The ANC’s new art darling
Charity Begins at Home, the portrait of former president Nelson Mandela by little-known artist Sifiso Ngcobo, which sold for R3.7 million at an ANC fundraiser, has set a new record.
It’s the highest price ever paid for a work by a living South African artist at a local auction – courtesy of an unknown mining magnate who reportedly asked Mining Minister Susan Shabangu to bid on his behalf.
The previous record was held by internationally acclaimed William Kentridge, whose drawing The Film sold for R2.2 million at a Joburg auction in 2011.
In fact, only one South African work by a living artist has sold for more than R3.7 million on auction anywhere in the world – again Kentridge, whose Preparing the Flute sold for more than R5 million in New York two years ago.
Contrary to speculation though, the 38-year-old KwaZulu-Natal artist and décor-business owner did not donate his work to the ANC. Although he is a member, he says he has no highly placed connections in the party.
“My portrait of Jacob Zuma sold for R1 million to a businessman in December at an ANC gala dinner in Mpumalanga,” said Ngcobo when City Press tracked him down this week.
“That was the first in my series of 12 ANC leaders and it was me who proposed the idea.”
He receives a percentage of the profits from the auctions, but asked City Press not to divulge the amounts.
“I am an artist and a businessman,” said the charismatic Ngcobo, born and raised in KwaMashu.
“I walked in off the street with a Mandela portrait and a proposal, and I followed procedure. Eventually, the KwaZulu-Natal Premier (Zweli Mkhize) saw the painting and said it was exquisite.”
Ngcobo revealed the ANC has commissioned a second Mandela portrait on behalf of a losing bidder who will pay R3.5 million for it.
“Up until now, my clients were businessmen, but this week I have received a number of portrait commissions from high-level politicians too.”
City Press struggled to find a record of his work outside of his abstract wall hangings, and decorated doors and frames, sold through his company, Ubuciko Artworld.
“He had a work on a competition at the KZNSA gallery in 2008,” says curator Bren Brophy. “It was on sale for R7 000.”
Brophy said the ANC auction price of Ngcobo’s work was dangerous as it creates a false value that will jeopardise mid-career painters in the province.
“For R3.7 million, you can get four life-size bronze sculptures of Shaka Zulu by Andries Botha.”
Said Emma Laurence of the Goodman Gallery: “You could get two important Kentridge drawings for that.”
No galleries approached by City Press this week had heard of Ngcobo.
Most said they would not sell the work as it presented nothing new in contemporary art.
Mandela images, they say, are geared towards tourists and not serious buyers. They said established painters sell at about R150 000 a painting.
They valued the Mandela portrait at about R20 000.
“If you see it, you will say it is exquisite too,” said Ngcobo, unfazed.
“These gallery guys may not know who I am, but plenty of people do.”