He also believes art galleries, traditionally the institutions that nurture artists, have been doing good work finding international markets, particularly when it comes to the increasingly important role art fairs play in the global art market. “South African art as a whole gets exposure through our galleries taking mostly contemporary art to these fairs,” he says, mentioning the likes of Art Basel, the African Art Fair in Paris, AKAA, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London and The Armory Show in New York, among others. “[They’re] difficult to get into, so I think [galleries] have done, by and large, an excellent job,” he says.
Add to that the growth of the Joburg Art Fair and the Cape Town Art Fair. As they’ve matured, Kilbourn points out, “They are appealing to a much greater market and attracting a much greater gallery base than we’ve had before.” With that comes more international visitors, which helps develop new markets for South African art, too.
He’s already noticed the effects on the secondary market. “We, literally for the first time, sold to people in Lithuania, New Zealand, Spain and Portugal,” he says. Some of these are from the South African diaspora but he also suspects international audiences might relate to local art in “a different way than we anticipate”.
Speaking of attracting international visitors and raising the profile of local art in the global market, he also mentions the effect the opening of the Zeitz MOCAA and The Norval Foundation have had in the areas of contemporary and modern art. The opening of the Javett Art Centre in Pretoria next year will add to the “critical mass in the research and curatorial presentation of South African art”, in this case mostly through privately funded institutions. But Kilbourn is convinced these initiatives will stimulate the public art institutions, too, which is always good news for the way in which art is valued.
Aside from the contemporary market, however, Kilbourne says there have been changes to the modern artist base. Strauss & Co has made concerted efforts to grow neglected segments of the secondary market. He mentions particularly the achievements of overlooked and unheralded black modernist artists of the 20th century. (In November, Strauss & Co presented a session inspired by the landmark 1988 exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, The Neglected Tradition, which it dubbed An Unsung History.) Other groups of artists who have been neglected by the secondary market, Kilbourn indicates, include the Natal School, which has also been brought to market in a more meaningful and substantial way. “It broadens not just the collector base, but the artists base, quite significantly,” he says.