate response to the pandemic was to accelerate our online growth strategy. In May 2020 we hosted South Africa’s first-ever virtual sale, with our auctioneers leading the live-streamed sale from studios set up in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Held in partnership with Invaluable.com, the world’s leading international platform for buying art, antiques and collectibles online, the two-day sale was a huge success. The sale earned R84 million with a lot sell-through rate of 81% and value sell-through rate of 84%. All the lots in the Bordeaux-themed wine session found buyers. The fine wine division of Strauss & Co came of age in 2020 with an incredible lot sell-through rate of 90% and value sell-through rate of 97.4%, in the process re-defining the market’s perception of the value and collectability of our top wines and vintages.
Hearteningly, we managed to sustain this early momentum throughout the second half of the year – while still innovating with sales formats and media. One of the big lessons of 2020 for us was that the geographical location of an auction is no longer relevant, and is indeed quite limiting. To this end we developed NORTH/SOUTH, an ambitious multi-day, multi-location sale. Held in November 2020, the sale included a well-received session devoted to contemporary South African ceramics, a new category for us, as well as a focus on post-war and contemporary sculpture. Our contemporary art sale, launched in 2018, is another example of Strauss & Co focussing collectors on new and/or overlooked categories of collectables. These initiatives play an important role in developing our client base. A quarter of our lots in NORTH/SOUTH went to new buyers, which is very impressive and meaningful.
Single-owner collections remained an important aspect of our business, even in 2020. Our May sale included a fine selection of Dutch East India Company collectables consigned by a private collector. In July we sold works by JH Pierneef and Irma Stern from an important survey collection of South African art assembled by a Johannesburg collector. The sale also featured an important bronze by Anton van Wouw consigned as part of a small collection by a Pretoria collector. Our NORTH/SOUTH catalogue included a strong allocation of single-owner collections, notably a diverse consignment of decorative arts from the estate of a European collector, rare Burgundy and Rhône wines from the private cellar of a single collector and a significant bronze by Sydney Kumalo consigned by the Late Desmond Fisher Collection. We were proud to handle the large Tasso Foundation Collection of important South African art assembled by the late businessman and collector Giulio Bertrand of Morgenster.
Strauss & Co’s week-long online-only sales have been a fixture of our sales programme since 2013, and continue to show remarkable scope for growth. We sold 3130 lots through our seven online-only sales in 2020, earning a combined turnover of R45.7 million – more than doubling our yield through this sales channel over the previous year. (In 2019 we earned R20.3 million from six online sales.) It was especially uplifting to see the ceiling for higher-value works sold online surge in 2020. It points to growing maturity and trust in exclusively transacting online.
It goes without saying that doing business digitally requires stable and secure infrastructure. I am proud to state that Strauss & Co offers both. Our existing digital strategy enabled us to quickly retool our activities, without significant business interruption, to offer a seamless online transaction. We are able to offer bidders from all over the world a safe and secure environment to participate in real-time bidding.
Strauss & Co has always stressed the importance of good corporate citizenship. In 2020 we donated R761 820 to 17 organisations. Recipients included the Solidarity Fund and the Vulnerable Artist Fund. We also hosted six charity auctions in support of artists, distressed communities and animal welfare.
It would be remiss of me not to remember the lives lost during this difficult year. The pandemic was not an abstraction: people died and industries dear to us at Strauss & Co, in particular the arts and wine trade, suffered. We look forward to better 2021.
Exiting 2020, Strauss & Co found itself in a positive place. We retained all personnel and staff morale remains high. We grew our client base and extended our footprint internationally. We remained a market leader and innovator. The rolling impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, which endures, remind us not to be complacent. We nonetheless offer thanks and gratitude to everyone who contributed to our business in a year like no other.
2021 Press Releases
- 8 Sep 2021 Strauss and Co’s forthcoming Impression/Expression sale represents multi-generations of South African fine artists
- 15 Sep 2021 A bottle of fine wine sells for almost a million Rands at a specialist Strauss and Co. wine and art auction
- 16 Sep 2021 Strauss & Co breaks SA wine record with 1821 Grand Constance just shy of R1m
- 16 Sep 2021 Strauss & Co’s specialist sale affirms the status of iconic wines and historic paintings
- 16 Sep 2021 A Snowy Owl contemplates a pair of bronze Lapwings over a 2011 vintage of Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer
- 1 Aug 2021 Welgemeend Art Month 2021
- 13 Aug 2021 Single-owner collections generate exceptional results at Strauss & co sale
- 13 Aug 2021 Strauss & Co celebrates Women’s Month with a strong drive to profile women
- 20 Aug 2021 Art for the Arch - Charity Auction
- 26 Aug 2021 Empowering collaborations underpin Strauss & Co’s strong results for its August online sale
- 30 Aug 2021 Old-world heritage and a dash of spring colour in Strauss & Co’s bespoke live sale
- 6 Jul 2021 Early works by Pierneef, Pemba and Makamo lead Strauss & Co’s bumper winter sale
- 14 Jul 2021 Exhibition Walkabout: Social Stances – George Pemba & Robert Hodgins
- 14 Jul 2021 Pierneef, painter of breath-taking vistas and opulent clouds, in Strauss & Co boutique auction
- 14 Jul 2021 Burgundy and Champagne - Virtual Live Fine Wine Auction
- 14 Jul 2021 Strauss & Co’s mid-winter sale attracts over 700 bidders and earns R7.5 million
- 15 Jul 2021 Frank Kilbourn on 702. Radio: Art as an investment
- 27 Jul 2021 Unmatched bidder enthusiasm for bespoke Pierneef sale presented by Strauss & Co
- 27 Jul 2021 A tale of two collectors:Strauss & Co pays tribute to Leon Strydom and David Hall
- 28 Jul 2021 Frank Kilbourn on 702. Radio: Art as an investment
- 3 Jun 2021 Stellenbosch Wine highlights discussed by Higgo Jacobs
- 3 Jun 2021 June 2021 Online Auction: Highlights Walkabout
- 4 Jun 2021 Exploring Botanical Art
- 25 Jun 2021 Museum Moments – Sanlam Art Collection
- 25 Jun 2021 George Pemba and Robert Hodgins: Social Stances
- 3 May 2021 A Single-Owner Private Collection of Fine Wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne
- 4 May 2021 Still Life with Lilies by Irma Stern (1948)
- 5 May 2021 John Muafangejo, the Namibian master of linocut, shines at Strauss & Co auction
- 5 May 2021 Artist Focus: Keith Alexander
- 5 May 2021 Auction Highlight: Robert Hodgins, The Consulting Room
- 7 May 2021 Works from forty years of international superstar William Kentridge’s career under the hammer in May
- 8 May 2021 Four collections, each a statement in connoisseurship, lead Strauss & Co’s May sale
- 8 May 2021 The wide Namibian horizons of Adolph Jentsch come into view on Strauss & Co’s May Auction
- 10 May 2021 Interview with Angus Taylor in the artist's studio
- 10 May 2021 Artist Focus: John Meyer
- 10 May 2021 Contemporary Art Highlights: May 2021 Virtual Live Auction
- 10 May 2021 The Red Roof, Cape Town by Wolf Kibel
- 10 May 2021 William Kentridge: Untitled, Drawing from Il Ritorno d'Ulisse
- 10 May 2021 David Koloane: Dogs Chasing Birds & Township Dogs (2017)
- 10 May 2021 Alexis Preller: Grand Mapogga II & Mapogga Terrace
- 17 May 2021 Auction Preview Walkabout: May 2021 Virtual Live
- 20 May 2021 New world records for Keith Alexander and Sydney Kumalo at Strauss & Co sale
- 20 May 2021 À votre santé: Strauss & Co toasts its successful sale of a single-owner collection of French wines
- 25 May 2021 Rare botanical art and new contemporary paintings among highlights of Strauss & Co’s June sale
- 27 May 2021 A story of art, gender and science unearthed in Strauss & Co’s June sale of botanical art
- 31 May 2021 June Online Wine Sale - Stellenbosch theme
- 6 Apr 2021 Auction Highlights: April Live Virtual Auction
- 7 Apr 2021 Larry Scully's Black Madonna at the Regina Mundi Cathedral, Soweto
- 15 Apr 2021 Museum-grade works by printmaker John Muafangejo from the Orde Levinson Collection to go on sale
- 15 Apr 2021 Strauss & Co’s diversified offering draws international collectors to its April sale
- 19 Apr 2021 Matriarchs of power: Strauss & Co’s May sale features outstanding portrayals of women
- 28 Apr 2021 African Lion: John Muafangejo
- 1 Mar 2021 Single-owner designer book and art collection on sale at Strauss & Co
- 15 Mar 2021 Strauss & Co’s sale of the property of a Johannesburg book designer trumps expectations
- 16 Mar 2021 KWV Collection and five-star Pierneefs lead Strauss & Co’s April marquee sale
- 16 Mar 2021 Online Auction Guest Curator: Kim Kandan, KZNSA Gallery Director
- 16 Mar 2021 Printmaking and photography under spotlight in Strauss & Co’s March sale
- 16 Mar 2021 Strauss & Co vinous auction treasures, a trio of top SA wine producers
- 16 Mar 2021 The Madonna and Child of Soweto, a symbol of hope
- 17 Mar 2021 Auction Highlights: March Online Auction
- 22 Mar 2021 March Online Auction, Guest Curator: Kim Kandan
- 23 Mar 2021 Two rare and important oils by pioneer painter Thomas Bowler enter the market
- 24 Mar 2021 Strauss & Co’s April sale includes two remarkable single-owner collections of Chinese porcelain
- 25 Mar 2021 A stillness of baobabs by J.H. Pierneef leads Strauss & Co’s April offering by South Africa’s foremost landscape painter
- 27 Mar 2021 Seminal works by Banksy and Mr Brainwash underpin Strauss & Co’s robust contemporary offering