Two important drawings by William Kentridge, an artist revered globally, at Strauss & Co auction in Johannesburg

22 May 2024

JOHANNESBURG – In March 2009, when Strauss & Co held its inaugural live auction of important South African art in Johannesburg, the catalogue included two works on paper by the acclaimed contemporary artist William Kentridge. Both works found eager buyers. In the ensuing 15 years, as Kentridge’s astonishingly diverse practice has gained ever wider international acclaim, Strauss & Co has emerged as the premier reseller of this Johannesburg artist, according to London-based art intelligence consultancy ArtTactic.

The nine works on paper by Kentridge in Strauss & Co’s forthcoming Online Day Sale and live virtual Evening Sale, scheduled for 28 May 2024, endorses this reputation. Leading the offering are two high-value drawings from outstanding international projects produced at the turn of the millennium, as well as an important etching by Kentridge made in 1997.

The earlier of the two drawings is from 2002 and depicts a World War One conflict landscape (estimate R 3 000 000 – 4 000 000 (USD 165 859 – 221 145). It derives from Kentridge’s 2002 stop-animation film Zeno Writing, which combines studio-made charcoal and pastel drawings with contemporary and archival film footage. The other drawing is Preparing the Flute (estimate R 3 500 000 – 4 000 000 (USD 193 502 – 221 145) and is linked to Kentridge’s remarkable 2005 production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (1791).

“William Kentridge is the quintessential Johannesburg artist whose ambitious artistic output and theatre credits are informed by the worldly sensibilities and ethical beliefs of his storied family of lawyers and civic leaders,” says Dr. Alastair Meredith, Head of Art Department, Strauss & Co. “Kentridge’s cosmopolitan vision has resonated with South African collectors for more than four decades, and, I should add, remains steadfast even after the rapturous uptake of his work internationally in the later 1990s.”

Adds Meredith: “One consequence of this unwavering patronage in his homeland is the emergence of a durable secondary market. Since 2009, Strauss & Co have sold a total of 690 works by Kentridge, achieving a combined value of R182.5 million / $10 million for our various clients. Strauss & Co also leads the way among resellers. In the period 2016 and 2022, we handled nearly a third (31%) of all Kentridge’s auction sales. It remains a privilege to facilitate the transfer of Kentridge’s drawings, graphics and sculptures to newly amazed and appreciative collectors.”

The nine works in Strauss & Co’s two-part Johannesburg sale highlight Kentridge’s outstanding skills as a draughtsman and printmaker. The colour etching Sleeper Red (estimate R1 – 1.2 million / $54 861 – 65 833) was produced in collaboration with master printer Jack Shirreff at 107 Workshop in Wiltshire, England. The Day Sale includes Fire Walker (estimate R80 000 – 120 000 / $4 389 – 6 583), a linocut and ink portrayal of Kentridge and Gerhard Marx’s collaborative public sculpture in central Johannesburg of the same name.

Kentridge’s debut solo in 1979 was exclusively comprised of printed work. The artist has emphasised the importance of printmaking within his wider practice, as well as its relationship to drawing. “I think printmaking in general made me aware of just how physical drawing could be,” said Kentridge in 2009. “I’ve always enjoyed the physicality of drawing. My more mature drawing came out of my earlier activity in etching.”

Kentridge’s ability to extend the energetics of drawing into other media – particularly film, but also sculpture, installation and increasingly theatre – is central to his reputation. The large drawing of a ravaged battle landscape linked to World War One is the culminating image of Kentridge’s stop-animation film Zeno Writing. This film operates as a pendent piece to Confessions of Zeno, a theatrical multimedia performance commissioned for the German art quinquennial Documenta 11 (2002).

Kentridge’s recent output is marked by a pronounced interest in theatrical spectacle. Recent international productions include Ursonate (2017), The Head & the Load (2018), Waiting for the Sibyl (2019) and Oh To Believe in Another World (2022). Kentridge’s first blush with acclaim was as a student actor and director in the 1970s. In 2017 he founded The Centre for the Less Good Idea, a developmental workshop for art, performance and theatre, in Johannesburg. This shift in emphasis is credited as motivating Kentridge’s recent switch in international gallery representation from Marian Goodman to Hauser & Wirth.

“During his years with Marian Goodman, Kentridge has formed a reputation as a museum artist rather than a market artist,” reported ARTnews in March. “His current auction record stands at $1.5 million for a bronze piece sold … in 2013, modest for such an accomplished talent of his generation, but since the 1990s he has had solo exhibitions at just about every important art museum in the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Louvre.”

Visit www.straussart.co.za for more information


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