African collectors drive global sales of contemporary African art
Sotheby’s recently closed its biannual modern and contemporary African art auction, surpassing the lower limit of its pre-sale estimate by more than 40% to reach £ 2.7million ($ 3.7million) . Attendees came from 34 countries, with more than a third of buyers transacting with Sotheby’s for the first time, making the third online-only auction of contemporary African art a major success.
The category was created by Sotheby’s just four years ago to champion the work of African artists. Since then he achieved more than 80 records– disruptive sales, underlining the growing worldwide interest in this category. According to Sotheby’s estimates, on average around a third of bidders since launch are from Africa, North America and Europe, with 10% from Latin America and Asia. Yet about 70% of sales between this period were from African collectors.
This is a trend that has accelerated further with the start of online-only sales made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic from March of last year, according to the auction house. Online sales are attractive to young African collectors who are mobile and tech savvy, and probably more comfortable bidding and buying remotely than traditional collectors.
It could also signal a fascinating shift in the global African art market, with local collectors signaling to the world which artists they appreciate and celebrate in their own markets for a change. It is also a sign of the increasingly important role of art markets and museums in different parts of the continent.
“Atlas” by Ben Enwonwu, which sets a new world record for a sculpture by the artist when it first appeared at auction.
“This category has seen a steady increase in sales even during the pandemic,” says Hannah O’Leary, head of modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby’s. “From 2017 to 2019, we recorded a growth of 30 to 50% in our sales. The trajectory was lower last year given the pandemic, but it has always been positive growth even as general auctions have declined in other departments. “
African art sales still represent less than 1% of all global art sales at Sotheby’s and globally, with Sotheby’s having the highest volume of sales, says O’Leary. But it is a category that should experience even more growth in the years to come.
The results of this past auction were intriguing, with records set for both more established and recognized older artists, such as Nigerian Ben Enwonwu, as well as contemporary artists. The bronze of Enwonwu was at the head of the offerings Atlas, which sold for £ 378,000 ($ 519,826) – a new world record for a sculpture by the artist when it first appeared at auction. A record was also set for a work on paper by Enwonwu; his watercolor of the seminal African dances series was purchased for £ 189,000 ($ 259,913).
Six other records were held by artists from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Senegal. One of them is an oil and acrylic painting on canvas, Mutate lives, by the Cameroonian artist Adjani Okpu-Egbe who has a Jean-Michel Basquiat-esque looks at him.
Another fascinating piece is A boy with a yellow jerrycan by Ethiopian artist Nirit Takele. Born in 1985 in Ethiopia, Takele and her family moved to Israel in 1991 in a covert Israeli military operation that saw several thousand Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel at a time of great political instability in Ethiopia. The acrylic canvas painting is inspired by members of the Ethiopian Jewish community, Ethiopian folklore and everyday life in Addis Ababa.
“A boy with a yellow jerrycan” by Ethiopian artist Nirit Takele.
Another record was held by the Senegalese artist Iba N’Diaye who is recognized as one of the most important painters of the twentieth century by his work and his role in the founding of the School of Dakar, focal point of an artistic movement that helped shape Senegal between the 1960s and 1980s. N’Diaye’s intimate portrait of his niece, Portrait of Anna, combines its Senegalese identity with its formal European training.
“Folly,” by Nigerian artist Demas N. Nwoko, nearly tripled its high estimate at the auction.
Madness, by Nigerian artist Demas N. Nwoko, nearly tripled its high estimate to bring in £ 226,800 (311,895). The painting was well celebrated in Nigeria in the 1960s and then faded from the world stage. He was recently found in a modest house in South London. O’Leary notes that such surprises and “discoveries” are not so rare in the category of contemporary African art as its importance grows.
O’Leary is optimistic that the shift from holding sales in their London showroom to putting them online during the pandemic will only further boost the category (the auction house will revert to a hybrid gallery and online sales once secure). . “Since the majority of collectors are African and based on the continent, the closure of physical galleries has not affected their purchases,” she says. “2020 has been our most profitable year for our contemporary African art sales. We expect 2021 sales to exceed this figure, even despite the pandemic. “
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