By Nii B. Andrews.
The blue chip South African auction house, Strauss & Co, is scheduled to hold a landmark sale of African modernist pieces from celebrated artists such as Eduardo Villa, Sydney Kumalo, Alexis Preller, Lucas Sithole, Cyprian Shilakoe, and Cecil Skotnes.
This special sale is scheduled for Monday evening on Nov 8 as a virtual event and is accompanied by a fabulously illustrated print catalog showing the paintings and sculptures available under the hammer.
In the early 1960s, Villa, Skotnes and Kumalo exhibited together as the Amadlozi Group, a term that means ‘spirit of the ancestors’, a name conceived by Kumalo.
Their work espoused the dramatic and nuanced forms of indigenous African ideas, thought, cosmology and environment and fused these with currents from European Modernism.
In that manner, their artistic output expanded on the paradigms of Pablo Picasso, sculptor Constantin Brancusi and the German Expressionists who had earlier on already borrowed and incorporated African themes and stylistic elements into their own art.
The highlight of the auction is undoubtedly Alexis Preller’s large oil Adam and Eve (estimate R7.6 – 8 million), says Alastair Meredith, senior art specialist and head of Strauss & Co’s art department.
“Adam and Eve is one of Preller’s mid-career masterpieces. Monumental and lyrical, rich and gorgeously coloured, timeless yet jaw-droppingly unique, symbolically loaded and joyously intricate, the painting is a beautiful snapshot from Preller’s very personal vision of Africa.”
Karel Nel writing in the auction catalog expounded further: “The work has been meticulously crafted. The coloring is subtle, the forms are crystal clear, the space luminous and bounded only by the decorative margins of the format. In all, a wondrously paradoxical blend of African and Quattrocento and subjective inspiration.”
Mythological Rider a piece by Kumalo also needs to be highlighted; it consists of a large human figure astride a prowling beast.
The power relations are strikingly instructive – the rider’s figure is disproportionately larger than the comparatively small beast.
The figures also share limbs, which simplifies the composition and complicates assumptions about the relationship between the two beings.
The bronze masks of Villa demonstrate the range of his innovative stylisation of faces with the seeming coded rearrangement of features.
His heads sometimes feature two faces, reminiscent of the Luba ‘Janus’ heads. Others rely on “dramatically simplified features and faceted surfaces that intersect at oblique angles and ricochet through the piece”.