Strauss & Co opens 2020 with the sale of the luxurious Monarch Hotel’s impressive art collection, which includes 60 quirky Ruan Hoffmann ceramic plates, a large Walter Battiss tapestry, a series of Kalahari Ceramic Studio plates and design drawings, a rare Herman van Nazareth Abstract Nude and a wide selection of collectable works on paper.
Part of the liquidation of the contents of this landmark 5-star Johannesburg boutique hotel, the art sale at 18h00 on Wednesday 5 February follows the sale of the building itself and the furniture and fittings earlier in the day. This groundbreaking auction will be the first Strauss & Co sale to be live streamed, allowing potential buyers to bid for the artworks online from anywhere in the world while following the live auction on screen as it unfolds. We attended the first walkabout of this beautiful art collection. See the video below
The building, which resembles an eighteenth century Cape Townhouse, served as a telephone exchange before housing the Saxonwold post office. In 2005 it was refurbished and converted into a distinctive luxury hotel. The art is displayed in the public areas as well as in each of the luxurious private bedroom suites and bathrooms. All these spaces will be open for viewing during the days leading up to the auction.
Among the works expected to attract vigorous bidding is a wonderful Walter Battiss tapestry, It’s Fly Day, that is the drawcard in the hotel’s reception area. Woven by the Marguerite Stephens Tapestry Studio, the piece is the jewel in the crown of the Monarch’s collection. Another magnificent highlight is the 60 ‘biographical’ ceramic plates by internationally-based South African ceramic artist, Ruan Hoffmann. Massed on the walls in the dining room and smoking lounge to make arresting displays, each one of the plates has a quirky image or witty turn of phrase. Also sure to stimulate competitive bidding is a commanding sculptural wall piece by maverick artist Brett Murray titled Nagapie in the Headlights that has two gigantic eyes peering at the loungers.
The reception area of the Monarch Hotel showing the Walter Battiss tapestry, It’s Fly Day. A large scale David Koloane abstract painting, which takes pride of place in the hotel’s dining area, is expected to attract great interest from institutions and collectors of the veteran artist’s work. Koloane died last year and the retrospective touring exhibition of his work showed at the Standard Bank Gallery in November and December before travelling to other venues in South Africa, exposing this pioneering artist’s work to a new generation of South Africans.
Painting collectors will have the chance to bid on a rare Abstract Nude by Belgian-South African artist Herman van Nazareth who studied at Michaelis in the 1960s and whose work has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in recent years. An exquisite, highly coveted Andrew Verster painting, Fragile Paradise, is also in the collection, along with a characteristic Durant Sihlali paper pulp work in delicate pastel colours.
The lounge of the Monarch Hotel showing the Andrew Verster work, Fragile Paradise. Collectors with an interest in art with a socio-political edge will not want to miss out on the exquisite Breyten Breytenbach watercolour, Gorée la Nuit, which references the island off the coast of Senegal that was an important cog in the transatlantic slave trade. The political potency of the work is enhanced by Breytenbach’s own activism: he was part of a delegation, led by politician Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, that met with the then banned African National Congress in the late 1980s to plan strategically for a new democratic South Africa.
The Monarch Hotel collection also includes a wonderful selection of accessibly priced gems on paper. These include a Wayne Barker mixed media work, a delicate Deborah Belletching, Noli Me Tangere, as well as two mixed media works by Christo Coetzee, whose major retrospective exhibition was curated by Strauss & Co senior art specialist, Wilhelm van Rensburg, at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg in 2018.
Other highlights of the works on paper are a very early Robert Hodgins print from the Heather Martienssen portfolio, four exquisite Alexis Preller drawings (possibly preparatory sketches for paintings or murals), a rare Azaria Mbatha screenprint, a very early Sam Nhlengethwa drawing, Café, and a hard-to-come-by Dumile Feni pen-on-paper drawing, Resurrection from the Holy Book. Rounding off the collection’s highlights is a work on paper by Kagiso Patrick Mautloa who received the 2019 Helgaard Steyn Award for painting for his work Urban Vibes (City Buzz). Art lovers also have and opportunity to bid on an abstract drawing by Douglas Portway, whose work was juxtaposed with Louis Maqhubela’s at last year’s Turbine Art Fair i Johannesburg. Three lots consist of design drawings by Aleksanders Klopcanovs – co-founder of the famous Kalahari Ceramic Studio – each paired with the final production plate that bears the same design. Nudes and portrait sketches from Klopcanov’s sketchbooks also feature.
After the Monarch Hotel sale, Strauss & Co’s much-anticipated Contemporary Art auction will be held in Cape Town on 15 February 2020. Now in its third year, this benchmark annual sale coincides with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair and features 102 carefully vetted lots, among them a consignment of pan-African works from a South African collector. Then Strauss & Co’s premier Live Art, Decorative Arts, Jewellery and Wine auction will take place in Cape Town on 30 March 2020.
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