30th Nov, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 29
Lot 29 - Norman Catherine (South Africa 1949-)


Norman Catherine (South Africa 1949-)
Hotel Babylon

carved and painted wood assemblage

Artwork date: 1998
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right

Sold for R513,120
Estimated at R400,000 - R600,000


carved and painted wood assemblage

Artwork date: 1998
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right


181 x 104 x 9.5 cm


Private collection, Johannesburg.


In 2000, the Goodman Gallery produced a book on Norman Catherine which, twenty-two years later, remains a stellar study of contemporary South African art, and an invaluable asset for all art collectors, not least because of the foreword by David Bowie. The great rockstar too owned one of Catherine’s libraries of wooden curiosities. That one of these, Hotel Babylon (1998), is up for sale is thrilling. No South African artist ranks as highly in the global Pop idiom, none has more hilariously examined white colonial mischief or the perversities of black power. Hotel Babylon is an invaluable assemblage, not only because it is an exquisite slice of Catherine’s irresistible punctuality – his ‘Nowness’ – but because no artist, in this manically distressed and restless moment, better typifies both an African and global condition.

Catherine’s surreal figures are a mirror image of Fanagalo – a lingua franca that combines Nguni languages with English and Afrikaans and a result of indenture and migrant labour. A syncretic makeshift language, and, as such, wildly loose and irreferential. Doubtless, in Catherine’s menagerie Bowie saw a number of alter-egos. This is because Catherine’s personae are psychic projections and representations – they manifest the dark human undertow, the instinctive, venomous, hilarious, and macabre. In the introduction to the book, Norman Catherine, I reflected on “the innumerable gashed, howling, serrated mouths”, their acidic expressions caught “in a rictus of demonic pleasure”. Catherine’s hard-edged cut-out technique, the strange ‘laughter’ that galvanises his sculptures that veer “from the mildly comic to the absurd to an affect hauntingly predatory”.[1] In this regard, Hotel Babylon is an exemplary congregation of Catherine’s dystopic brilliance.

Ashraf Jamal

[1] Jamal, A. (2000). Norman Catherine, Johannesburg: Goodman Gallery Editions, preface.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Javett Art Centre, Pretoria and The Haenggi Foundation Inc., Basel.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 30th Nov, 2022


The focused sale brings to market 84 highly collectable lots, with the diverse collection showcasing highlights by modern masters including magnificent still-life compositions and a Zanzibari boat scene by Irma Stern, an Alexis Preller abstract and an early JH Pierneef landscape. Also included is a significant collection of celebrated contemporary artists: Mustafa Maluka, David Koloane, Walter Oltmann, Norman Catherine, Willem Boshoff, a rare self-portrait oil by Robert Hodgins as well as a large bronze sculpture by Zanele Muholi, the first of this new body of work to be offered on auction.
The sale features a special selection of artworks by William Kentridge. One of the most celebrated and influential living artists today, his major retrospective exhibition is currently on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. This is one of the most unique and high-quality Kentridge collections to come to market. Spanning his career and showcasing the many mediums in which he works, the sale features signature charcoal drawings alongside collages, tapestry, prints and sculptures.

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