Mari McFarlane

Young Collectors: Mari McFarlane | Educating Yourself and Spotting Goats

Mari McFarlane


Earlier this week we visited Mari McFarlane’s home overlooking the Cape Town citybowl where the artworks she has thoughtfully collected over the years are sparsely displayed, enjoying pride of place on white walls where they can breathe and be admired. Having recently moved home, a few of Mari’s pieces are yet to be framed or hung. She let us into her garage where we un-bubble-wrapped an unusual Pierneef and framed family treasures.


Similarly, Mari’s best advice is to not assume that what’s found on the walls of a gallery is all that’s available. Many galleries have artworks stored behind closed doors which you can and should inquire about. There might be something there that suits your budget.


Mari did a BA majoring in Psychology and Visual Art History at UCT from 2003-2005, returning in 2007 to do an Honours in Art History. Even with this academic background, the art world felt somewhat intimidating, and so it was only after working in education for some years that Mari decided to finally and inevitably do something art-related in 2013. In 2014 she completed the Curatorship Honours programme at Michaelis.


Firmly believing in art’s ability to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving, Mari is passionate about making art spaces accessible and urges South Africans from all walks of life and industry – and of all ages for that matter – to spend more time in art museums and galleries. Her Honours research project looked at the possibility of introducing a very young audience to these spaces. She won over a sceptical museum staff to facilitate a tour of the South African National Gallery for 3-6 year olds and their parents. Mari let us know about the experience, “What was particularly interesting was the reaction of the adults who accompanied their children. Because going to galleries is not a familiar experience to so many people in South Africa, adults often aren’t sure how to behave in the gallery; they feel intimidated or aren’t sure what to expect. One woman thanked me for teaching her about the art in a way that made sense to her, she said she would never have felt comfortable going into the gallery but now understood what to do and would go again with her child in future.”


We picked Mari’s brain further to find out more about starting a collection, and how she started hers – which includes eventually buying a painting of goats by Sam Nhlengethwa which she had spotted 8 years prior and had longed for ever since.


Mari McFarlane

Sam Nhlengethwa


What was the first piece you ever owned?


I bought a poster from the Tate in 2004 of a Ron Mueck piece that I had seen in the gallery, the framing definitely cost more than the poster but I love it – I still enjoy his work. His oversized or miniature sculptural works of people are so incredibly beautiful and really do have an effect on the viewer, they’re mesmerising and moving because of their realism and because of their very candid display of a certain emotion.


Mari Mcfarlane

Ron Mueck


For you, is buying art about what makes you happy, or about a good investment?


Well having what I consider to be beautiful works in my home makes me happy, but a good investment makes me happy too! As a young collector I’m not purchasing pieces for investment purposes, I’m buying what I love, but I suppose it is nice to collect pieces that could be sold without losing money on them…although I can’t imagine ever selling a work.


How would you describe your taste? Is there anything in particular you look for?


I research artists I’ve come across that have produced pieces that have caught my eye, I speak to gallerists, I use my gut mostly. I’m also married though; I have to consider my husband’s opinion and respect the fact the he has to live in our home as well so there is often compromise on certain works.


A print by Shoichi Hasegawa

A print by Shoichi Hasegawa


Do you have a favourite piece, and can you tell us about it?


They’re all my favourite, I love everything, but I suppose my favourite changes. Sometimes I see something new or have a new association or thought that goes with a particular image that enriches my understanding or feelings around it. Sometimes someone comes to our home who comments on a picture that allows me to look at it in a different way. Jabulani Dlamini’s “Kwa Mamokgorosi” from his exhibition ‘uMama’ was a tribute to mothers and looked at the challenges facing mothers in South African townships. It’s a work displayed in a home that’s so different to mine, but whoever displayed that piece also obviously enjoyed making their home beautiful. It’s a difficult work in some ways, but I feel it’s important.


Mari mcfarlane

Jabulani Dlamini’s “Kwa Mamokgorosi”


Can you please let us know how the Sam Nhlengethwa piece came to be yours? 


I walked in Goodman Gallery in 2006, Sam Nhlengethwa had an exhibition on, the space was filled with these wonderful pictures of goats! Goats grazing and walking and doing whatever it is that goats do in the veld. I loved it so much, I didn’t think I would ever be in a position to own one. But, eventually, 8 years later I could afford one of the prints. It was a great day!


What makes something collectible?


I don’t think there are any rules, unless it’s for investment purposes – if that’s the case then start following the auctions, read the Art Times, Art South Africa and subscribe to galleries’ mailing lists and speak to gallerists. They’re usually quite helpful and encourage young collectors. The more people there are collecting the more the market grows. It’s surely a good thing for everyone.


Mari Mcfarlane


What are you currently coveting?


One of Ndidi Emefiele’s portraits of women with glasses, I would definitely love one of those! Otherwise closer to home I did see a gorgeous thick, wet Georgina Gratrix oil in Michael Chandler’s Voorkamer that would look magnificent in my girls’ bedroom.


Who are the up-and-coming local artists you have your eye on? Who is making exciting things?


Laura Windvogel (Lady Skollie) is certainly making things exciting. I love that she’s marketing herself so well. She’s a young woman who is refreshing and seems to be tackling her relatively new career as an artist with a lot of passion. It’s really great to see.


Do you have any advice for someone looking to start their own collection?


Look, look and look some more, go to galleries, speak to people. Most artists and gallerists are passionate about art and enjoy sharing their passion, there isn’t a budget that is too small. Don’t be intimidated by the quite unfamiliar spaces of museums and galleries, the more they’re visited the less frightening they become. Galleries have big stores, speak honestly about your budget, there is a lot more behind the scenes that what is displayed on the walls.



Feeling inspired? Strauss Online’s online-only sale is a great place to start. The sale is up currently and runs until 8pm on the 20th of April. Expect to find artworks by names like Sam Nhlengethwa, Kudzanai Chiurai, Walter Battis, William Kentridge, David Goldblatt and Andy Warhol amongst many others.


Feeling lucky? Enter our Instagram competition where you could win R10 000 to start your own collection with Strauss Online!! But hurry, you only have until 1pm today!


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L-R: Liebwithlove print; Claudette Schreuders ‘Paradise’

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Linde Werber

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Chris Bladen wearable sculpture

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Beatrice van Soelen

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Deborah Bell “Celebration”

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Lorriene Lotz “Frog in my throat”


Bonolo Kavula “Erasure”

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A. Makoto

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J H Pierneef “Paul Kruger” Linocut print

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Francois Krige poster “Old Basotho”

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Between 10 and 5