Subscribe to our FREE weekly newsletter & market reports

Introduction: African market preview in 2014

Amid growing demand and skyrocketing prices, the Africa modern and contemporary art market is increasingly attracting the attention of buyers, both local and international.

Beyond the long-standing, emotional impetus to exhibit, support and buy African art, the market shows clear signs of structuring. Although it is still a niche –the international auction market for modern and contemporary African art in 2014 was estimated at US$ 31.2 million, records are regularly broken. And expectations are high. El Anatsui’s metal wall piece Paths to the Okro Farm (2006) was sold US$ 1.44 million on May 15th, 2014 at Sotheby’s New York –the highest price ever paid for an artwork by an African living artist.

The African art sector is also shaping up in terms of infrastructure. A number of museums were inaugurated, or announced, throughout 2014, including the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMVI) in Rabat, Morocco that opened in 2014, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa that is set to open at the end of 2016, and the Fondation Alliances’ contemporary African art museum (MACAAL) that is scheduled for 2017 in Marrakech. Besides, the flourishing, on-going activity of established art centers boost the art scene, like the Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos in Nigeria and the Raw Material Company in Dakar, Senegal.

Some galleries from Africa have become fixtures of the most renowned art fairs in the world, among which Goodman gallery and Stevenson that are both based in Joburg and in Cape Town. Concurrently, art fairs with an exclusive or dominant pan-African focus are burgeoning both in the UK and in South Africa: the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London, the Cape Town Art Fair, and the FNB Joburg Art Fair, which recorded US$ 2.3 million in sales in 2014, up 30% from last year.

Biennials -this other compulsory figure that has the art world’s favors, have developed across Africa as early as the 90s, including Dak’art in Senegal, the Bamako Encounters, and the East Africa Biennial in Dar es Salaam. The number of biennials has doubled over the past 5 years, up to 15 today.

Collections focusing on African modern and contemporary art have seen the light of day in a few years time. The collection of the French couple Gervanne and Matthias Leridon, which started in 2000 through the endowment fund ‘African Artists for Development’, now counts about 3000 artworks, while the London-based collector Robert Devereux has put together a collection of 800 artworks in four years.

The African art production dating from the end of the 19th century up to now remains chronically underevaluated. Even the most prominent periods are still low in price. For the past 5 years, the results of auction sales focusing on the Africa modern and contemporary art at Phillips, Bonhams and Christies have been mixed. However, as a result of Africa’s economic growth, the increasing number of millionaires 3 , and a maturing taste for contemporary art, the domestic market is starting to fuel the demand.

Nigerian businessman Prince Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon owns the largest known private collection on African soil to date, including 7000 artworks, 70% of which are modern and contemporary, and 95% by African artists. A generation of African collectors who acquire art as an asset class is developing. Consequently, auction houses are prospering locally -for an example, sales for Bonhams

Africa in May 2014 raised 4 US$ 1.9 million, up 47% from 2013.

Our study’s Top 100 5 ranking is dominated by the South Africans in first place (40 out of 100 artists, 53% of the Top 100 auction turnover in 2014) and the Nigerians in second (12 out of 100 artists, 3% of the Top 100 auction turnover in 2014). Like anywhere else, the development of the art scene relies on an active market and an efficient infrastructure, which are expected to strengthen on the African continent as a whole, while a healthy competition settles in. Knowledge, and a trained eye, will be paramount for future collectors.