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No lid on the bid

Auctioneer and Strauss & Co management team member, Susie Goodman shares a glimpse into her life with the gavel, her favourite finds and auctioneering during lockdown

What made you go into auctioneering? Are there many female auctioneers in SA and the rest of the world?

While I was working at Christie’s Education in London in the ’90s, in the client advisory department, I handled the telephone bids for all the big auctions so spent a lot of time in the saleroom and got to know the inner workings of bidding and auctions. I’m passionate about people buying art and love finding new homes for the lots we have the privilege of auctioning.

I was invited to attend an auctioneer training course run by two very experienced and well-known Christie’s auctioneers, Hugh Edmeades and Dermot Chichester. I was very lucky and was selected to start the proper training to become a Christie’s auctioneer.

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To be part of a world where we sold everything from Princess Diana’s dresses and Captain Bligh’s coconut shell bowl from the famous mutiny on the Bounty, to selling restitution art taken by the Nazis during WWII, in order to raise funds for holocaust survivors, was interesting, exciting and a real privilege. I loved it!

There are fabulous traditions that come with auctioneering, such as you’re given your own gavel – especially made for you – after you’ve conducted your first auction.

At Strauss & Co we have three women auctioneers and one man. Globally the art auction market is still male dominated with the very important and high value evening auctions mainly being conducted by men.

What do you love most about your job?

I’m very privileged to work with an exceptional team at Strauss & Co. We have the most extraordinary time finding artworks that in themselves have exceptional stories, contexts and histories. Artworks are made by people, owned by people, sold by people and re-bought by people. The stories that follow these works are often humbling, intriguing and sometimes reflect moments in our own country’s history that make us stop and think. We learn something new every day, discover new pictures that were thought lost, and sometimes match a new work to a collector who’s been looking for something specific for a long time. Meeting artists is such a privilege and hearing them talk about their work is a real treat.

I’m amazed every day at the strength and breadth of the South African art market. I get very excited when people who have no South African connections or roots here, start collecting South African art because of the importance and quality of the work from this part of the continent.

What has been your most exhilarating moment in the rostrum?

Getting onto the rostrum is fabulous and a privilege every time! I’m an adrenalin junkie and in the art world it doesn’t get any more exciting than being at the helm of an exciting sale, managing competing bidders vying for a high-value Anton van Wouw or Irma Stern or a rare sought-after work by Gerard Sekoto or Gladys Mgudlandlu. Some of my favourite moments are when you have three or four bidders fighting it out to secure the winning bid on an important artwork.

At Christie’s, I was involved in a number of big sales of single-owner collections, including the Rothschild Collection and Princess Salimah Aga Khan’s jewellery collection and, in South Africa, this year’s sale of the art collection of the Monarch Hotel was really thrilling.

Strauss & Co has been instrumental in educating the public on art and auctions. Has it been exciting to see the increase in people buying art?

We take our commitment to education very seriously, by supporting up-and-coming young artists and art scholars along with educating the art-buying public in a variety of ways – on the auction processes themselves for our live as well as our online sales, on how to build and conserve a collection that can be enjoyed and that holds its value, on the work of a wide range of artists in all genres and, more broadly, on the history of South African art. There’s just so much interest in art by all sectors of society. Technology changes so quickly and we’re constantly being challenged and needing to adapt. In lockdown, it’s a whole new world and we’re finding new ways to communicate and to sell art – we’re expanding our online presence, initiating Zoom talkabouts that attract hundreds of art lovers and collectors at a time.

You obviously work with people who help make these auctions happen – tell us a little about that.

We have a relatively small team, considering how much we need to do, but we’re all passionate, hardworking, positive, flexible people and our range of specialities complements one another – client advisory, art specialists, logistics, research, scholarship and all the supporting administrative and business structures that keep everything working smoothly. We learn so much from one another and have so much fun, it doesn’t feel like work most of the time!

Tell us about the most exciting find in your career

Finds usually involve a great story! One of our clients inherited from her grandfather a Gerard Sekoto work, painted in the 1940s before he left for Paris. He gave it to her with the express wish that when she needed the money for a rainy day or a fabulous new opportunity, she should sell it, with no remorse … we were all in tears when this small gem sold for over a million rand! What a legacy to have inherited and loved and benefited from!

Do you collect art and if so what do you buy?

Everyone always thinks that because we’re in the art world we inevitably have fabulous collections. If only! I do buy art as and when funds allow, and one of my favourite purchases is a small Maggie Laubser I bought from a junk shop for R400 in 1990 when I was studying at UCT. I had to borrow the money from my Dad! Number one on my bucket list? I’d really love to buy a work by Stanley Spencer or Lucien Freud, who are two of my all-time favourite artists. Working at Strauss & Co is very spoiling – we have the privilege of handling so many incredible museum-quality works that I think my taste doesn’t quite match the suit I wear!

Tell us a little about the platforms people can use to buy art through Strauss & Co

We have two main platforms, live auctions and online sales. Live auctions are the traditional art-buying platform that’s been around for hundreds of years, but nowadays technology has revolutionised the way people can buy, even on these sales. People can be in the room for a live auction, or join by streaming from anywhere in the world and bid in real time. They can also bid over the phone or lodge an absentee bid in advance that the auctioneer will execute on a buyer’s behalf. Our online sales happen through our website and are usually open for bidding for a week at a time. Coronavirus is permanently changing the way many businesses work and we’re enhancing our online presence as buyers and sellers get much more comfortable with navigating the terrain and mastering the specifics of digital interaction.

Upcoming dates of auctions the public can watch out for?

Live virtual auctions are set to take place on May 10 (wine) and May 11 (jewellery, decorative arts and art) on straussart.co.za

Would you like to have your artwork valued or sold? Send images of the works and measurements (excluding the frame) to [email protected] and they’ll advise on what platform, which sale, and handle all the rest.

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