Sometimes a chair is simply something you plonk your bum down upon. At other times it’s a work of art. In the case of the Seats of Knowledge auction, it’s definitely the latter.

The auction is raising funds for the library at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) – and has already brought R700 000 in! When it reaches its conclusion it will have seen 101 chairs, commissioned by the UJ Library and designed by South African artists and students from the National School of the Arts, coming under the hammer. But not just any old chairs. These are interpretations of chairs by numerous renowned and up-and-coming artists – works of art, really.

“When people invest in these artworks they are buying into one of the largest electronic libraries on the continent,” says Dr Rookaya Bawa, executive director of UJ’s Library and Information Centre. “This initiative will expand the capacity of the library as a hub for the creation, organisation and sharing of knowledge.”

UJ aims to become one of the world’s major repositories of digital material coming out of or related to Africa. The funds raised at the auction will be channelled towards the completion of a digital information centre and to develop the repository of e-materials about Africa.

Carel UJ library

Carel Nolte in fine fettle as MC of the UJ Library Auction, which has raised more than R700 000 so far

“Libraries are hugely important repositories that enable one of humankind’s most important pursuits – reading,” says CN&CO’s Carel Nolte, who emceed the auction event. “Author Neil Gaiman sums it up perfectly in a 2013 article in the Guardian entitled Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming (recently adapted on the Brain Pickings blog).”

“I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things,” Gaiman says in the article.

The Seats of Knowledge auction, which kicked off at UJ’s Kingsway campus in Auckland Park on Monday 22 August, would make Neil Gaiman happy.

“Even though Gaiman’s focus is specifically on reading fiction, we believe that reading for any reason – and in any format – is important,” says Carel, “which is one of the reasons we have pledged our support to the UJ library event.”

Another reason is our love of the arts.

The chairs that are being auctioned are actually more works of art than things to sit on,” says Carel. “Through our association with Business Arts South Africa, as well as our own personal passion for the arts, we are all big supporters of all forms of artistic expression – which we’re looking forward to enjoying on the 22nd!”

The event was an exciting evening of food, music and, of course, art. Artistic works by 29 leading architects, artists, sculptors and contemporary designers were on display.

These artworks – interpretations of chairs – include contributions from well-known artists such as Gordon Froud, Lehlohonolo Mkhasibe, Guy du Toit, Boitumelo Mazibuko, Craig Muller, John Yannis Generalis, Melissa Generalis, Eric du Plan, Sybrand Wiechers, Lothar Bottcher, Izanne Wiid, Sally Rumball, Ana Pather, Annali Dempsey, Heather Cunningham and Gregory James. Through a partnership with the National School of the Arts, another 70 art pieces by young, up-and-coming artists will also be up for auction.

All of the works can be viewed on the Seats of Knowledge website. Only a few key pieces were auctioned at the event itself, while the rest of the pieces are being auctioned online. (Note that you have to be 18 or older to register and bid.)

“It was an arts extravaganza!” says Carel. “We call on all our fellow art fans to register on the site and put in a bid or two for these amazing works.”

The online auction will run from 23 August to 20 September.

Seats of Knowledge UJ art auction