LOCAL art auction company Strauss & Co has appointed Frank Kilbourn as its new executive chairman, and added to its team of art specialists, in its first significant personnel change since founder Stephan Welz died in 2015.
Kilbourn replaces Elisabeth Bradley, who has retired from the position, but will remain a board member, with immediate effect. Welz’s wife, Carmen, also joins the Strauss board, while the company has also brought in Wilhelm van Rensburg and Marion Dixon as art specialists based at the company’s Johannesburg office.
Though Kilbourn has held positions as chairman of SA Tourism, founder of Bright Group, and directorships at Sun International and City Lodge, it was a return of 1-million percent in just less than two years on his investment in Eland Platinum that catapulted him into the headlines.
Putting down just more than R40,000 in 2005 for 4.04-million shares in the mining company in the North West, he made a gain of R424m in 2007 when global resources giant Xstrata made a cash offer for the miner at R105 per share.
Speaking at the time of the announcement on Wednesday, Kilbourn said he has been collecting contemporary and classic South African art for 30 years and with his wife, Lizelle, has built up a personal collection of more than 1,200 works — 95% of which is South African.
While his first purchase — a work by a painter called Rennie, while he was a student in Johannesburg — may not have demonstrated the same acumen as his later business exploits, Kilbourn said he had continued to buy art for a significant part of his life.
While his primary motivation for joining the auctioneer’s board is his love of art and the opportunity to work with the “dominant player” in the local art auction market, he also plans to bring his business experience as an entrepreneur and good governance principles to the board.
“We need several art institutions for us to be able to collect effectively and continue to make a market in SA.
“I’ve been a client of Strauss & Co, like I have of several other auction houses, and it’s a high-quality company. I look forward to being part of it.” Kilbourn said he did not have a favourite work, but, “I very much love Robert Hodgins’s work.
“I have one of his of a boxer that I love. I also love Stanley Pinker, Alexis Preller. My best buy was the first little Stern I bought back when I was an article clerk and paid it off. Today it’s worth quite a bit more.”
He and Lizelle open their house for charity-driven exhibitions several times a year, and he has more than 100 works of art at his offices.