Contemporary African Art… a growing segment


Evidence of the ‘emergence’ of African-origin artists is currently palpable, particularly in France where several major dedicated exhibitions have been organised in recent years. Beauty Congo at the Cartier Foundation (2015) and Art / Africa at the Vuitton Foundation (2017) both managed to show the extraordinary diversity of African art and expand its audience. Carried by an ever-denser cultural newsflow, artists from the African continent are increasingly attracting the attention of collectors and museums. Meanwhile… the auction firms are taking firmer positions in this highly promising segment.

Paris and London

In France, various art fairs have focused on the African segment: Art Paris Art Fair dedicated its 2017 edition to Africa and, several months earlier, Paris hosted the first edition of a dedicated African art fair titled AKAA (Also Known As Africa). The French auction houses, Cornette de SaintCyr and Artcurial, have both decided to promote Contemporary African Art via dedicated sales.

Contemporary African Art is therefore a rising segment in Paris with a number of artists enjoying strong market ascensions including the Congolese artist Chéri SAMBA. At 61, Samba, a pioneer of Contemporary African Art, posted a historic secondary market performance last year – the best on record – generating more than $722,000 in 12 months. One of his paintings, Le seul et unique devoir sacré d’un enfant, fetched 10 times its estimate on 12 June 2017 at Cornette de SaintCyr, setting a new personal record at over $140,000. His annual total gave him fifth place in our ranking of Top 10 artists from Africa, behind Marlene Dumas and Julie Mehretu.

London is another important focal point for the emergence of this market with Touria Glaoui’s 1:54 fair dedicated to African Contemporary Art launched in 2013 as an ‘off’ to the Frieze. In four years, 1:54 has became an important and increasingly successful market rendezvous. The fair’s expansion to New York since 2015 and to Marrakech in February 2018 clearly proves the segment is enjoying strong international demand. London’s auction houses are also joining the movement with the organisation of an increasing number of specialized sales. After Bonhams, Sothebys dedicated sales have started well. Confident in the segment’s potential, the American auction firm held its first London sale of Modern & Contemporary African Art on 16 May 2017, generating $3.6 million. The sale offered broad creative diversity with works by Yinka SHONIBARE, Irma STERN (1894-1966), Pascale Marthine TAYOU, Kader ATTIA, and El ANATSUI. Anatsui is one of the rare African artists to have achieved international recognition without leaving the continent.

Indeed, nearly all the top-priced artists from Africa have been living and working in the West for many years: the South African Marlene DUMAS arrived in Holland in 1976 and has had an international reputation for 25 years (Documenta IX in 1992, Venice Biennale 1995); born in Ethiopia, Julie MEHRETU arrived in Michigan when she was seven and moved to New York when she was 30. The Egyptian Ghada AMER arrived in France aged 11 and moved to New York after her studies, and the Kenyan artist Wangechi MUTU lives in Brooklyn… These artists, with well-established international careers, are currently fetching high prices.

Crosby, revelation of the year…

At the heart of this new African trend, one young artist has recently enjoyed an extraordinary debut on the secondary market: Njideka Akunyili CROSBY is number 1 in several of our artists’ rankings, including our best results for African artists and our best auction debuts (best first year on auction market). But the Nigerian-born artist is above all the highest-ranked female artist in Artprice’s Top 5001, behind 21 male artists. Introduced to the secondary market less than a year a ago, her annual performance ($10.6 million) is even stronger than well-established artists like Takashi Murakami or Miquel Barceló. Of Nigerian origin, but living in Los Angeles, Crosby exhibited at the Whitney in 2016 and won the Canson Prize from the Drawing Center in New York the same year. That led to a residency with the artist Tunga and the resulting notoriety had an immediate impact on her prices, especially as her first auction appearance took place just before London’s Victoria Miro gallery opened a show of her work. Galvanised by so many positive signs, collectors snapped up her first work (a drawing) to hit the secondary market: the work fetched more than $93,000 in September 2016 at Sotheby’s in New York. Less than a year later, aged 35, Crosby has an auction record of over $3 million (Christie’s London, The Beautyful Ones, March 2017) and is represented at the Venice Biennale with a large drawing and collage entitled Cassava Garden (2015), previously exhibited at the Montreal Biennial.
Contemporary African Art as a whole is still a young market undergoing many changes. It therefore represents a good starting point for a collection, with numerous works affordable for less than $3,000 such as those by the Angolan artist Francisco Vidal or those by the young Congolese drawer Steve Bandoma. A budget of between $8,000 to $10,000 gives access to paintings by the Congolese Moke (9th in our African Contemporary Art ranking) whose work has yet to penetrate the US market, but whose market is very active in France. However, prices are rising rapidly; the Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé is a case in point: his prices have doubled in less than 10 months.

1Artprice Top 500: global ranking of artists by auction turnover between July 2016 and endJune 2017.