On the eve of Irma Stern’s return to the Venice Biennale, auctioneers Strauss & Co are presenting an iconic piece from her Zanzibar period at their upcoming auction.

By YourLuxury Africa

Several South African modernist artists are set to feature in the Venice Biennale next month – many of whom are represented in Strauss & Co’s flagship live auction of modern and contemporary art on Tuesday, 19 March 2024.

In addition to Stern, the artists include Muholi, Dumile Feni, Maggie Laubser, Simon Lekgetho, George Pemba, Gerard Sekoto, Lucas Sithole and Edoardo Villa.

“The Smoker by Irma Stern is a captivating depiction of a Zanzibari man intently engaged in the act of smoking a pipe and showcases Stern’s painterly skills at their triumphant best,” says Jean le Clus-Theron, Head of Sale at Strauss & Co. “The portrait is a masterful blend of focused energy, flamboyant painterliness and intricate descriptive detail deriving from Stern’s coveted golden period of the 1940s.” The Smoker is presented in its original Zanzibar frame.

Adds Le-Clus-Theron: “We are doubly delighted to be offering this significant work a month before the opening of the 2024 edition of Venice Biennale. Stern’s work routinely appeared in exhibitions at this important global art forum throughout the 1950s. This year, after an absence of seven decades, Stern’s work will appear in Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa’s main curated exhibition, Foreigners Everywhere, alongside works by 330 modern and contemporary artists, many of them from the Global South. This is a timely acknowledgement of Stern’s importance to the story of global modernism.”

Zanele Muholi, a star of the 2019 edition of the Venice Biennale, has two photo self-portraits in the auction. They include Mumu X (estimate R400 000 – 600 000 / $20 930 – 31 400), from Muholi’s renowned “Somnyama Ngonyama” (“Hail the Dark Lioness”) series. The photo was made in London shortly before the artist’s Tate Modern solo exhibition in 2020, which will be restaged at the same museum in June 2024.

Says Le-Clus-Theron: “Much in the way this year’s Venice Biennale draws attention to both globalised contemporary practices and modernisms of the Global South, our March live auction will draw attention to pioneering modernist and trailblazing contemporary artists.”

“Our live auction will open with a 2016 self-portrait by Zanele Muholi. This contemporary focus will be sustained throughout the next 21 lots and features works by internationally recognised contemporary artists like Lisa Brice, Marlene Dumas, Georgina Gratrix and  Sthenjwa Luthuli.”

Lisa Brice’s current global renown was made, in part, by her 2018 solo exhibition at Tate Britain. Strauss & Co is auctioning two important works from the decade Brice returned to painting: an untitled nude from 2005 (estimate R800 000 – 1.2 million / $41 885 – 62 825) and a dreamlike landscape made in Trinidad in 2009, Ten Years Gone-Gr (estimate R1.6 – 2 million / $83 770 – 104 715). The sale also features works by Blessing Ngobeni, Mary Sibande and Berni Searle, all past winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, as well as a large painting by exciting new painter Brett Charles Seiler.

South African painters have for generations held the awe of collectors, and consequentially also commanded dear prices. Among an earlier generation of sought-after painters in the catalogue, Strauss & Co is excited to be offering a vivid portrait by Vladimir Tretchikoff, Flower Seller from 1949 (estimate R1.8 – 2.4 million / $94 250 – 125 668). J.H. Pierneef’s Mountains in an Extensive Landscape from 1940 (estimate R3 – 5 million / $157 050 – 261 760) is one of four works by this foundational modernist.

Alongside the live flagship Strauss & Co Evening auction, the auction house is presenting the Day Sale – a separate online auction, which concludes on Wednesday, 20 March 2024. Presented under the title Re Presentation of the Figure,  the 65 lots in this separate auction include exciting contemporary painters like Banele Khoza, Talia Ramkilawan and Mostaff Muchawaya, as well as ceramics by Nico Masemola, Hylton Nel and Ben Orkin.”

Strauss & Co’s will host a dedicated programme of social and educational events in support of these auctions at its gallery in Woodstock, Cape Town. Dedicated e-catalogues of the auctions are available.

For further details consult www.straussart.co.za

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