A feast for the eyes; an evening with art collector Phillipa Duncan

A feast for the eyes; an evening with art collector Phillipa Duncan

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to spend an evening in a stranger’s home to admire their art. Fewer still are the chances to do so in the house of someone prominently involved in the art industry. Thanks to Culture Connect, I and six others could have dinner with the fabulous Phillipa Duncan in her charming art-filled home.

The anticipation of the evening meant that each guest arrived promptly – an unusual occurrence for the Cape! Shuffling in from the cold and entering Phillipa’s home, we were immediately greeted by not one but two galley-style walls laden with the most sensational array of art. With coats left at the door, eyes brought back to eye level, we were introduced to one another, our host and chef for the evening, Robert Mulders of 6 Spin Street. Seated with a glass of De Meye Rose, we started the evening’s deliciousness with a cheese soufflé served with herb and mustard cream and homemade whole wheat bread. The entree was followed by freshly (and sustainably caught) basa fillets roasted with olives and fennel accompanied by a courgette salad, roasted beetroot and basmati rice. Both courses paired beautifully with the zestful conversation that, up until this point, shied away from the topic we all wanted to discuss; art. Once dinner plates were cleared away, glasses refilled, and seats reshuffled, Phillipa began to share the stories behind her remarkable collection.

As with all great collections, common themes quickly emerged. Foremostly was Phillipa’s love of paper as an artistic medium and her reverence for South African art from the 1960s – a period when South African artists were producing world-class art but weren’t receiving recognition due to the political landscape. Within minutes our party grew in size as Stanley Pinker, Kevin Atkinson, John Muafangejo, and Penny Siopis (to name but a few) entered the room through their art, becoming imaginary guests whose lives Phillipa brought to life through her passionate storytelling. With the number of guests continuing to increase (enter Zizwo Sama, Lwando Dlamini, Alexis Preller and co.), the conversation shifted from art to the art of collecting. We discussed everything from museum glass and archival applications (or spreadsheets) to framing and the perils of packaging tape. The politics of the South African art scene, mismanagement of artists’ estates and the ‘chronic lack of understanding’ regarding the print market were points of discussion that Phillipa navigated with unwavering enthusiasm.

Some people like to play coy with their art; Phillippa is not one of them. Her keen eye for artworks with a known provenance makes many items in her collection fascinating, for the artists they represent and the past associations linked to the pictures resulting in intriguing after-dinner stories. The extravaganza of the art world with the head-line emphasis on record prices often deter potential collectors. After a fascinating and intimate evening with a passionate collector, one could only be left with a feeling of excitement at the possibility of starting one’s own collection.

Fiona Scott-Berning; art blogger

Let me know if you would like another Culture Connect hosted by Phillippa at her home, kate@cultureconnectsa.com +27 (0)72 377 8014