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Irma Stern’s passionate embrace of still life on display at RMB Turbine Art Fair #RMBTAF

As part of its commitment to developing new art audiences and cultivating an appreciation of South Africa’s rich art history, Strauss & Co will present two exhibitions about the still life genre at the forthcoming RMB Turbine Art Fair (12 – 15 July 2018) in central Johannesburg. The exhibitions will respectively focus on the work of Irma Stern, a pioneering modernist painter and one of South Africa’s most important artists, and new work by tertiary art students inspired by an encounter with Stern’s still lifes.

Following on the success of his exhibition devoted to J.H. Pierneef’s print work at last year’s RMB Turbine Art Fair, Strauss & Co senior art specialist Wilhelm van Rensburg has curated the exhibition Life Force: The Still Lifes of Irma Stern. The exhibition will feature 17 Stern still lifes and is the biggest public exhibition of this aspect of Stern’s output since the 2003 exhibition Irma Stern: Expressions of a Journey at the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, also curated by Van Rensburg.

The Stern exhibition at the RMB Turbine Art Fair draws on works held in both private and public collections,” explained Van Rensburg. “The vast majority of works on show have been loaned from private collections, but there are also key works on loan from important public collections. The exhibition includes two works from the SABC Art Collection, two from the Johannesburg Art Gallery, and another one from the University of Pretoria Art Collection.

Wilhelm van Rensburg | Strauss & Co Senior Art Specialist 

The exhibition will also feature Stern’s floral still life, Dahlias, a radiant study of the showiest of cut flowers that was painted in 1947. Previously owned by celebrated Johannesburg art collectors Cecilia and Ben Jaffe, the painting was acquired by the illustrious Labia family at a Cape Town sale in 1994. Strauss & Co has secured the work for sale at its October auction in Cape Town. Dahlias carries a pre-sale estimate of R8 – R12 million.

A prolific artist, Stern painted many still-life scenes throughout her career. These compositions enabled her to refine her expressionistic use of colour and dynamic detailing of objects. In an effort to further enrich public knowledge around this genre and its importance to Stern’s overall output, Strauss & Co has produced an exhibition catalogue with an essay by art historian Sandra Klopper.

Running in parallel with the big Stern showcase is the additional exhibition of still-life works by tertiary art students. The works are a response to Stern, whose work Van Rensburg introduced and discussed during a road show to various institutions across Gauteng. The submitted work covers five media categories (print, painting, sculpture, ceramics and new media). The best submission to the student exhibition will be awarded a R5000 cash prize sponsored by City Lodge. All works will be on sale.

Strauss & Co’s decision to participate in the 2018 RMB Turbine Art Fair is a reflection on the enthusiastic feedback it received at previous instalments of the fair. Last year’s Pierneef showcase was met with rave reviews and followed on earlier exhibitions at the fair showcasing work drawn from the Johannesburg Art Gallery, notably an exhibition of works on paper by Francisco Goya and Diane Victor from its collection.

I think it is important to add historical context to a contemporary art fair. “Artists and collectors alike can learn a great deal through the encounter of a past master in a stunning context such as the Turbine Hall. I am hoping that visitors to this year’s fair will better understand Stern’s passionate embrace of still life, and beyond that how genre still plays a crucial role in the decisions artists make when composing a work.

Susie Goodman | an executive director of Strauss & Co, Johannesburg

Goodman said that it makes sound business sense for Strauss & Co to participate in the RMB Turbine Art Fair.

“The heart of the fair’s business model involves creating new audiences for art, which is absolutely something we support and share as a mission at Strauss & Co,” said Goodman.

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