Targets exceeded in successful art auction to secure Archbishop Tutu’s legacy project

More than R3.5-million was raised for the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation when top-notch artworks, great wines and once-in-a-lifetime experiences went on auction through auctioneers Strauss & Co on 22 September 2021. The Foundation has mounted a 90@90 Tutu Legacy Fund campaign and the art auction was part of this campaign. The sale achieved a remarkable sell-through rate of 78%.

“One of the salutary sayings from the Arch is that ‘we learn from history that we do not learn from history’. Our task at the Foundation is to make sure that we do truly learn from his own vast historical contributions and that the lessons we learn take us forward towards a society that is healed, reconciled and at peace with itself,” said Foundation CEO Piyushi Kotecha.

“We are delighted with the results of the auction, which exceeded our expectations, and are excited to put the proceeds towards firmly establishing his legacy through the Tutu Legacy Fund.”

The two-part auction featured separate day and evening events, where bidders could bid either in person or online, with the in-person evening event taking place at the Old Granary building in Cape Town, home of the foundation.

One of the auction’s top sellers was a signed first edition of Archbishop Tutu’s God Has a Dream. The leatherbound hardcover is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity, is signed by the Archbishop, and is number 525 of a small print run of 1 200. It was donated by filmmaker Anant Singh, along with a rare signed copy of the limited 1994 edition of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. Both books exceeded expectations at the auction.

Another of the stars of the sale was the above-asking price sale of Charles Foley’s painting depicting Archbishop Tutu’s 2015 meeting with Tibet’s highest spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, India. The work, titled The Spirit of Joy: Tutu and Dalai Lama (2021), was created in response to the South African government’s repeated refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to visit Archbishop Tutu in South Africa.

Well-loved comedian Nik Rabinowitz brought much laughter to the event when he imitated Archbishop Tutu while auctioning off a puppet, created by artists Thierry Cassuto, a Cape Town-based film and television producer, and Jonathan Shapiro, better known as the cartoonist Zapiro.

Renowned South African artist William Kentridge donated a new work, Roses in the Big Glass (2020), to the auction. It surpassed the R150 000 to R200 000 asking price. Roses in the Big Glass is a limited-edition print (one of an edition of 30). Another piece that topped the asking price was Esther Mahlangu’s Ndebele Abstract, as did a print of photographer Jürgen Schadeberg’s famous photograph, Nelson Mandela in his Cell on Robben Island (1994).

The highest selling lot of the sale was a spectacular landscape titled West of Sutherland by John Meyer, leading figure in the Hyper-Realist movement in Southern Africa, which sold comfortably between the presale estimates.

A doll, handmade by Capetonian Ethelina Mamqaba and donated to the auction by the Foundation, fetched more than expected. When Archbishop Tutu was presented with the first of the Archbishop Tutu Dolls made by Mamqaba to support her family, he exclaimed: “What gorgeous surprises. I don’t know whether there will be a market, but you must all be congratulated.”

One lucky buyer snapped up a weekend stay for eight to 10 people in a private villa in the Grootbos Nature Reserve, close to the southern tip of Africa, which was one of the experiences sold at the auction. The villa is secluded, and surrounded by pristine fynbos in the eco-reserve tucked between mountains and sea.

“We are grateful to Strauss & Co for their superb planning and execution of this important event,” said Kotecha. She also thanked Dr Paul Bayliss, senior specialist art curator at the Absa Art Gallery, for assisting with the curation of the artworks, and to the Embassy of France in South Africa for its wonderful support and for marketing the auction. A special tribute was paid to the artists who donated a diverse and generous array of artworks.