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African Art Market: Worldwide Analysis
Jean-Hubert Martin, curator
2014 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of ‘Magiciens de la Terre’, a one-of-a-kind exhibition that tremendously widened the spectrum of contemporary art. What has changed in the careers of the African artists whose work you included in the exhibition?
The exhibition ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ has not impacted on the careers of all the artists in the same way. For some, nothing much changed: they continued making artworks for their communities and occasionally sent a piece abroad or had an exhibition in a foreign gallery. For others, the exhibition entailed a drastic change, propelling them into the centre of the international contemporary art scene and its intellectual and financial market. Chéri Samba, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré and Bodys Isek Kingelez all entered the art market. They grasped its rules and adapted to make the most of it. Other artists participated in exhibitions from time to time. When invited to take part in exhibitions, Cyprien Tokoudagba, Sunday Jack Akpan and Esther Mahlangu made artworks on site, preferring to make artworks that were often ephemeral and receiving an artist’s fee. Twin Seven Seven, Seth Kane Kwei, Paa Joe, Seyni Awa Camara and Henry Munyaradzi went on selling in their usual networks, outside of the prescribing network of the major international art galleries. For others like Agbagli Kossi, John Fundi or mask-makers Dossou Amidou and Chief Mark Unya, the exhibition did not seem to influence their activity.
How would you describe the impact of important museum exhibitions on the artists’ careers and their markets?
This depends on the artists themselves. Being part of an international exhibition is only a springboard that artists can use to develop a communication and marketing strategy. Not all artists want or have the intellectual inclination to do so. Entering the international market requires energy, ambition and a good understanding of media and commercial strategies, not withstanding time-consuming travel in order to attend art events. Chéri Samba, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré and Bodys Isek Kingelez took advantage of the art market and gained international recognition.
“Being part of an international exhibition is only a springboard that artists can use to develop a communication and marketing strategy. Not all artists want or have the intellectual inclination to do so.”Jean-Hubert Martin
In your opinion, what distinguishes the African modern and contemporary art from the other art scenes?
The main difference between the African art scene and other emerging ones is the economy. Brazil, Russia, India and China are all seeing a growing interest in their national art scenes and collectors from these countries support their local art scene. This is not the case in Africa, except for Morocco, Egypt and South Africa. Also Dak’Art, the Dakar Biennale in Senegal, is a major event.
However, Western countries express interest in Africa. The media like covering a positive side of Africa, instead of its political or humanitarian catastrophes. It is also a chance for museums outside Africa to organize exhibitions that do not depend on the prevailing art market and that can appeal to the public.
Have you noticed any changes in the contemporary art scene in Africa over the past few years?
Thanks to the internet, the African art scene has dramatically changed in the past few years. More and more artists are tackling social issues through photography, video and installation art, borrowing the methods and processes of Western artists. That way, they fit an existing mould. They respond to the market’s demand, as well as the intellectual tendency of the curators that want to include African artists in their exhibitions. This game of offer and demand still excludes many artists who work for their communities and are unconcerned about the art system and its networks. One day, this aspect of reality will have to be taken into account but in order to meet those artists one has to travel, sometimes in uncomfortable conditions, take the time and overcome the bias of the contemporary art milieu.
What helps to promote modern and contemporary African art?
Traveling in Africa in order to meet as many artists as possible, helping them to enter the art market if they wish to, and not forcing them if they don’t; organizing exhibitions in Africa that attract enough attention from the media both in Africa and in the Western countries; and helping to build art scenes in Africa that will provide a context and an infrastructure to support local artists.
“The main difference between the African art scene and other emerging ones is the economy. (…) Thanks to the internet, the African art scene has dramatically changed in the past few years.”Jean-Hubert Martin
What are your cultural expectations for African countries in the future?
The possibility to develop an art scene that will not be adapted from the Western world, but that will demonstrate the specificities and the uniqueness of Africa, primarily dedicated to the African audience.
Alistair Hicksart, advisor, Deutsche Bank
Based in London, Alistair Hicks is art advisor to Deutsche Bank and curator of the bank’s art collection. He is the author of The Global Art Compass: New Directions in 21stCentury Art (Thames & Hudson, 2014) and Art Works: British and German Contemporary Art 19602000 (Merrell Publishers, 2000).
“Most of the artists that we have in the Deutsche Bank collection talk about breaking down boundaries and offering new horizons. They draw new perspectives on what’s happening rather than give a nationalistic approach. That is why I don’t like to talk about regional divisions of the international art market.
That said, I think the African continent is an area of the world that needs more attention, because people are really interested in it and things will definitely be happening more there. You can see a tremendous excitement in Nigeria. It is where things are changing that art becomes interesting.
I talk to the Deutsche Bank clients about artists from all over the world. We advise several collectors from the African continent as well as collectors from elsewhere who are interested in African contemporary art.
I am in touch with galleries in Africa, but I am looking to make greater connections. My belief is that art is about change. In the past five to ten years, I have been looking at African contemporary art far more than before. That does not only reflect a trend in the market. It is also a specific interest that I have developed because I was writing the book ‘The Global Art Compass: New Directions in 21st-Century Art’ and we, at Deutsche Bank, were doing a survey in order to rename the floors of the bank’s group head office after artists from around the world.
We have named floors after Wangechi Mutu, Samuel Fosso, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Zohra Bensemra and Yto Barrada. In the frame of Deutsche Guggenheim, a program of exhibitions organized in close collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum from 2007 to 2012, we have done two major shows with Julie Mehretu (October 2009-January 2010) and Wangechi Mutu (April-June 2010). More recently, we have been buying the works of Kader Attia. I am also interested in Marcia Kure’s work.
“I think the African continent is an area of the world that needs more attention, because people are really interested in it and things will definitely be happening more there.”Alistair Hicks
I would not like to make sweeping statements about African contemporary art but one sees certain trends. The sense of identity is fascinating for me and the way the self is not always betrayed in this sort of Cartesian idea of the ego, like in self-centred, Western cultures. It is a different sense of self that I see in quite a few artists from Africa. But that’s my outsider’s point of view. What excites me is that sort of energy, the energy that is happening in different places of Africa. ”
Christopher Spring, curator of Northeast, East and South Africa at the British Museum, UK
Christopher Spring is the curator of the Sainsbury African Galleries of the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas (AOA) at the British Museum, London. He specializes in contemporary art, textiles, arms and armor, and in the region of Eastern and Southern Africa. Recent publications include Angaza Afrika: ‘African Art Now’ (2008), ‘African Art in Detail’ (2009), ‘African Textiles Today’ (2012), and ‘Art, Africa: Changing the Picture’ (2016-in preparation).
“The collection of the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas includes around 350,000 objects, representing the cultures of the indigenous peoples of four continents. There are approximately 300 individual works which are described as contemporary art in the collection’s database.
We do not collect across the board in the area of contemporary art in the way that a museum such as Tate Modern could, in theory, attempt to do. Instead we try to acquire the work of artists of African heritage inspired, informed or simply commenting upon African cultural traditions, and whose work can both illuminate and be illuminated by the historical works of art in our collections.
Currently, outstanding work by more than 20 contemporary artists of African descent are to be found throughout the African Galleries, in effect mediating the displays and allowing the curatorial voice to fade into the background. These works represent both the independent voices of individual artists, but also dynamic contemporary standard bearers for long-established traditions which were once portrayed in museums as frozen in time, rather than as living traditions with a vibrant present as well as a distant past. Currently on display in the African Galleries are works by the following artists: Ann Gollifer, Peterson Kamwathi, Magdalene Odundo, Susan Hefuna, El Anatsui, Cristovao Canhavato (Kester), Sokari Douglas Camp, Mohamedi Charinda, Gérard Quenum, Fiel dos Santos, Taslim Martin, George Lilanga, Rachid Koraïchi, Khaled Ben Sliman, Robino Ntila.
Currently no funds are specifically allocated to the acquisition of contemporary African art; instead we approach individual funding bodies such as the Art Fund when we wish to acquire new works.
In addition, the following artists have been on display in the African Galleries or elsewhere in the British Museum, or their works loaned out to other museums and galleries around the world: Romuald Hazoumé (‘La Bouche du Roi’ touring exhibition), Atta Kwami, Nja Mahdaoui, Georgia Papageorge, Osi Audu, Chant Avedissian, Raimi Gbadamosi, Ibrahim el-Salahi, Owusu-Ankomah, Mohamed Bushara, Chéri Samba.
The contemporary art scene in Africa and in ‘global Africa’ is thriving, and although it is still easier to make and sell work in some parts of Africa than in others, there’s a lively – and growing – contemporary art scene in most African countries today. Outside Africa the appetite for contemporary art is growing rapidly. New galleries are opening all the time (certainly in London). The 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be having its third edition in October 2015. Three artists of African heritage exhibited at Tate Modern in 2013 and a work by El Anatsui was draped over the facade of Royal Academy of Arts that summer.
Asked what, in your opinion, distinguishes African modern and contemporary art from the other art scenes, Christopher Spring answered, “It’s a massive question, so I’ll be brief: Humor, humanity and a lack of irony.”
Giles Peppiatt,Director of African Art, Bonhams
Giles Peppiatt is Director of Modern & Contemporary African Art at Bonhams.
“We have been holding regular auctions in this category for six years. We are the market leader, our sales are the highest grossing worldwide and we have set nearly all the world auction records for many of the African modern and contemporary artists.
“Although I think that this growth will be on a longer-term basis, there is a high level of speculation that this market is the ‘next big growth market’.”Giles Peppiatt
I think that the market will continue to grow. Although I think that this growth will be on a longer-term basis, there is a high level of speculation that this market is the “next big growth market”. I have seen growth, but I am pleased that it is currently well based with genuine collectors rather than speculators. Hence my prediction for a longer-term growth.
“I do think that Nigeria is becoming an artistic powerhouse in Africa.”Giles Peppiatt
The biggest threat would be if the African contemporary art market became the object of speculation in the way that Contemporary Chinese Art has become. We have seen a significant fall in the values in this market as the speculators have withdrawn.
I do think that Nigeria is becoming an artistic powerhouse in Africa. It still has some way to go to match South Africa, certainly in the establishment of a strong and vibrant dealer/gallery network.
The most important events of 2015 are the Venice Biennale in early May, Bonhams’ Africa Now auction held in London late May and the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair held in London in October.
It is true that the volume of transactions on the African contemporary art market is still well below other emerging markets including the Middle East, Latin America and China. But the trend is going in the right direction. I do believe that in 10 years’ time the market will be challenging these other areas.
The African contemporary art market in Western countries will continue to grow in the next few decades. We are seeing new Contemporary African Art galleries being started in London and other auctions being established. But I do believe it will take time.”
Kenneth Montague, collector, Canada
“I started collecting seriously in 1997; my main interest was contemporary African photography. Over time the collection has broadened to include painting, sculpture and design. I initially acquired work from places where the archive of historical African photography had first been recognized, documented and celebrated: Bamako (Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé), Lagos (J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere) and Johannesburg (Jürgen Schadeberg, David Goldblatt). With more research and exposure to the myriad of art histories, my collection now reflects a more diverse selection of work from Africa and throughout the diaspora. Today, I have over 300 pieces by numerous artists.
I was lucky to have parents who exposed me to the power of art as a child. Many weekends were spent at the Detroit Institute of Arts (across the river from my birthplace in southern Canada) where I first saw the Harlem Renaissance photography of African American icon James Van Der Zee. As a teenager, I volunteered as a tour guide at the North American Black Historical Museum, where I learned about the complicated legacy of slavery in the Americas and stories of the Black Atlantic. All of this led to a passionate interest in African history and ultimately, contemporary art.
My very first acquisition was a gift from my aunt, who was a civil rights advocate in New York City. She became friends with Alexander Calder and in 1975 commissioned him to create a series of prints celebrating the 25th anniversary of her organization, the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. Our Unfinished Revolution was one of Calder’s last completed works, and my aunt presented me with her complete set when I graduated from university; this became the impetus for my subsequent collecting activity.
I am frequently asked to lend important works from the Wedge Collection to international exhibitions at major institutions, including the Studio Museum in Harlem (works by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye), the Nasher Museum of Art (works by Barkley L. Hendricks), the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (works by Carrie Mae Weems), and the Art Gallery of Ontario (works by Mickalene Thomas). I also enjoy creating shows from existing works in my collection. Some of these exhibitions are ‘Head Rooms’, about hair as a signifier of black identity, ‘Becoming,’ on the history of black portraiture, ‘Always Moving Forward,’ about contemporary African photography, and ‘Position As Desired,’ an exploration of African Canadian identity.
Whenever possible, I meet with the artists whose work I collect. Meeting the artist adds an important human dimension, and I always learn something new about the meaning of the work. I have become close friends with many of the artists in my collection.”
Robert Devereux, collector, UK
Robert Devereux is chairman of the Tate’s African acquisition committee and a founder of the African Arts Trust. In 2010, he sold twothirds of his Post-War British art collection in aid of the African Arts Trust, raising £4.73 million.
“I started collecting art in the early 1980s. After collecting PostWar British art, I have focused on African contemporary art, with a specific interest in emerging artists. I came across the African art scene in my travels around Africa 15 years ago. My collection, which now comprises 800 artworks, is very eclectic. My selection process is intuitive, I buy something if I love it. I have artworks from all over Africa, with a slight bias towards East and South Africa as that is where I spend most of my time.
Through the African Arts Trust, which I set up in 2010, I decided to support grassroots art organizations that provide local artists with practicalities for being a professional, full-time artist, with studio spaces, better resources and exposure. We recently supported the not-for-profit organisation Kuona Trust Centre for Visual Arts in Kenya and 32° East Uganda Arts Trust, among others. I like to meet with the artists whose work I have bought, to build a relationship. Buying art is more than just about specific objects.”
Gervanne and Matthias Leridon, collectors, France
Gervanne and Matthias Leridon have been collecting African contemporary art since 2000. Matthias Leridon is president of Tilder, a communications consulting firm. His wife, who used to be an auctioneer, now manages the couple’s endowment fund called African Artists for Development, which backs community development projects in Africa, associated with works by contemporary African artists.
“I would say that the start of our adventure into the heart of African contemporary art dates back to the exhibition ‘Magiciens de la Terre.’ For me, this exhibition was an artistic revelation similar to my encounter with the continent at the age of 12. Our inclination then grew through numerous trips to Africa and encounters with contemporary art there.
We started to buy artworks regularly in the 2000s, without having yet made the decision to actually build a collection. One of the first important paintings that we acquired was L’Espoir Fait Vivre (1989) by Chéri Samba. This emblematic piece is the “birth certificate” of our collection.
Today, there are about 3000 artworks in our collection, including pieces by Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Chéri Chérin, David Goldblatt, Pieter Hugo, Abdoulaye Konaté, George Lilanga, Gonçalo Mabunda, Hassan Musa, Guy Tillim and Dominique Zinkpè.
We are interested in many forms of art, inside and outside Africa. When she was an auctioneer, my wife specialized in contemporary art. I was fascinated by Alechinsky and was lucky enough to own some of his major pieces. I am also very keen on the art of Richard Texier, a great French artist who is strangely more famous abroad than in France.
“I am interested in contemporary art in the broad sense. For me, it is a global vision of life where art flourishes.”Matthias Leridon
I am interested in contemporary art in the broad sense. For me, it is a global vision of life where art flourishes. That is why I have always been interested in design and contemporary choreography.
Although I often lean towards African designers, I like the creative, magical optimism of the Campana brothers from Brazil. It is time to link contemporary art from Latin America and Africa.
For our collection, we focus on artists from Sub-Saharan Africa. We buy by following our heart rather than our mind.
An artwork can seduce both of us instantly, but in most cases we don’t immediately share the same view. Our resulting conversations about whether we should add this or that artwork to our collection remain intense and passionate memories. We want to live with pieces that we love. Our collection does not aim to be exhaustive; it witnesses human encounters, artistic emotions and experiences. Through these artworks, we seek the artists’ vision of their continent and the future of the world as well as their aesthetic input.
We have already loaned our artworks to the museums or art centers that have requested them, as long as their project has been meaningful for the artist. Artworks are supposed to engage with a public audience. We would like our collection to be more visible and we are thinking about a large-scale project that would make sense between Europe and Africa.
We know most of the artists in our collection. Meeting them is a way for us to better understand their works and their personalities. What we really appreciate above all is the relationship between the artist and their oeuvre. An artwork always appears more complex, rich and global when its author describes it.”
David Adjaye, architect, United-Kingdom
Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye was born in Dar es Salam, Tanzania, in 1966. He has lived in London since the age of 9, and graduated with an MA from the Royal College of Art in 1993. He established his first architectural studio with William Russel, before establishing his own practice Adjaye Associates in 2000. Recent projects include the Moscow School of Management (2010), the Cape Coast Museum of Slavery (current), the Roksanda Ilincic store in London (2014), the Aïshti Foundation in Beirut (current), collaboration with artist Doug Aitken (The Source, Tate Liverpool, 2013), space design for exhibition All the World’s Futures (Venice Biennale, 2015), furniture design Double Zero (Moroso Collection, 2015). In 2009, his firm was one of the four who were selected to design the $500 million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in Washington in 2016. Adjaye Associates was also chosen to design the new Studio Museum in Harlem, a $120 million project that will more than double the museum’s space (completion scheduled for 2019). David Adjaye is currently a visiting professor at Yale.
Franck Houndégla, scenograph, France
Paris-based designer Franck Houndégla specializes in exhibition design, set design, and enhancement of public spaces and heritage sites.
He teaches art, design, architecture and cultural heritage, and conducts research on the evolution of the architectural and urban forms in contemporary African cities.
His projects have been seen in Western and Eastern Europe, Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, DRC, Egypt, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia), Middle East, the United States and the West Indies.
Recent projects include ‘Liaisons Urbaines’, a programme of improvement and transformation of public spaces in three African cities (Porto-Novo, Ndjamena, and Casablanca) in 2012-2015, the exhibition design for ‘African Odysseys’ (The Brass, Brussels) in 2015, for ‘Brueghel, Cranach, Titian, van Eyck. Treasures of Brukenthal’s collection’ (Villa Vauban, Luxemburg) in 2011, and for the 9th Biennale of Photography in Bamako in 2011, as well as the design of scenic devices for two plays by Philippe Minyana in 2010-2012.