ANC fundraiser turned record-breaking art auction

ANC fundraiser turned record-breaking art auction

The South African art world and its top-tier critics and experts have been stunned by a recent ANC fundraiser whose auction-like proceedings have turned art auction records on their heads. The highlight of the fundraiser-come-gala-dinner event was the successful bid of R3.7 million for a relief painting of former president Nelson Mandela, by relatively unknown Durban artist, Sifiso Ngcobo.

Ngcobo appears nowhere in references to South African artists and none of his works appear in collections of fine art (yet). The shocking winning bid associates this unknown artist with the highest price ever paid for an artwork by a living South African artist. The response to the auction by South African art experts and industry critics can be summed up into one word: “Outrageous”.

The event

The ANC hosted a gala dinner-style party to raise funds for its continued operations (or, as some would perceive it, lining the ANC’s pockets). Said Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe of the party: “proceeds from the dinner would be channelled into the running of the business of the ANC and its campaigns… We are an active organisation, so that money will go to the ANC to do its work.”

The tickets alone for the banquet raised R8.2 million, while the art auction raised R21.4 million in total.

The artworks

Sifiso Ngcobo’s now infamous R3.7 million artwork, which features a bust portrait of Madiba in the foreground and six or seven rondavels and a nondescript aloe in the background, ironically entitled Charity Begins at Home, is being described as “weak”, “pedestrian”, “corny” and “hideous”. The source of these adjectives – an art academic with many years of experience – has drawn the conclusion that the people who bid on Charity, did so without any professional advice, and that the bidding process wasn’t about the quality of the artwork, but more about the show and emotion of bidding in a politically motivated auction.

The winning bid went to Mining Minister Susan Shabang, who said she was bidding on behalf of an “anonymous mining magnate”, though there is speculation about who this person is – if not Shabang herself. The second highest, losing bid of R3.5 million belonged to that of National Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Joe Hlongwane. The ANC said the bid was too good to allow it to go to waste, so they arranged with the artist to have a replica produced on commission, in order to secure the amount Hlongwane was willing to offer.

Prior to the ANC dinner, Ngcobo’s previous gallery work averaged about R7 000 apiece. The 3.7 million Mandela portrait, which no gallery said it would sell because it was “nothing new in contemporary art”, was valued at R20 000. The R3.680 million discrepancy between value and price is justified by the “anonymous mining magnate’s” bigger-picture investment, which was summed up very succinctly by Jacob Zuma before the auction: “supporting the ANC means you’re investing very well in your business… your business will multiply. Everything you touch will multiply.”