Sunday Times: Signs of a brisk trade in SA art


Transcript of text:
Signs of a Brisk Trade in SA Art

International buyers are snapping up local art thanks to the weak rand, and in SA some collectors are  selling artworks in a bid to free up cash -  all of which has spurred on brisk trade in the sector.
Gallery owner Jennifer Reynolds from said she has seen sales soar. In April, Reynolds's online sales were 20% higher than at the same time last year. International buyers accounted for 90% of purchases. She attributed this to the weaker rand, which has made South African art cheaper for offshore collectors. In May and June, sales continued to rise by the same percentage, but local  purchasers accounted for 70% of sales as lockdown regulations eased, allowing online purchases.

Luke Crossley, senior art specialist at Stephan Welz & Co, said a migration to online auctions has not hurt sales, and there has been an increase in international sales.

Charles Shields, director at Everard Read, said even though people aren't able  to physically experience art, especially installations, the art industry in SA has "generally been robust and sales are on par with last year". But sales have been driven by the loyalty of the existing customer base, he  said, and the inability to host physical exhibitions in galleries has limited the opportunity to attract more customers. Sales this year included William Kentridge's Untitled (Man with Megaphone Cluster), which was sold in April by Stephan Welz & Co for R65,000. It had a forecast of between R50,000 and R70,000,  according to, a marketing site for the  industry.   

In July, Dylan Lewis's bronze Cheetah Running III, which it was estimated would be sold by Strauss & Co for between R900,000 and R1.2m, sold for just over  R2m. Even though some galleries are struggling, "people are  still buying", said  Nandi Hilliart, gallery manager at the Pretoria Arts Association. She said she believes her sales have remained stable because her art is in a more affordable range of between R2,000 and R30,000. “I haven't had people screaming over prices," she  said.

With regard to local collectors wanting to sell their art, Johnny de Beer, CEO of, said he suspects buyers of contemporary and more affordable art may be seeking financial liquidity after being cash-strapped due to the lockdown. He said he believes buyers at the upper end of the market are holding onto their collections. Reynolds said she has been inundated with requests from South Africans who want to sell their art collections, but Shields and Hilliart said they have not seen a noticeable increase in requests to resell art.

Crossley said it is “tricky" to sell a piece of art quickly, and it is also not good practice. Reselling too soon after buying the work has the potential to devalue a piece. It arouses suspicion as to why a buyer doesn't  wish to keep it.  But Gillian Scott-Berning , a consultant for British auction house Christie's, said “sales aren't necessarily a good thermometer” in evaluating the state of the market. “Galleries have been hit hard and artists are suffering," she said. The move to online auctions may assist the industry, but many jobs in the industry are no longer required, she said.