Contemporary art the new avenue for creative investment


South African artist Jane Alexander’s sculpture titled “Untitled” was recently sold for 5.5 million rand, setting a new record in the South African art industry.

“We’re in a funny situation where contemporary art is rapidly overtaking the older school. It’s a wake up call. The previous highest price was for the South African sculptor Anton Van Wouw, a bronze, which sold for two million rand,” Stephan Welz, managing director at Strauss and Co, told CNBC Africa.

“There’s no comparison between the two in terms of style or subject matter. There’s a new generation looking at new works, looking at their own time rather than going back. It’s a phenomenon worldwide.”


Welz added that interest in the classic artists such as Dutch painter and etcher Rembrandt have been replaced with more interest in Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.

Recently Warhol’s 1963 artwork entitled “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” was sold for a record-breaking 105 million US dollars.

“There’s very much an inclination towards the contemporary, but there’s a strong sifting process, just as there is in the previous [art eras]. Every generation, some artists fall away and only the very best come through to the next,” Welz added.

The cyclical change in interests is also in line with international trends, but Weltz explains that collecting art at a later stage, such as now, is at a disadvantage.

This is as some of the best work of the various renowned artists is already tied up in galleries and collections that are not easily disposed of.

“You’ve got to look at previous performance, and you might take note of other auction houses, take note of exhibitions, publications. Artists go through fashions, and ours is a relatively small market so it doesn’t take long for it to become saturated,” Welz explained.

Art is however fast becoming an investment class, with insurance companies such as Sanlam Private Investments offering Art Advisory services.

“Stick to the established artist names but always buy the best. Even a lesser artist, a top work by them, will always be in demand, whereas lesser works, the art market’s not easy at the moment,” said Welz.

“It’s easier to sell a five million rand artwork than it is a 50,000 rand artwork at present. The 50,000 rand man has got other problems, and we’re sensing it very strongly in the art market.”