Strauss & Co: a sophisticated cultural presence

When Frank Kilbourn sits down with Gerhard Marx, fes­tival artist of the Stellenbosch Woordfees 2020, for a pleasant public heart to heart, the audience will quickly get that the executive chairperson of Strauss & Co has a solid hand on, and a passion for, the convoluted but exciting territory of contemporary art.

Frank Kilbourn, the executive chairperson of Strauss & Co, believes art should be shared. To this end, the auction house is presenting several talks and art walkabouts as part of the Woordfees.

Joining the art critic and writer Sean O’Toole for this interview on 10 March at the stately town hall, Kilbourn makes a strong case for loving, understanding and, yes, investing in talent and the good art of our time and our continent.

This morning talk is one of a number of events the esteemed auction house will be bringing to this year’s culture fest. With the company’s recent venture into the auctioning of high-end wine, its contribution also includes a seminar by a wine expert and a convivial dinner that brings it all together.

In what can appreciatively be described as a sophisticated, highly visible presence at the Toyota SU Woordfees, Strauss & Co is hosting select exhibitions in the beautiful and historic Morkel House in Van Ryneveld Street, at the town hall and at the Rupert Museum. 

Highlights of important post-war, modern and contemporary art to be auctioned in Cape Town at the end of the month are on view at Morkel House and the Rupert Museum. These previews are matched by a range of artworks from the March online sale on show at the auction house hub in the town hall. Experts at the venues will talk art, assets and other appropriate pleasantries.

The latter may include the delightful discovery that one of your inherited artworks could be worth a fortune. On the Woordfees afternoons of Tuesday, 10 and Thursday, 12 March, company professionals will be on hand to do valuations at the Rupert Museum. Meanwhile, walkabouts with Matthew Par­tridge and Alastair Meredith will focus on Irma Stern and the museum’s glorious Pierneef Station Panels.

The talks fit in neatly with the pop-up exhibitions as well as with the ongoing Stellenbosch Triennale, which Strauss & Co also officially supports.

An appropriate African note – the basic theme of the Stellenbosch Triennale that runs from 11 February to 30 April – launches the Woordfees lecture programme when Strauss & Co’s senior art specialist, Wilhelm van Rensburg, considers contemporary African art in an international context. Given the wide interest, his talk – tracing the unique aesthetics of current African art – is a must.

Some highlights from the Strauss & Co auction which will be held in Cape Town on 30 March. These artworks can be viewed at Morkel House for the duration of the Woordfees. Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe by Walter Battiss.

Vanessa Phillips, the company’s joint managing director, joins decorative arts specialist Sophie-Louise Fröhlich at Morkel House to shed light on what is happening in the current market. Later, Strauss & Co’s other joint MD, Bina Genovese, will lift the veil on ‘The A–Z of Auctioneering’. It should be fascinating for those of us who want to know, for example, how an estimate of value is reached. 

In the world of wine, value is very much a talking point around this well-established wine-producing region. Frank Kilbourn, a wine lover (and a wine producer himself), has led Strauss & Co to initiate auctions of the finest vintages in partnership with Cape Town’s Wine Cellar company. 

So it’s a given that the house’s cultural presence at the 2020 Woordfees includes a toast or two to the vine and its heritage.

Roland Peens, the knowledgeable director of Wine Cellar, will discuss why South Africa is regarded as the most exciting wine-producing country. Can our finest be regarded as trading assets? Find out on 13 March. 

Of course, the proof of it all is in the expe­rience, and so it is fitting that Morkel House, with its enchanting interior and walls lined with art, hosts a festive dinner. Heritage-heavy wines as well as so-called ‘young guns’ will be poured and enjoyed.

Guard Dog by Georgina Gratrix.

Toasts all round for Strauss & Co’s first-time full-blown official presence at Woordfees will be raised. Yet from a cultural point of view, this investment in the current buzz of talent, even here in Stellenbosch, makes sense. Strauss & Co director Caro Wiese, a long-time supporter of the arts and the pioneer of Strauss & Co’s involvement in the Woordfees, says, “I am delighted that Strauss & Co is participating in South Africa’s top cultural festival and am looking forward very much to an informative and enriching week.”

The company has also placed its name on the Stellenbosch Triennale exhibition From the Vault. Showcasing work in university collections, it accentuates the value of enduring art; the kind that Strauss & Co auctions to collectors. At the same time, its presence at the vibrant, youthfully exciting Woordfees signals a contemporary finger on the pulse of the worthwhile and the talented.

Under Kilbourn, Strauss & Co has reached out even further in numerous ways to educate and enlighten people about the arts. Over the years, the company has presented and sponsored lectures and workshops, and important artworks coming to auction are researched and notated by experts. The public gets to see and to be informed. Walkabouts, lectures and fine catalogues are de rigueur.

From when he joined, Frank Kilbourn’s mantra has been ‘art is to be shared’. As a keen and informed collector, he often shows in public works from his own collection. This sharing motto is also lived out in the auction house’s business model, motivating its high-profile presence at cultural events like the Woordfees.

Kilbourn has staked Strauss & Co’s mission as one to promote, educate and support – and to influence what he calls the ‘art ecosystem’. “We have a duty to plough back, to cultivate new generations of art lovers as well as aspirant and new collectors, and to create space for young and contemporary artists within the auction environment.” 

There is nothing the executive chairperson enjoys more than being in and of the
art world. So when he joins the dialogue with the festival artist on that autumn Tuesday, he’ll know what to say, what to ask. After all, he is a long-time fan of Gerhard Marx’s engaging art.


Contemporary African Art

Lecture by Wilhelm van Rensburg, senior art specialist, Strauss & Co

Monday, 9 March, 11.30am
Venue: Stellenbosch Town Hall

In Conversation with
Gerhard Marx 

Sean O’Toole, art critic and writer; Gerhard Marx, this year’s festival artist; and Frank Kilbourn, art collector and chairperson of Strauss & Co 

Tuesday, 10 March, 11.30am
Venue: Stellenbosch Town Hall

Decorative Arts: out of the
curiosity cabinet
Lecture by Vanessa Phillips, joint MD and senior decorative arts specialist, Strauss & Co; and Sophie-Louise Fröhlich, decorative arts specialist, Strauss & Co

Wednesday, 11 March, 11.30am
Venue: Morkel House

Bina Genovese

The A-Z of Auctioneering

Lecture and mock auction presented by Bina Genovese, joint MD, Strauss & Co, and colleagues

Thursday, 12 March, 11.30am
Venue: Stellenbosch Town Hall

Where is South Africa in the World of Fine Wine? 

Lecture by Roland Peens, director of Winecellar.co.za and Strauss & Co senior wine specialist

Friday, 13 March, 11.30am
Venue: Stellenbosch Town Hall


Would you like to know the value of your art and decorative artworks? Strauss & Co specialists would be delighted to assist you.

Tuesday, 10 March and Thursday,
12 March, 1.30pm–5pm
Venue: Rupert Museum

To book an obligation-free appointment, please call 021 683 6560 or contact jean@straussart.co.za (art), Sophie-Louise@straussart.co.za (decorative arts).


Irma Stern’s Zanzibar Arab (1939), which will be sold by Strauss & Co in Cape Town on 30 March, can be viewed at Morkel House.

Irma Stern
Conducted by Wilhelm van Rensburg, senior art specialist, Strauss & Co 

Tuesday, 10 March, 12.30pm
Venue: Rupert Museum | Booking essential: 021 888 3257 | info@rupertmuseum.org

Strauss & C0 – Jacob Hendrik Pierneef

Conducted by Dr Alastair Meredith, senior art specialist, Strauss & Co 

Thursday, 12 March, 12.30pm
Venue: Rupert Museum



Zeitz MOCAA: 

Reimagining the Museum: A New Home for Contemporary  African Art and its Diaspora

Conducted by Storm Janse van Rensburg, Senior Curator, Zeitz MOCAAA

Saturday 14 March at 11.30 am

Venue: Stellenbosch Townhall



Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auctions partner Roland Peens of WineCellar.co.za to present South Africa’s greatest wines from yesteryear and the rising stars of today. Enjoy a three-course dinner paired with wines from Kanonkop, Boekenhoutskloof, Sadie Family and Alheit Family Vineyards.

Thursday, 12 March, 6.30pm
Venue: Morkel House

R1 500 per person. Enquiries:  083 252 8186 or caro@cliftonakkedis.co.za

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