Seminal works by Banksy and Mr Brainwash underpin Strauss & Co’s robust contemporary offering
27 Mar 2021
Original works by Banksy and Mr Brainwash, two trailblazers of the disruptive street art scene, as well as an early assemblage work by Simphiwe Ndzube lead Strauss & Co’s diverse catalogue of contemporary art up for sale on 13 April.
Original works by Banksy and Mr Brainwash, two trailblazers of the disruptive street art scene, as well as an early assemblage work by Simphiwe Ndzube lead Strauss & Co’s diverse catalogue of contemporary art up for sale on 13 April. In a first for the South African auction house, Strauss & Co is offering an early silkscreen by the famously anonymous English artist Banksy, as well as original works by Mr Brainwash and Ndzube, two high-profile expatriate artists resident in Los Angeles.
The emergence of street art as a desirable contemporary collectable is strongly tied to a series of exhibitions held in Los Angeles in the 2000s. In 2006, Banksy, then already a cult figure in his native England, held his first large-scale exhibition in the US. Titled Barely Legal and presented in a disused Los Angeles warehouse, the exhibition attracted a who’s who of Hollywood’s elite.
Banksy’s Happy Choppers (estimate R900 000 – R1.2 million), an editioned silkscreen with an anti-war message, dates from this early period of emergence. The work portrays a stencilled helicopter gunship with a feminine pink bow. Happy Choppers first appeared in 2002 as a sprayed mural at the Whitecross Street Market in central London. The silkscreen is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Pest Control Office, the only source of authentication of works by Banksy.
Banksy first crossed paths with Mr Brainwash, aka French-born Thierry Guetta, in Los Angeles. Guetta, the owner of a vintage clothing store, had a deep interest in street art. His close association with Banksy culminated in Life Is Beautiful, Guetta’s 2008 debut solo show under his Mr Brainwash alter ego, held in a former television studio in Hollywood.
Mr Brainwash’s Madonna (estimate R900 000 – R1.2 million) dates from this seminal period. Produced in 2009, when Guetta was completing his celebrated documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), this unique silkscreen and spray-paint on canvas work portrays the pop singer Madonna, of Like a Virgin fame. The work explicitly references Andy Warhol’s celebrated 1964 pop portrait of actor Elizabeth Taylor.
“Mr Brainwash astutely and cheekily raises questions about originality in this important and also original work,” says Matthew Partridge, a senior art specialist at Strauss & Co. “Madonna is original in that it is a unique work, not an editioned multiple. The work dates from a crucial renaissance period for the Los Angeles art scene. In the last decade Los Angeles has emerged as an important platform for South African artists. In recent years painters Simphiwe Ndzube and Georgina Gratrix have both presented well-received solo shows in Los Angeles.”
Strauss & Co’s April catalogue includes a 2016 mixed-media work by Simphiwe Ndzube, Inevitable Journey to Mars IV (estimate R150 000 – 200 000), that is a precursor of his current “yin and yang” assemblages portraying, in the artist’s words, “the fantastical, the magical, versus the historical, the real”. In 2019 Ndzube was the subject of a video profile by Vanity Fair, an elite magazine focusing on culture and society.
The bold tonalities and reduced figuration of street art have noticeably influenced contemporary South African painters like Ayanda Mabulu, Mustafa Maluka and Lionel Smit. Strauss & Co’s April catalogue includes a 2009 portrait from Smit’s much-copied Fragment Series (estimate R80 000 – 120 000), as well as Maluka’s bold head-and-shoulder portraits They Have Got to Hate What They Fear and You Say You Know How We Feel (estimate R200 000 – 300 000 each) from 2007–08.
Produced a decade later, Mabulu’s agit-prop canvas Remember Marikana shares with Banksy an affinity for welding political statement to pop iconography. The influence of especially pop art on South African artists is longstanding, as is evidenced by Malcolm Payne’s 1969 screenprint Portrait of Andy Warhol (estimate R15 000 – 20 000).
The printed multiple has been especially influential in the dissemination of pop art and latterly street art. Strauss & Co’s catalogue includes Mr Brainwash’s Torn Spray Can (estimate R20 000 – 30 000), an editioned screenprint that references Warhol’s 1962 canvases Campbell’s Soup Cans, and Portrait of Martin Luther King (estimate R23 000 – 35 000), an op art facial portrait of the civil rights leader. Strauss & Co has sold a number of Mr Brainwash lots, including a unique 2016 portrait of model Kate Moss that went for R175 875 in a June 2020 sale. The forthcoming Mr Brainwash depicting Madonna was made a decade earlier.
“There is a long history of South African collectors buying the work of international artists,” says Ian Hunter, a senior art specialist at Strauss & Co. “Strauss & Co has also successfully traded British and continental artists from the post-war period onwards. Our recent live sales included important works by mid-century British sculptors like Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick and Henry Moore. South African collectors are comfortable consigning works by established artists like Banksy and Mr Brainwash with us because of our large list of serious collectors and impressive international reach.”
The sale of Happy Choppers by Banksy, Madonna by Mr Brainwash and Inevitable Journey to Mars IV by Simphiwe Ndzube will take place on Tuesday, 13 April 2021 at 3pm. The lots form part of Strauss & Co’s exceptional catalogue of modern, post-war and contemporary art, decorative arts, jewellery and fine wine due to be auctioned live over three days from 11 to 13 April.
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