Sculptor Jane Alexander butchers the record books

2013-11-12 16:31

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Internationally acclaimed Cape Town sculptor Jane Alexander has become the highest-selling living artist in South Africa – easily smashing records previously held by the celebrated William Kentridge.

Alexander’s most famous work is a trio of ominous figures known as The Butcher Boys. A fourth figure made and exhibited at the same time last night fetched R5.45 million at a Strauss & Co auction in Joburg.

It is simply called Untitled 1985/6, yet evokes powerful imagery of an animalistic, seated man, no doubt a by-product of the apartheid system that Alexander was commenting on at the time.

If ever there was proof of the value of buying when an artist is young, Untitled is it. “I believe it was bought off her Masters’ show by an undergraduate Wits student who used her pocket money to pay it off,” says Strauss senior painting specialist Phillippa Duncan.

Last night she became a millionaire, having hung on to the work for more than 25 years.

Alexander, who is notoriously reticent to speak to the press, is believed to have followed the auction with interest.

Untitled has yielded a new record price for the artist, whose previous high was the sale of a sculpture titled Race Work in the Event of an Earthquake for just more than R1 million in 2010, also by Strauss.

It is also a record for any South African sculpture at auction, beating the 2010 price of just more than R2 million for Bad News by Anton van Wouw.

Even more significantly, Untitled smashed the R2 million mark twice paid for a Kentridge in South Africa.

Duncan said she was pleased that the sculpture was sold to a private local collector and that the work will remain in the country.

» The first version of this article incorrectly stated that the Alexander sale beat the highest prices paid for Kentridge on international auction. City Press has since learnt that Kentridge's 25-figure sculpture Procession sold for over $1.5 million (about R15 million) in London earlier this year.

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