Anton Welz, director of Stephan Welz & Co Fine Art and Design Auctioneers, speaks to ART AFRICA about the growing significance of online auction platforms and the opportunities available in harnessing an audience from within the African continent.
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ART AFRICA: You obviously take care when selecting which artwork to use on the covers of your catalogues. Does this in any way reflect the focus of the auction house moving forward?
Anton Welz: For our upcoming catalogue in October, we have used a work by Nelson Makamo. I think we have quietly been developing a market for contemporary art from Africa for some time now by showcasing the work of artists from across the continent and this cover is a reflection of that.
There is a lot of debate right now around the move towards embracing digital strategies. What is your opinion on online auction platforms versus the traditional auction model?
I think there is room for both. We have seen the number of online bidders on our live auctions increase with every sale while, at the same time, I think a purely online auction also has a place in the auction market. After all, Sotheby’s have partnered with eBay for their online platform. We are the only local house using the-saleroom.com for live bidding and we have been piloting an online auction presence for a few months, but I do think that buyers like to be able to see and feel the work on offer – particularly with big ticket items.
Tell us a little more about the demographic of your markets.
Five years ago the bulk of the bidders were local. Now, if the sale is marketed to the right collectors, up to ten percent of the lots will go to overseas buyers. The Colin Sayers tribal art collection is a case in point; successful buyers are made up of bidders from the Smithsonian to some of the biggest dealers and collectors in Europe. With the online bidding, we have in excess of fifty bidders on a sale as well as clients on the telephone. Technology is bringing a new class of buyer. There is currently little or no interest from other African countries, and therein lies an opportunity.
You are obviously well aware of who the major players in the industry are and what influence and support they offer with regards to the fluidity and stability of the secondary market. What insights are you able to share in this regard?
There are a number of collectors who have supported the local market at all levels (patronising artists directly, buying from galleries and at auction), and without whom the local market would be a lesser place. They are largely unknown but their support has been very significant. They have also established record prices for artists at auction and have helped to establish South African art and artists internationally. If any of them were to put their collection on the market it would create tremendous instability, but they are prudent and savvy collectors. Twenty years ago there was institutional collecting but this has been superseded by the advent of the serious local collector and the art market should be grateful for them. They have provided stability and established many new local artists careers.