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Kentridge Magic Flute Opens Curtain on Contemporary Art

 Kentridge Magic Flute Opens Curtain on Contemporary Art

Responsible for the highest ever South African sale of a William Kentridge at R2,24 million in 2010, Stephan Welz & Company is about to sell another significant piece from the artist’s landmark production of The Magic Flute, as part of the auction house’s expanding collection of important contemporary works. The sale of ‘Preparing the Flute’ Figure 9, an important, large-scale charcoal and pastel piece, which has an estimate of R1,2 to R1,5 million, will take place during the Decorative and Fine Arts Auction in Johannesburg, Monday 19 to Wednesday 21 November.

In 1998, Kentridge was commissioned by the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels to direct The Magic Flute, Mozart’s last opera. The production premiered in Brussels in 2005 and later travelled to such cities as Lille, Caen, Naples, Tel Aviv, New York and Cape Town, ending its run in Kentridge’s home city, Johannesburg, where it was immortalised in his 1989 film, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris.

A richly symbolic work, The Magic Flute has inspired and attracted many artists through the ages, including Marc Chagall, Maurice Sendak and David Hockney. Kentridge threw himself into the preparations, producing hundreds of drawings and prints, which explored Egyptian mythology and Masonic themes, before stamping out his own interpretation of the metaphor of darkness and light. His production gives expression to the underbelly of Enlightenment ideals through the searing treatment of the German colonisation of South West Africa, which resulted in the massacre of the Herero people.

At the heart of Kentridge’s production were the monumental projections of charcoal drawings — the artist’s familiar medium — which were photographed, erased and redrawn before being captured in video to create large-scale animated backdrops. Drawings such as the one on auction were what ultimately made this opera Kentridge’s own.

Whether hand-drawn or printed in a darkroom, the contrast of black and white makes for poignant artistic statements in contemporary works, as in Jürgen Schadeberg‘s telling 1952 photograph of Nelson Mandela In His Law Office, which is another important contemporary piece in the upcoming auction.

Schadeberg was one of the legendary Drum chief photographers and while he photographed many key historic events like the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the Sharpeville Funeral of 1960, he was also one of the few white photographers who captured daily life in the black community, helping to bring the vibrancy of township life to unfamiliar eyes. The photograph of Nelson Mandela is estimated at R30 000 to R40 000.

One form of contemporary art experiencing astronomical growth in prices worldwide is sculpture. The three-dimensional genre is a big component of contemporary art, and will be well represented on the auction block with a significant group of diverse South African works. One of these is ‘Thinking Hare’ by Guy du Toit, which is valued at R40 000 to R60 000. Du Toit is currently exhibiting a family of his bronze hare sculptures at IS Sculpture on the Tokara Wine Estate.

Peter Schütz is a sculptor with a very different style, whose iconic figures in painted wood are held in museums throughout South Africa and the world. Schütz passed away in 2008, and his sculpture ‘Green Cloaked Figure’ will be available on auction, estimated at R50 000 to R80 000. Painted bronze is the medium of Barend Petrus de Wet, whose pop-art style ‘Yay’ sculpture valued at R35 000 to R45 000 is for sale, as well as important pieces from artists Francois van Reenen and David James Brown.

“Contemporary art is a new way of expressing creativity and intellectual thought, producing visual art with a difference, and we are pleased to be offering such a well-rounded collection of important pieces,” said Dr. Fred Scott, Managing Director of Stephan Welz & Company. “The Kentridge is certainly a highlight, as it is a fine example of the artist’s superior skill in controlling media in his innovative rendition of artworks. Jürgen superbly captured Mandela in a tranquil pensive moment, making this photograph as much a work of art as it is a piece of history.”



Scott is equally enthusiastic about the selection of contemporary quirky sculptures to be auctioned. “Works of sculpture are often neglected in collections although they have potential to become good investment pieces. Making good sculptures is intricate work and requires special skills, which adds great value to this form of artistic expression,” he said.

In addition to these highlights, prominent works by Robert Hodgins, Norman Catherine, Wayne Barker, Simon Stone, Conrad Botes, David Koloane, Karl Gietl and Kendall Geers will also be available.

The auction will take place in Johannesburg Monday 19 November to Wednesday 21 November at 13 Biermann Avenue, Rosebank. Pre-auction viewing open to the public at no charge, 16 – 18 November, 10h00 until 17h00 daily. For more information, contact Imre or Victoria  on 011-880-3125 or e-mail The auction catalogue can be viewed at


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