Just when you thought the art boom had ended everywhere, South Africa’s Financial Mail shows us that some markets are still roaring along. Here’s a preview of their Autumn sales–remember it’s the Southern Hemisphere–that begin next week:
You wouldn’t know the global art market was crashing by the bevy of SA auction sales coming up. After the shortest retirement, art auctioneer Stephan Welz is back in business at Strauss & Co [ . . . ] Strauss & Co launches its first sale of 165 pieces at the Johannesburg Country Club on March 19.
His main opposition, Stephan Welz in association with Sotheby’s, which Welz sold [ . . . ] two years ago, is due to hold its summer sale at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town on February 24. They’re offering more than 200 paintings and sculptures. Johannesburg art dealer Graham Britz will auction 142 works from slain businessman Brett Kebble’s collection in May. Between them, they could be offering works worth more than R150m for auction – a weight the market may not be able to bear.
Is this the final blowout before the local market crashes and, like the equity and property markets, naïve buyers find themselves holding “investments” worth much less than they paid for them? “People are inclined to go overboard in boom times,” says Welz. “And it saddens me that what is essentially mall art – decorative paintings or sculptures sold by retailers in shopping centres – has crept into auctions as investment pieces at high price estimates. These will crash now.” [ . . . ]
The global financial meltdown has yet to hit SA so it’s possible that good prices will be achieved. But the local experts also feel that, like SA property, the serious local collectors’ market is different, with a shortage of good-quality local stock for its growing band of buyers. Many good SA works began leaving the country from the 1980s with emigrants and foreign buyers, who arbitraged local recession pricing in the plunging rand and boom pricing in hard currencies. [ . . . ]
There’s a rhythm of nouveau riche wealth moving into the market and buying into art. “It was the Randlords in the early 20th century, followed by Eastern European, mainly Jewish, immigrants who did well in business,” says Welz. “The new Afrikaans elite arrived in the 1950s and 1960s and now we have the emerging black elite.” [ . . . ] It’s significant that a decade or so ago the gallery owners were predominantly Jewish. Now they’re Afrikaans. These second-generation collectors make up the broadening core of buyers auctioneers and galleries aim at.” [ . . . ]
The SA economy has yet to feel the gale force of the global meltdown. The flow of private investment to emerging economies is set to fall from US$466bn last year to $165bn in 2009, according to the Washington-based Institute of International Finance. This disaster, along with falls in trade, the price of resources and banks not lending, is likely to make all but the most resolute collector become auction-shy. Prices at the Kebble sale could be falling from their estimates like the autumn leaves from the trees outside the auction venue.
Near the End of the Binge (Financial Mail)