Focus on William Kentridge, South Africa's foremost contemporary artist, at Bonhams in London

A focus on William Kentridge
20 Mar 2013
London, New Bond Street

As part of The South African Sale on March 20th in London, Bonhams presents A Focus on William Kentridge, an unparalleled selection of work by South Africa's foremost contemporary artist. Internationally renowned for his animated films, prints, drawings, installations and opera projects, this auction will feature some of the finest examples of his oeuvre.

Bonhams holds the top auction record for a picture by the artist, after the charcoal and oil on canvas Anti-Waste sold for £253,250 (R3.5 million) in March 2012. A truly international artist, Kentridge has featured prominently in the UK in recent years: in 2012, the artist's 8-channel film installation I Am Not Me, The Horse is Not Mine (2008) was chosen as one of the inaugural projections in the Tate Modern's new exhibition space, Tate Tanks, while 2013 sees the Hayward Gallery's travelling exhibition, A Universal Archive: William Kentridge as Printmaker, alight in Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham and Derby. It is fitting that this March, Kentridge's work features as a special section of Bonhams' South African sale in London. Appearing alongside the great masters of the country's artistic traditions – Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto, Alexis Preller and others – Kentridge takes his place at the forefront of the international market for South African art.

Collected from around the globe, this is undoubtedly the best collection of Kentridges to come to auction to date, featuring museum-standard pieces and rare early works. The range available includes original charcoal drawings, prints, paintings, and mixed-media sculptures. Some are related to his 9 Drawings for Projection series, while others spring from his early career and most recent projects, offering an incomparable array of work and reflecting the breadth of Kentridge's career. Twenty lots will be offered in the sale, including a rare encaustic from the artist's famous Casspirs Full of Love project (1989), the masterful mixed-media sculpture Construction for Return (Tenor) (2008) and the provocative charcoal drawing Responsible Hedonism (1988).

Estimated to sell for £140,000-180,000, Casspirs Full of Love is the unusual encaustic incarnation of a series of related works – all featuring disembodied heads in a cabinet or dispersed in a landscape – from 1989 (the drypoint etching on the same theme is in the collection of the Tate Modern, MoMA and several other major institutions). The title comes from a personal dedication overheard by Kentridge on the popular radio programme "Forces Favourite", sent from a mother to her son in the South African security forces: "This message comes to you from your mom with Casspirs full of love". Under the state of emergency declared in South Africa from the mid 1980s, armoured military vehicles called Casspirs were deployed to the townships, ostensibly permitting police to open fire at unarmed civilians in order to "keep the peace".

Construction for 'Return' (tenor) (£100,000- £150 000) was born from an invitation to create a film for projection on the safety curtain of the stage in the famous Venice opera house, La Fenice. When the opera was in session, the film triptych Breathe, Dissolve, Return was accompanied by the sound of the orchestra warming up. It was this musical journey from sonic chaos and disjointed stimuli to harmonious coherence that the artist sought to evoke in sculptural form. In the constructions for Return, of which Bonhams' lot is a central figure, the sculptural equivalent of "tuning up" finds its expression in the arrangement of myriad fragments of black paper, carefully attached to a wire armature and mounted on a turntable. Moving slowly through a 360 degree axis, the sculptures cast a shadow and create a silhouette that only comes together coherently from a single viewpoint; a sudden, breathtaking "gathering out of chaos to order".

At £80 000 - £120 000, Responsible Hedonism (1988) was the title work for the artist's 1989 solo exhibition at the Vanessa Devereux Gallery in London. The two figures kissing at the centre of the composition are linked both to the etching of the same name in the series Industry and Idleness (1987-1988) as well as the large-scale screenprint The Battle between Yes and No (1989). "Through figures whose tongues twist together", as MoMA assistant curator Judith Hecker has suggested, the works "convey a sense of social antagonism", and suggests something of the many competing messages being circulated in the political arena of the late '80s in South Africa. The couple are situated within the very public space of a stadium, complete with microphones and loudspeakers, the iconography of mass communication.

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