Posted: Tuesday, 12-01-2010
The first decade of the new millennium saw the emergence on the global art market of contemporary art from Latin-America, China, Korea, Japan, Russia, Turkey and the Middle-East. By comparison, African art has been very slow to emerge… but for how long?
Although African art is clearly an enormous and extremely diversified field, the global art market has not yet given it much attention. However, over the last 20 years or so, a number of African artists whose works have been exhibited in international art fairs, Biennials and major exhibitions and have found an audience and gained a degree of recognition beyond their frontiers.
The large-scale spotlights on African art during this period have included "Les magiciens de la terre" at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1989, Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in 1991 and the itinerant Africa Remix exhibition from 2004 to 2007. These events have revealed artists like Yinka SHONIBARE, Chéri SAMBA, Marlene DUMAS, Kendell GEERS, William KENTRIDGE, Ousmane SOW, Moustapha DIMÉ, Georges ADÉAGBO and Pascale Marthine TAYOU.
On the secondary market, Sotheby’s was the first major auction house to handle contemporary African art with the sale of the Jean Pigozzi collection on 24 June 1999 in London. The market for African art being still almost non-existent at the time, the sale attracted only a small coterie of collectors. However, the event generated a modest new record of £10,000 (less than $16,000) for a mixed-technique work by the South African artist Willie BESTER (at first-ever international auction appearance).
In fact, apart from its association with the South African auctioneer, Stephan Welz & Co, Sotheby's has not subsequently dedicated any of its London or New York sales to African art. Bonhams on the other hand has been more active in the domain and its most recent sale Africa Now: African Contemporary Art (64% of lots sold) on 8 April 2009 confirmed demand for three African artists: The “moderns” Benedict Chukwukadibia ENWONWU and El ANATSUI and the “contemporary” William Kentridge, the only artists who generated results above £10,000 at that sale.
The stars of the market:
Contemporary African art has also benefited from the price inflation of the recent speculative bubble on the art market and the simultaneous modish interest in “emerging” art. Apart from William Kentridge, the South-African Marlène Dumas and the Ethiopian Julie MEHRETU are among the most sought-after African artists on the global art market.