June 17th, 2010
05:52 PM GMT
William Kentridge is the perhaps the closest the African art world has to a rock star. He is a rarity because his work is in demand around the world by serious art collectors. He, along with a handful of others, is one of the continent’s most commercially successful artists.
So how has the economic downturn affected big name artists like Kentridge?
Speaking to me in his home studio, with his stark black and white charcoal drawings pasted on the walls, Kentridge seemed unconcerned about the bursting of the art bubble in the past two years. He did acknowledge that galleries which sold his paintings “had to work harder to sell the same amount of work.”
In fact, buyers from major institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art all bought Kentridge’s. So too did those wealthy international art patrons who sustain the global art market with their deep pockets and love of contemporary art.
Kentridge made me laugh when he described, in a rather scathing manner, how having money didn’t necessarily make you an art connoisseur. “Most people who have a lot of money, by cheap, stupid art,” he said, “an interior decorator will decorate the houses, overpay for mediocre work. And they spend their money on yachts and cars and airplanes and things like that.”
The value of art, particularly here in South Africa, has increased significantly. Strauss & Co, a Johannesburg auction house selling 20th Century art, says, although it is only halfway through 2010, they have already earned more than last year. In fact, recently, a new world record was set for a still-life by a South African artist. A stunning piece by Irma Stern sold for more than a million dollars.
Overall, local art experts say prices at the top end of the art market in South Africa have increased by an average of 500 percent in the last ten years.
That is pretty good news if you are William Kentridge or you bought one of his drawings twenty years ago.
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