So you’ve made it. You’ve hustled, and worked, and networked, and worked some more, and now you’re thinking: "I haven’t made it to the very top yet, but I can take some time out to enjoy where I am. I can spend some money, and start living the life I want." So what do you spend on? Where do you invest your hard-earned cash?

How about buying some art? Cars, clothes and bling are out there, but everyone has those. Art is the lifeblood of South Africa’s culture – it’s our way of looking at ourselves as a society. But art, especially now, is also a pretty savvy investment for someone like you with some cash to spend, who’s looking for some returns.

For a collector starting out, buying art can be intimidating. But like any other business, investing in art can work for you if you study the industry, gain some knowledge, and buy what you feel that you like. Savvy art collectors around the world think this way – and they are proven right when the global art trade has been outperforming many more conventional asset classes. But investment in art is also about heritage and cultural value – if we understand that our national artistic or cultural identity is a crucial national resource.

With the global art sector currently worth around $50-billion, and earning well over one billion rand per annum in South Africa alone, there are real financial stakes in understanding what to invest in and how to collect art that will appreciate in value over time.

Since 2000, the global art market has grown by 36%, calculated on the basis of sales and returns, or volume and values – that is, the same method by which conventional asset classes are calculated on stock exchanges. In comparison, the S&P500 has gained 86% over the same period, the FTSE100 is up 2% and France’s CAC40 is down 19%. The art market is therefore a competitive asset class like any other – and offers good returns for people making the right investment choices, informed by a good knowledge of both the art they wish to collect and the market structure as a whole.

One of the areas that attracts many people to the art world is the spectacular prices achieved for individual works or individual artists. Last year saw plenty of examples of exceptional capital gains on the international stage. Near the top of the pile is US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose prices have risen exponentially. In 2017, a work called Jim Crow from 1986 sold for $17 680 936, having first sold in 1992 for $136 367 – a 130-time multiplication in value!

The same principle holds true for much art in the South African market. Investing in and collecting art serves a double purpose: it can offer substantial financial returns, but an art collection reflects aspirational and higher social goals. This is especially the case given South Africa’s contested political history. Many black artists were denied the opportunities given to white artists throughout the 20th century, especially with regard to formal arts education and access to galleries, social and cultural networks – and even materials. One of South Africa’s greatest artists from this time, albeit in exile, Gerard Sekoto, had to be gifted oil paints by a white benefactor in the 1930s to start his career. Sekoto’s top works now sell internationally for multimillion-rand prices. 

This picture is now slowly changing as a new generation of collectors begins to understand the market, the possible returns, and begins to express a wish to redress the skewed political history of art collecting in the country.  A whole generation of artists who were shunned and ignored by the South African art establishment in the latter half of the last century are now being reassessed and are becoming more attractive to collectors who are investing in their work. As a result, artists such as Dumile Feni, Julian Motau, Sydney Kumalo, Durant Sihlali and Sekoto are gaining new audiences and markets.

Motau, for example, was one of the pre-eminent chroniclers of life under apartheid, sketching fanatically from life on night sojourns in Alexandra in the late 1960s. His early death by misadventure, aged only 20, robbed South Africa of one of its potentially greatest artists.

This reappraisal goes along with the strong identities already established in the contemporary market by artists such as Mary Sibande, Athi-Patra Ruga and artist-activist Zanele Muholi.


Young professionals and new art collectors should, therefore, treat investing in art as a long-term business prospect. As more new collectors enter the market for underrepresented black artists in South Africa, the value systems begin to change, and the way in which South African art presents itself internationally also changes. These changes are in the hands of the new collectors.

The global art trade has been outperforming many more conventional asset classes

SEEING A BIGGER PICTURE

The Black Collector’s Forum (BCF) started in 2014 as a collective dedicated to the growth of new, younger black investors in local and other African art. Founded by Tshepiso Mohala and Andile Magengelele, it has gone from strength to strength as an information and investment resource for a new generation of black collectors to pool information, learn about art and artists, and make collecting decisions. We spoke to co-founder Andile Magengelele.

How did the BCF start?

Dr Oupa Morare, an art collector, said, “Attendance of exhibition openings by black professionals is often lacking, although they are adequately exposed to such events they feel estranged and thus discouraged to attend. They prefer to attend such events in the company of people they are familiar and comfortable with, so that they are free to ask questions without embarrassment.” [i]

BCF was started in 2014 because there was this rapid growth in both the primary and the secondary art market. The healthy development was a testimony to the growing appreciation for art. However, in spite of this growth of local and international interest in South African art, access to art galleries remains exclusionary with less attendance by black art buyers. The black art collecting market was and still is neglected and underdeveloped – and continues to be reserved and controlled by the white establishment. To address this imbalance, the BCF was started with an intention to expand the scope of visual arts appreciation to new audiences, most of whom are black South Africans. The launch of BCF can also be attributed to the continued absence of art exhibitions and discourses in black communities, which leads to a dearth in art appreciation. We started by creating a platform for "informal" yet informed discussion among artists, art buyers, collectors and art lovers together in an "intimate" setting outside of a "white cube", which can be intimidating for new audiences. From the beginning, our focus has been completely on an area that has been neglected for a long time: the black high-end art-buying market. Our aim is to create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere that will foster discussions. We invite a series of experts and art collectors to come and share their ideas and expertise with an active audience to provide better insights on how to navigate the precarious and often opaque world of both the primary and secondary art markets. One of the keynote speakers during the BCF launch was Ruarc Peffers who is a director and senior art specialist at Aspire Art Auctions.

What are the organisation’s biggest successes?

Because knowledge and a trained eye are paramount for future collectors, we offer "boutique education" to would-be buyers, starting at entry level by introducing general art history and current developments in contemporary art. We have seen a number of people begin to acquire art either for their homes or their offices, as we encourage "living with art", and we are also seeing them attending more galleries and auctions and starting their own art collections. So our biggest success is seeing more black people getting more involved in this exciting world of art collecting.

Why should black professionals get into art collecting?

Besides the joy of surrounding oneself with beautiful art pieces in your home, their patronage of local artists is important for the development of the domestic art market, besides the cultural capital that one gains – supporting young and emerging artists and helping to develop their careers. Acquiring art as an asset class also helps them to diversify their portfolios.


[i] Dr Oupa Morare quoted in an interview with Thembinkosi Goniwe, Art Africa, Volume 13, Issue 02, December, 2014