Julia Meintjes is one of South Africa’s foremost independent curators, with a wealth of experience in the art industry. Based in Johannesburg, her company, Julia Meintjes Fine Art sources works for collectors and, in many cases, maintains their collections. Julia encourages art buyers ‘to prioritise the artistic merit of a work and not investment’. ‘For me it’s important that when you live with a work you decipher it bit by bit, or notice something different about it day by day. Of course, you want to know that you have paid a fair price for it, but that’s not the reason to buy.’ How do you go about selecting works for a particular collection? My main yardstick is that it is made by an artist who has chosen visual language to decipher his/her own response to the world and whose images have the integrity and individuality to affect the way I or another viewer may look at the world. Therefore, I am captured by particular works rather than particular artists, although over the years I have obviously established relationships with selected artists whose work I have dealt with regularly. I choose to work from the point of view of the collector, making each exhibition a collection of pieces with which I hope to stimulate conversations among viewers. In relation to private collections I like to find specific works that can stimulate such conversations for the collector. One of my aims is to combine works by artists who are represented by our relatively small, over-subscribed gallery world, with artists who are not – we live in a country abundant with artistic voices, many of whom deserve to be exhibited, and who struggle to find the gaps. What art would you buy with R5 000?
- For a collection focusing on where and how South Africans live, Kulekhani Dlamini’s ‘Jojo Tank’, Thulani Mchunu’s ‘Camperdown’, Lucas Bambo’s ‘Choir’ or a Cedric Nunn photograph.
- For a collector passionate about natural geometry and structure, a Christina Bryer porcelain mandala or Richard Penn’s ‘Spark’.
- For a collector specialising in sculpture, Stefan Carstens’ ‘Clinched’, an Ian Garrett vessel or a piece of African currency.
- For a collector of works on paper who likes contemplative works, Dylan Graham’s ink drawing, ‘Book’, a Giovanna Biallo ‘colour-fields’ piece, or Witty Nyide’s ‘Ancestors’ printed at The Caversham Press.
- For a collector who likes political commentary, Tom Cullberg’s ‘Africa is China’, or a Diane Victor etching from her ‘Disasters of Peace’ series.
- For a collector who has figurative work including pieces of West African sculpture, a Claudette Schreuders lithograph, Sandile Goje’s ‘People I Have Known’ or one of Walter Oltmann’s ‘Beetle Suit’ ink-and-bleach drawings.
- Alfred Thoba’s oil called ‘Steve Tshwete’, a moving portrait drawing by Maggie Laubser I came across on an auction or Lettie Gardiner’s ‘Twin Girls’, for Sam Nhlengethwa’s collection.
- For a collector living in a contemporary home with an interest in photography, one of Cecile Heystek’s camera series (Muted verbs) made during the TRC hearings, and with that budget, I could still add Abrie Fourie’s photograph called ‘Schloss Erkenbrechtshausen, Crailsheim, Germany (2008)’.
- For an ‘intellectual’ collection, one of Wendy Vincent’s black paintings with a matrix of dots, a work by Nicolas Hales, Julia Rosa Clarke or Paul Emmanuel’s ‘Field of Flames’.
R500 000? I’d buy a major work and take 10 per cent of the budget to buy a young, or at least living artist’s work for the same project or collection. I’d like to encourage all buyers to do this when they are buying a ‘collectable’ R500 000 work on the secondary market (e.g. from an auction, or by an artist who is deceased, where the artist does not get the money).
- For a collector who owns a fine early Cecil Skotnes panel and a June Bird (Australian) oil, a Karel Nel mixed-media on bonded fibre piece or his ‘Fraction: Cosmos Deep Survey’, a 1970s Ezrom Legae figure, and a Gerhard Marx from his current ‘Garden Carpet’ series.
- For a young collector who has just built an enchanting home with a sculpture courtyard, a carved wood sculpture by Egon Tania, Willem Strydom’s ‘Water from an Ancient Well’, or a Wim Botha, and with the 10 per cent, a Bronwen Findlay richly coloured oil.
- For a collector passionate about finding works by artists from different periods in their oeuvres, a Penny Siopis 1980s cake painting, an early bronze by Sydney Kumalo, an encrusted Mmagabo Sebidi, or a Jane Alexander sculpture.
R1 000 000?
- For a collector of historical South African art (spending 10 per cent of the budget on a living artist!) Fritz Krampe’s ‘Gorillas’, a major Hugo Naude, or Bertha Everard’s 1910 Empire Exhibition award winning ‘Koomatie’ (sic) or Jean Welz’s ‘Still life with Three Vessels and a Checked Tablecloth’. I’d be happy to put a deposit on Gerard Sekoto’s 1947 self-portrait...
- For a patron collector, I would commission a pair of the most talented artists in the country but I am not telling you who they are (for me) because I am working on making this happen!
Who is currently seriously big on the local art scene? If big means ‘noticeably big prices’, the media in South Africa rarely covers any big price works other than those sold on auction, as auction prices are public - who could have missed the media coverage for the sale of works by Irma Stern, Vladimir Tretchikoff and Lionel Smit? Meanwhile galleries also sell William Kentridge, Deborah Bell, Willem Boshoff, Georgina Gratrix, Sam Nhlengethwa, Mickhael Subotzky, David Goldblatt, Nicholas Nhlobo... the list goes on. There’s space I think for collectors to make others big, such as Moshekwa Langa, Vivian van der Merwe, John Murray… again, the list goes on. Which local artists are doing well on the international market at the moment? Considering that for some collectors we still need the rubber stamp of approval of overseas recognition, it’s encouraging when an artist gets an international break, like Clare Menck has by being included in an exhibition of women artists at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen. Since 1994 more galleries are promoting their artists in the global market - William Kentridge, Zwelethu Mtethwa and Karel Nel exhibit more overseas than in SA, a sculpture by Claudette Schreuders was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in NY, Peter Magubane, David Goldblatt, Jodi Bieber and Guy Tillim are among photographers who have established names overseas. International curators watch Zanele Muholi, and of course Marlene Dumas is really a local! What would you buy now for investment purposes, or because you love it? Wouldn’t it be interesting if Billiton or Dimension Data collections were exhibited in public with their purchase prices alongside current market value (though of course market value can only be proved if the work is sold)? The curators sourced works around a policy and theme primarily, and both collections would currently be valued far in excess of what the companies paid. Perhaps this means that if buyers are keenly aware of what’s going on in the art world and in our society, and buy works with the help of an expert, it’s possible to buy for love and investment. To read more advice from Julia Meintjes, read Art Smart in the April 2014 issue of House and Leisure.