Focus on Cinga Samson


Cinga Samson’s paintings exert a strange power of attraction while simultaneously exploring what it is to be African and questions of ‘identity’, the art market’s two favourite subjects at the moment.

Originally from Cape Town where he still lives and works, Cinga SAMSON, aged 35, has already taken his paintings around the world, including Paris, New York, London and Miami. His story began about fifteen years ago when he entered Isibane Creative Arts studio, shared by several South African painters, on the outskirts of Cape Town. Since then, he has proved to be a passionate autodidact, studying the techniques of the great Old and Modern masters and painting ardently with a clear determination to make it his career. Now considered a pillar of the Cape Town art scene, he runs a studio there and contributes to local cultural development.

Spotted by the Blank Projects Gallery (Cape Town) in 2015, things moved very quickly: Awarded the Tollman Prize for visual arts in 2017, he exhibited at the Armory Show in New York in 2018 with Blank Projects and participated in several group exhibitions (Hacer Noche, Centro Cultural Santo Domingo (2018), Kubatana, Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium (2019), and Mapping Black Identities, Minneapolis Institute of Art (2020)).

Then in February-April 2020, the Perrotin gallery in New York hosted a triumphant exhibition that set up the young South African as one of the most prominent painters in the art market. A few months later, the famous White Cube Gallery made him an offer that would change the course of his career, and in May 2021, White Cube official announced their ‘global representation’ of Cinga Samson.


Vanity and social interferences

On the Perrotin Gallery’s website, we can read “Desire, aspiration, and celebration of identity drive much of his work, for which he draws inspiration from fashion, heritage, and the works of Paul Gauguin and Andrew Wyeth, among others.

Samson’s work is indeed part of the great tradition of figurative painting, building bridges between the classical and the contemporary. His sophisticated, rich and textured paintings often develop a slightly unsettling atmosphere populated by dead-eyed humans staring at us in a twilight ambience. The figures seem beautiful, proud and in control of their environment, dominating it by the authority of their presence. They often display signs of ‘western’ consumer fetishes such as branded clothing or accessories, a reference to the counterfeit fashion products that are so popular in Africa, and with the artist himself. Flowers, plants, and fruits are also very present, alluring elements that serve as a memento mori. Indeed, it could be said that his works function as contemporary ‘vanities’, which attract as much as they repel.

Built on symbolic, spiritual and social inferences, Cinga’s images reflect the complexity of South African society and questions of identity. Moreover, the title of his exhibition at the Perrotin Gallery was “Men are different, though they look alike”.


Why such success?

Samson’s paintings are indeed beguiling. However what really seems to have triggered demand is that they locate him in a lineage of artists that includes Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, whose portraits of black men and women have changed the whole art historical narrative. And, as we have already seen, the market has developed a tremendous appetite for this type of work, particularly if the artist producing it is a well-supported young prodigy.

Although we have little perspective on the Cinga Samson’s auction performances (his first work was offered in 2020 at Strauss & Co Houghton, South Africa), his 2021 auction results suggest a successful career in its very early stages. In June, Phillips New York sold his Two piece 1 (2018) for $378,000 versus an estimate of around $30,000. The price jump was probably largely prompted by the White Cube’s official announcement the month before. The gallery is planning to host a major Samson exhibition in 2022.

Other results this autumn have confirmed strong market demand, including a result at $440,000 for Lift Off (2017) at Sotheby’s London in October followed by $323,000 at the end of November for his Ivory V. This latest result was hammered in Hong Kong as part of a new Phillips session organized in partnership with the Chinese company Poly Auction. In the space of just a few months, the art market’s primary auction houses have introduced Cinga Samson to all of the globe’s major marketplaces.


Acquired by public collections:

LACMA Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, USA

PAMM, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami , USA

Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, USA

CCS Bard, Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, USA

South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa

Published in Diptyk Magazine. Text revised and updated in December 2021