Writing Art History Since 2002

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Curating & Understanding the Auction experience

Portrait of Anton Welz. Courtesy of Stephan Welz & Co.Portrait of Anton Welz. Courtesy of Stephan Welz & Co.


Stephan Welz & Co, one of the leading auction houses in South Africa, has stood at the forefront of the auction scene for years. The company, which has been up and running since 1968, has been built on a credible and successful auctioneer structure which provides people with the opportunity and means to get into the craft and to engage with it from a buyer’s perspective. Started by Reinhold Cassirer, Stephan Welz & Co has shared its rooms with some of the greatest patrons of the auction world. The pieces procured for these auctions span the entire spectrum of the antique space, from cutlery, crockery and furniture to classic cars and old vases, jewellery and, most importantly, fine art. Stephan Welz & Co has acted as a spearhead for almost 50 years and has sales rooms in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Working auctions is no easy task. Anton Welz, who heads Stephan Welz & Co, has had numerous years of experience. He started working in auction houses when he was at high school and developed an acute affinity for the trade, giving him an edge on the competition and fuelling his passion for a career in this prestigious industry. Anton himself acts as a fine arts specialist and has auctioned off many works of high value. With regard to art in general, he says, “Different people like different things; it’s what keeps us in business. It is more subjective than wine tasting! No one’s opinion is necessarily the right one.” This approach informs his understanding and differentiation of art and how the different styles, mediums and forms play a role in the business side/auctioning off of these pieces. Antiques are not the only items with high value and Anton says, “Never try and second guess what people may buy – your taste is not the same as anyone else’s. Oh, and age does not equal value; just because something is old doesn’t mean it has value.”

Curation itself is an art form – being able to pick the correct item to occupy a space is not to be taken lightly; the role of a curator is imperative to the survival of the trade and the growth of the industry. Curating an experience like an auction is decisive and precise. Every work of art is chosen carefully, based on a variety of factors, to ensure that it is of the highest quality, in the best possible condition and stands as a great front to the auction scene. Auction houses hold pieces from antiquity to the modern day, varying the output of works to give a sense of change, growth and an atmosphere that increases interest around the art, culture and design elements.

While curation is an extremely important aspect of the auction, the works and antiques hold all the cards when it comes to the business side of things, because a curator is only as good as the chosen works for auction and these need to be blended in a perfect manner for the event to have visual impact and run smoothly.

If you’re interested in antiques, collectibles or high-value pieces from the African continent and abroad, heading to auctions to get first-hand experience in the environment is an excellent way to go about it. In addition, if you’re new to the auction scene, always remember that starting off small is a wise choice, offering you the chance to experience and learn more about the industry and help you to get a foot in the door.

Stephan Welz & Co continues to be highly respected and has a profound impact in the South African auction sector, providing great quality items to enthusiastic bidders, consigning pieces at the best value and encouraging growth in the industry. This, coupled with credible specialists with a combined experience of over a 100 years, is testament to the strength, dedication and perseverance of this impressive auction house, the halls of which have displayed countless items of grand design. The company’s website provides information on previous auctions, results and upcoming events, both in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Sean Streak is a writer on ART AFRICA’s editorial team.


FEATURED IMAGE: Four sets of Oxford miniature editions in a display box. Courtesy of Stephan Welz & Co.

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