Art sales hit R250m mark

OVER the past year the art market witnessed a comeback, with bestselling artists and art collectors earning good money.

The art market in 2008 stood at R200million, growing to R240million last year - meaning it was not affected by the recession when most sectors were. Chances are this year has so far been the best in terms of art deals. At the time of writing I could not verify the deals sealed this year.

But the biggest surprise for me was that the biggest sellers were Afrikaans artists - and so are the buyers, eclipsing the traditional Jewish market.

This is a newl trends in the country where both artists and art collectors are traditional dominated by Jews.

Art deals involving the emerging black middle class are negligible.

Blacks spend money elsewhere rather than on art, according to art collector and expert Stephan Welz.

The latter's word in art circles is final.

This is also the impression I got when I recently attended an art talk organised by Absa, which has the biggest collection of art in the country.

This talk made me to think beyond these glaring and interesting facts.

I realised that the world of art is often alien to those of us who are struggling.

Unfortunately, this makes art the preserve of those who are privileged to have received a liberal education at prestigious institutions of higher learning.

But this does not mean that people who are not beneficiaries of such a prestigious education, or are not born of parents who were educated at such institutions, can't appreciate a piece of painting when they see one during a good opera performance.

It also does not mean that they will not understand a good theatre production at some of the leading theatre venues in the country.

But the reality is that they often don't and it's not just because they are incapable of enjoying the experience. For being human means they can connect to human stories told through paintings, drawings, singing and even through the printed word.

But why are they excluded?

Nobody prevents a poor person from going to the theatre. I have never witnessed poor people being turned away from attending Pieter Hugo's exhibition of his photography, nor that of David Goldblatt.

In fact, the poor would probably connect more easily with the exhibition because artists, for some reason, love to tell stories about the poor - ironically to the rich.

How often have you been to an art exhibition, seen the poor sipping wine and munching on cheese, enjoying the exhibition with the rest of the middle-class audience that often patronise such events?

The problem is that poor people are too busy struggling to survive because going to these exhibitions does not pay their bills.

The irony is that such exhibitions are essentially about their lives paraded to satisfy the rich people's consumptive and intellectual instincts.

Also, not enough is being done to educate poor communities about art and the fact that it's not about the rich.

We simply don't know our art icons and celebrities, yet these people are are celebrated everywhere in the world except at home.

Their works adorn the walls and homes of many wealthy people in Europe, and now increasingly the Indian and Chinese art markets.

Art auctioneer Welz says the Chinese and Indian art markets are the flavour of the moment, where art collectors, mostly Europeans , sell their collections.

These are big boys in the art world who know that art is actually an investment. And because of this, our top artists, such as William Kentridge, Marlene Dumas, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Gerard Sekoto and Goldblatt, among others, are selling handsomely overseas.

In the process they deny their owen country the privilege of owning their art works. Those who own art works by Sekoto, Mthethwa or a Kentridge, for example, are lured by the prospects of earning good bucks from their collection.

So what do they do? They sell overseas.

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