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African Art: Influences of Coorporate Collections

A global view

The activity of corporations and businesses collecting artifacts dates back centuries. During the Italian Renaissance in the 15 th century prominent trades and mercantile houses began to adorn their business premises with artworks. Siena’s Monte dei Paschi bank gave the practice its earliest corporate reference.
The Popes, Medicis, Borgias, Sforzas and other Renaissance potentates, as well as 18th19 th century European royal houses, saw art and artistic splendor as important facets of their wealth and power. They allocated huge resources to patronize the visual and plastic arts. Today, the Vatican, Florence, Venice, Rome, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Budapest and St-Petersburg radiate with art treasures that underscore the prominence and sway that art and artists held in society in the bygone eras.
Today, about 600 companies worldwide have art collections, mostly contemporary. While insurance titan AXA was, arguably, the first corporate to collect in an extensive and systematic manner, the Deutsche Bank, Union Bank of Switzerland, which has over 35,000 works, Microsoft, Russia’s Gazprombank and Japan’s Shiseido, the world’s fifth largest cosmetic company, have become prominent in the movement, particularly in the last two decades. Some of the companies, such as Italian fashion house Prada, and Bernard Arnault’s Louis Vuitton Foundation have constructed architect-appointed gallery/ museum spaces to showcase their impressive collections.

aFriCa JoiNs CorPorate art ColleCtioN movemeNt

There is an unbroken thread in history of art being the quintessence of human creativity. In each era fine art has occupied a central role in human affairs; challenging us, daring us, surprising us, annoying us, going against convention, nonetheless, enriching us infinitely.
Africa, its ancient greatness and earlier development pathways stymied by colonialism, has vestiges revealing tremendous creativity and artistic excellence over centuries, as attested by the Akan, Baule, Benin, Chokwe, Dogon, Ife, Nok, Oyo, Zimbabwe and other civilizations.
However, contemporary Africa, just like other regions of the world outside Western Europe and North America, cannot be said to have a significant presence in the surge in the modern-day corporate art collection movement. What pertains, and is steadily growing in fashion, is that some CEOs of family or listed companies, newly-minted commercial banks, rich individuals, and increasingly, middle class professionals, have started acquiring artworks in a regular manner. They are building collections to adorn the walls of their workplace and residences.

East Africa

By Osei G Kofi
The Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) and the Nation Media Group (NMG), both in Kenya, had modest corporate collections of contemporary art dating back to the 1970s and early 1980s. In that sense they were pioneers even on the global stage. The CBA and NMG collections were started by their then expatriate CEOs. Sadly, subsequent CEOs during 1990s-early 2000s, Kenyanborn, didn’t have the same love for art or the bug of collecting.
The good news is today “younger” or more recent corporate chiefs in Kenya and across East Africa, such as Tanzania’s media mogul Reginald Mengi of the IPP Group, Kenya’s SK Macharia of Royal Media Services, Michael Joseph and Bob Collymore both of Safaricom, Patrick Quarcoo and William Pike both of the Radio Africa Media Group, have realized that art can add to a company’s image and prestige. It must be emphasized that at this stage the collections are personal even if some of the pieces are used to adorn the corporate office. Quarcoo and Pike in particular collect partly as part of their commitment to support East African artists, many of whom struggle to make ends meet. Quarcoo a while ago told a group of East African artists who met him at his Nairobi office that his company “took its corporate social responsibility seriously” and that buying art and growing his collection was both a personal passion and a commitment to the development of art in East Africa and on the continent.
Also notable in this category of art collection as personal enjoyment, company prestige and corporate social responsibility pursuit are the Mauritius-registered Kenya-based Catalyst Principal Partners Private Equity firm, the Centum Investments Company Ltd, both in Nairobi and Van Rampelberg Designs. All three are headed by long-time art lovers who in recent years have embarked on a more systematic manner in collecting, even seeking out professional and curatorial advice. The numbers of acquired works involved here are quite modest, hardly more than a couple hundred artifacts in most collections. Concrete numbers are hard to come by.
Collectors, mega or small-time, demur when asked to cite figures of their artifacts. The reluctance to divulge the volume of artworks in one’s collection is ingrained worldwide, and not only in Africa. In Europe and North America the only time the public gets to know the extent of a private or corporate collection is when the owners place them in museums or galleries for public access.
In East Africa Kenya’s Centum Chairman Chris Kirubi, Allan Donovan formerly of African Heritage and Marc Van Rampelberg are perhaps the more experienced in the collection movement, with personal and close relationship with Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan artists from whom they buy directly. Kirubi, American-born Donovan, Belgian-born van Rampelberg and Ugandan-born Paul Kavuma, the Catalyst Principal CEO, are all greatly admired collectors for the representational sweep and quality of the art they own. Again here, concrete numbers are hard to come by. My take is, as the movement progresses, leading to publications of catalogues, publicity flyers and public showcasing of the collections in galleries, updated figures will be given by the owners.

The artists: who & who

Quarcoo, Pike, Kirubi, Macharia, Kavuma, Joseph, Mengi and others hold some of the most eye-popping masterpieces by older and middle-aged East African artists, such as Jack Katarikawe, Wanyu Brush, Sane Wadu, Eunice Wadu, Rashid Diab, Sophie Walbeoffe, Joni Waite, Nani Croze, Mary Colis, Edward Tingatinga, George Lilanga, Rajabu Chiwaya, Kivuthi Mbuno, Theresa Musoke, Annabelle Wanjiku among others.

Art hotel Collections

While Africa might be a latecomer on the global scene, and while the numbers of artworks involved to date cannot be said to be all that impressive in international comparative terms, dimensions that stand out in Africa include: energy, vibrancy, quality and exuberant innovative solutions. These are keys for a tremendous future for corporate art collection practice on the Mother Continent.

West Africa

Ivory Coast
Abidjan by Mimi Errol
In the absence of an environment favourable to the creation of a competitive, buoyant contemporary art market in Ivory Coast, such as financial incentives, a true contemporary art museum and clearly defined valuation of artworks and of artists, the involvement of large financial establisments in the art scene can be seen as a form of corporate social responsibility. One of the most prominent is the BICICI subsidiary of BNP Paribas Group. Since 2003, it has been organising an annual art exhibition, titled “BICICI Friend of the Arts”, in its Abidjan headquarters. The exhibition is sponsored by a leading figure in Ivory Coast and features an accompanying catalogue.
Then there is the Société Générale de Banque, a subsidiary of Société Générale one of the world’s largest bank groups. Not only does it organise exhibitions, mainly of established artists from Ivory Coast such as Kablan Cyprien’s 40 years of painting in its Abidjan headquarters, but it innovates in exhibiting a different painting every day during its internal seminars to help young contemporary artists from Ivory Coast become established. Meanwhile, banking establishments such as Access Bank (formerly known as Omnifinance), NSIA Bank, Banque Atlantique and its subsidiaries BACI and COBACI make huge acquisitions by young creators from Ivory Coast to adorn their branches. All of these initiatives have allowed galleries and young artists from Ivory Coast to resist different political/military crises that Ivory Coast has known.
Managing Director of Terra Kulture-Mydrim Gallery (TKMG)
Banks have the biggest corporate collections in Nigeria including Citibank, access bank and Gtbank
Most Banks collect based on the taste of the CEO at that point in time so it is often a mixed collection.
The younger CEOs have a mix of contemporary and masters works whilst the older generation CEO focused mostly on Masters works.
Collecting practices in Senegal
by El Hadji Malicj Ndiaye
Collecting practices have developed in the last few years in Senegal. Different forms of collecting practices are developing and are being sustained for very diverse reasons. An historical, public and political practice exists. Through this, works enter into the national heritage, following provisions taken by the decree n° 67-034 on 11 January 1967 relative to the artistic, private domain of the state. Managing this is incumbent upon the Directorate for Cultural Heritage under the protection of the ministry responsible for culture.
This collecting practice is encouraged by the 1% law, which involves a minimum of resources being allocated to the decoration of public buildings. On the occasion of the 15 th Francophonie Summit organised by the Republic of Senegal from 29-30 November 2014, the state bought works by 50 artists to decorate the International Conference Centre of Diamniadio. In the same year, the family of the Senegalese artist Iba Ndiaye donated 145 works to the Republic of Senegal, which were registered in the heritage conserved by the DPC – Christian Democrat Party?
Collecting practices are equally popular with private companies and banks. This is how a collection was developed by Eiffage Senegal, which is very dynamic in its support of Senegalese artists. Banks operating in Senegal collect contemporary art; this is the case of the Central Bank of Western African States (BCEAO) and the International Bank for Trade and Industry of Senegal (BICIS) of the BNP Paribas Group. Over the last few years, the BICIS has been developing a collection composed mainly of contemporary works by Senegalese artists, of which the total value was estimated on 20 January 2015 at XOF 82.29 m Senegalese francs (US$0.14m). This study, carried out by Omar Diack (director of Typic Arts Gallery) and Fodé Camara (director of Tawfeex Design), inventoried 45 signatures, of which 37 were men, three were women and five were anonymous. The diversity of techniques used in the artworks was inequal: a majority of 32 were paintings on canvas, and there were 17 paintings on paper, three sculptures, three photographs, two clipframes, three tapestries and two ceramics. This study did not take into account the artworks in the two branches in the capital: BICIS-Prestige and BICIS-Roume.
Besides these important institutional funds, private collections are spread over diverse socio-professional categories, including lawyers, architects, ministers, entrepreneurs, teachers, businessmen and civil servants. They are also being developed across several layers of the population, particularly among the middle class. Although collecting might have believed to be confined to the most affluent layers of society, according to the latest trends it is generally happening in households with very modest incomes.
The reasons behind this evolution are complex. While the market for clip-frames found a local clientele partly thanks to the social and religious imaginary ideas that the objects conveyed, there are several sociological reasons for the current cultural consumption of contemporary art. These are at the intersection between a history of tastes, cultural evolution and a trajectory of mentalities (snobbery, mimickry, the need to belong to a social class and to identify with an elite etc). These reasons explain the diversity of collectors that we find in the field. The majority accumulate works whereas a minority distinguishes itself by a pronounced taste in their choices. Among the latter, two categories can be identified.
In the first category, the names of artists are carefully researched and purchased once they are esteemed by history and the community of peers and professionals. These systematic collections have two common characteristics. First, they are very attached to the great names in the history of art in Senegal as well as to its great periods. Secondly, this method is less focused on the discovery of talents than on a capitalisation of commercial success in a strategy of value-creation and towards possible financial ends. This type of collection is often exhibited in places with great visibility and consigned to catalogues expressly conceived with this in mind. In the second category, we find collectors who follow the whims of their taste, looking out for the latest and most original creations. By collecting according to their desires and without worrying about the names of artist or commercial aims, these collectors are often true art lovers or art critics for whom the risk factor is meaningless.
Accordingly, it should be remembered that in Senegal collecting practices translate deep sociocultural changes. They reflect a respositioning of the arts in social life and an articulation of this within the visual arts culture, which only had institutional recognition beforehand.

North Africa

Mohamed rachdi
Curator of the art collection, Société Générale, Casablanca
Mohamed Rachdi is an artist, critic, curator, scholar and is responsible for cultural sponsorship of Société Générale, a subsidiary of the French bank, in Casablanca, Morocco.
“I’ve been responsible for Société Générale’s collection, its exhibitions and conservation since 2008. I conceive and produce exhibitions, organize meetings and debates, and publish books. My role is about conserving, enhancing and animating the bank’s collection, which has 1,300 artworks.
There are two exhibition spaces: a 600 m 2 space in the atrium of the bank’s headquarters, where we often have solo presentations by contemporary artists, and a separate 1,200 m 2 gallery. In 2013, we had an exhibition, 100 Years of the Société Générale in Morocco in the gallery. Since 2014, we’ve had a two-year long exhibition, Connexion: Quatre Regards, which traces the history of art in Morocco through four outlooks: Orientalist, Singular, Modern and Contemporary. I prolonged the duration of these exhibitions so that people could visit several times and so that school groups could come. We also have shorter exhibitions every December that last one and a half or two months. I’ve organised two other exhibitions,
Corps et Figures du Corps on bodies and figures of bodies and Nature et Paysage on nature and landscape. Works from the collection are also exhibited in the bank’s headquarters in Casablanca.
When I arrived at Société Générale, I wanted to extend the collection beyond just Moroccan artists. In my exhibitions, I show and integrate international artists and different styles, generations and categories. I want to introduce new artistic practices, young artists and foreigners. If I do an exhibition with 70 artists, 20 of them can be foreign.
I proposed to launch an annual art prize but the proposal wasn’t retained. But I initiated the producing and diffusing of artists’ works, which was not the case before, and paying artists to make interventions. I also introduced video, installations and performance.
I want to decentralize Morocco’s art scene because everything happens in Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech and there’s not much happening outside of these three cities. So I’m going to organize an exhibition of work by French travel photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand in the Marrakech branch of Société Générale. My aim is to encourage Société Générale to decentralize a bit and open small spaces in different branches in Morocco. I’ve asked them if we can open an exhibition space in the town of Tetouan in the north of the country and I’d like to do something in Oujda in northeastern Morocco, near the border with Algeria. I’m also working with the French Institute in Morocco so that a reduced part of our exhibitions can be shown in their spaces, including their space in Meknès in the north of Morocco.
Culture in Morocco has developed a lot through the patronage of companies because the state hasn’t played an important role in culture and in the constitution of collections. It’s private companies, notably banks, that have really invested in this. For instance, another bank building a collection is Morocco’s Attijariwafa Bank. I think there are 200 artists in their collection.”
Ghita Triki
Head of Art & Culture at Fondation AWB of Attijariwafa Bank
Ghita Triki is head of art and culture at the foundation of Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco. In 1995, she joined the BCM (Banque Commerciale du Maroc), which later merged with Wafabank to form Attijariwafa Bank, and in 1996 she inaugurated its Actua art space for exhibitions in the bank’s headquarters in Casablanca. Since the merger and formation of Attijariwafa Bank in 2003, she has been leading the “Art & Culture” part of Attijariwafa Bank’s foundation.
“My role is to develop the group’s cultural patronage strategy, the priority mission of which is the visibility of the artists and the accessibility of art to the largest number of people, especially the young, to raise awareness of the bank’s role in social responsibility. The bank’s commitment to art dates back nearly 30 years and constitutes an incalculable heritage and source of sharing and creativity for our collaborators, audience, partners, clients and students. The painting collection is the spine of this. At the foundation, we organise guided visits, studio visits and conferences and produce publications. I am also involved in organizing an educational programme, ‘Academy of Arts, on a national and local level which reaches hundreds of students from modest backgrounds. It was initiated in 2009 and includes contemporary art, writing and multimedia for students at state schools for a period of three years.
The collection is the combined collections of the former BCM (Banque Commerciale du Maroc) and the former Wafabank, which merged in 2004. Both started in the mid 1970s at the initiative of Abdelaziz Alami, president of the BCM, and Abdelhak Bennani, president of Wafabank, who both believed in the importance of art for the company and the community beyond the profitable investment that artworks can constitute.
In the 1970s, the purchases were individualized. The collection developed more in the 1980s, coinciding with the favorable economic context, the opening of galleries and the artistic boom, which reflected the global movement of Moroccan intellectuals after the Independence of Morocco in 1956. Between 1980 and 2007, works were commissioned by Farid Belkahia, Hassan El Glaoui and Abdelkébir Rabi. We also acquired Jacques Majorelle’s painting, Les Alamates (1931).
The collection is a panorama of the pictorial creation of Morocco from the beginning of the 20th century to the 2000s, with historical depth, diversity of trends and generations. It comprises works by major artists and is focused on Abstract Expressionism from the 1950s and abstract painters from the 1970s-1990s. Moroccan artists constitute the majority of the collection but there are also Orientalist paintings by French artists. Since the bank’s development in Africa, works by emerging artists from the African continent and diaspora, who have been discovered during the Dakar Biennale, have been acquired.

There are nearly 2,000 paintings and multiples by artists including Ahmed Cherkaoui, Jilali Gharbaoui, Mohamed Chebâa, Mohamed Melehi and Chaïbia Tallal, and contemporary artists such as Amina Benbouchta, Meryem El Alj, Hicham Benohoud, Michèle Magema and Saïdou Dicko. We plan to continue our support of contemporary artists through our annual exhibitions, commissions and productions. Two books about the collection and patronage have been published, in 1992 and in 2002, on the occasion of large-scale exhibitions.

Half of the works are displayed in the offices, open spaces and halls of our headquarters and the others are in our regional offices and branches. The vision of the collection is : ‘Works everywhere for everyone’, which explains the importance of the limited edition multiples in some of the branches to help educate the way people look at art. The works move around several times a year, partly because of loans and temporary exhibitions.
The foundation has advised clients when it has been asked for advice but we do not have an actual advisory service. However, we publish a bimonthly newletter, containing an article about the trajectory and quota of an artist in our collection or about artists exhibited at the foundation.”

Austral Africa

Emma Bedford
Director at Aspire Art Auctions
Emma Bedford is a director and senior art specialist at Aspire Art Auctions, a new auction house in Johannesburg and Cape Town, which she joined after leaving Strauss & Co auction house.
“2015 saw exciting developments within the primary and the secondary markets and phenomenal growth driven by public, corporate and individual collecting activity.
How many corporate art collections there are in South Africa varies according to whom you consult and which criteria are used. One curator has estimated the number at around 17 and another at about 50. The important ones, include the Standard Bank, the Sanlam Art Collection, South32, MTN Art Collection and the Sasol Art Collection.
The first corporate collection is possibly that of the South African Broadcasting Corporation which began informally in 1916. Part-time curator, Koulla Xinisteris, draws on this collection of over 1,000 works to produce stimulating and educative exhibitions such as Making Waves and Scape for the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban in 2011. The curator was able to buy works at auction by the likes of Marlene Dumas, Dumile Feni and Fred Page at affordable prices without much competition.
The Standard Bank sponsors young artists and major touring exhibitions and maintains its impressive Corporate Collection as well as a unique African Art Collection jointly owned with the University of the Witwatersrand.
The Reserve Bank’s collection makes around 80% of its acquisitions at auction houses since its predominant feature is landscape paintings from 1930-1980. But it also collects works outside landscape, especially from the 1960s and 1970s by Peter Clarke, Ephraim Ngatane, Gladys Mgudlandlu and Walter Battiss, and contemporary art. By contrast, the Sasol Art Collection, started in 1983, comprises over 2,000 mainly contemporary artworks by young, emerging South African artists.
The collection of Anton and Huberte Rupert, housed in the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch, is one of the earliest private collections and was begun in the 1940s. Showcasing the best of South African artists such as Maggie Laubser, Irma Stern, Alexis Preller, Battiss, Jean Welz, JH Pierneef and Anton van Wouw, it continues to grow under the guardianship of the Rupert Art Foundation.
Traditionally, collectors have favoured auction houses for historical and modern acquisitions and commercial galleries and art fairs for contemporary purchases. But with the Cape Town Art Fair dedicating a Past/Modern section for older works, distinctions are blurring. Conversely, contemporary works are increasingly coming up at auction.
Many important collections are vested in trusts. The Constitutional Court Trust owns an extraordinary collection of artworks donated by prominent artists and benefactors to celebrate the Court’s role in the transition to democracy. The collection was primarily assembled by Albie Sachs, who practiced as a judge at the Constitutional Court from 1994 to 2009.
Private collectors are the most visibly active buyers in the primary and secondary markets. Many factors have contributed to the rise of private collectors in the last 10 years. Works of art are increasingly sought after, whether for aesthetic satisfaction, as status symbols or as perceived hedges against the uncertainty of other markets. Many also recognise the value of building family or private collections in an environment where the lack of funding for public institutions has resulted in the relative stagnation of state collections.”
Michelle constant
Ceo of Business and Arts South Africa (Basa)
Michelle Constant has been CEO at Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), a public-private partnership between the corporate sector and government’s Department of Arts and Culture since 2008. Its aim is to develop strategic partnerships between the business and arts sectors in South Africa.
“BASA is a not-for-profit organization and our core mandate is to leverage the relationship between business and the arts. Since the inception of BASA 20 years ago, we have been running an annual event, the BASA Awards. Partnered by Hollard (an insurance and financial services company) and Business Day (a national newspaper), it rewards and recognizes businesses for their best practice in engaging in the arts. There are 14 different awards, three of which are not voted on by the committee of judges but by BASA’s board.”
Barbara Freemantle
Curator of the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg
Art enthusiast, art lover, and employee of a company that is committed to facilitate participation in, and access to the arts.
What was the impetus for the inception of Standard Bank’s art collection and what was the vision?
The collection started in the early 1930s with painting of the various Standard Bank Chairmen. From then until the late 1960s the collecting policy was informal and was driven by the incumbent Chairman. The collection began in earnest in 1970 when the famous Head Office in Fox street was designed and built. The then Chairman Mr AAQ Davies commissioned four artworks to celebrate the opening of that iconic building. The artists were Louis Maqubela, Cecil Skotness, Walter Battiss. The collection policy was and is proudly South African and the aim is to support and grow South African artists. While the collection sits at the heart of Standard Bank’s sponsorships for the visual arts, our strategic support extends beyond the acquisition of artworks, focussing addditionally on a number of sustainable long-term initiatives. The Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art provides a platform from which we can nurture and encourage future artists; and The Standard Bank Gallery which provide a world-class exhibition venue in which we showcase the work of local and international artists of the highest order.
How would you describe the collection in terms of styles and diversity of artworks?
The collection is extremely diverse. It contains works in all media, ranging from 1755 to today.
How many works by how many artists are in the collection today?
About 1500 works and about 300 artists.
Which artists would you like to add to the collection?
We endeavour to include all artists in the collection so they are all pretty well represented. We have an ongoing collection process so we consider everyone.
How is the collection displayed in the bank’s headquarters and branches?
The collection is housed mainly in the public and executive areas of the Standard Bank Headquarters and the Standard Bank Gloval Leadership Centre in Johannesburg. Components are also located in Standard Bank offices in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Pretoria, London and New York.
How is the collection displayed in the bank’s headquarters and branches?
To continue collecting – especially young emerging talent. The collection does appear in the Standard Bank Gallery regularly.
Do you offer an art advisory service to your clients?
Curator: Sanlam Art Collection
The Sanlam Art Collection located near Cape Town. Sanlam is South Africa’s second largest Life Insurance Co and financial service provider including investment, short term insurance and medical insurance etc. The company has representation through about 18 countries throughout Africa and is expanding this footprint every year. The expansion on the African continent is a relatively recent strategy in comparison to the age of the company now close 98 years old.
The Sanlam Art Collection was founded in 1965 through an initiative of the then board of the company that saw the acquisition of South African Art as an important symbolic statement about the company’s commitment to the cultural heritage of the country and as an important aspect of the company’s broader educational programme of introducing staff to the appreciation of South African art. The acquisitions strategy at the time was to develop a representative collection of South African art. Of course what is understood by representative then was quite different than today.
The collection therefore feature works from the late nineteenth century the present. The bulk of the collection is unsurprisingly devoted to painting where the traditional themes of landscape, still life and portraiture are well represented. Much of SA art up until the late 1940’s was locked into a British inspired naturalist approach to painting. This was largely due to the country being a British colony and many of the artists here saw Britain as the place to study and follow. There were of course some notable exceptions to this such as Maggie Laubser and Irma Stern per World War to and then many others followed afterwards as studying overseas became more affordable and desirable.
The Sanlam Art Collection grew steadily from the 1960s to the 1970s. By the late 1980s the collection was expanded considerably when an entire private collection of approximately 1000 South African artists’ works was acquired in 1989. From then on regular acquisitions were made to augment the collection with contemporary and historical works. The collection presently holds some 1700 items. These are displayed in office environments throughout South Africa. The company’s head office in Bellville near Cape Town houses the Sanlam Art Gallery where a selection of works from the collection are on permanent
The acquisitions strategy of the collection remains building a representative collection of South African art. The emphasis in the future will be more on contemporary art production in South Africa and there is a possibility that the collection may expand to countries in Africa where the company begins to establish a notable presence.
How did you start your collection and which were the first artists whose works you began acquiring?
Initially the Sanlam Art Collection acquired works of contemporary artists who had already received considerable recognition in 1960s and 1970s. Artists acquired then were Walter Battiss, Irma Stern, Sydney Kumalo to name a few.
What was the last piece you bought?
The most recent purchases have included a selection of 37 watercolours by Wopko Jensma, a sculpture by Shpeherd Mbanya and a work on paper by Zander Blom.
Which other artists would you like to add to your collection?
There are of course many possible acquisitions. The collection looks for significant images that historically important or are currently of such significance that they will be important in time to come. Some names come to mind such as Mary Sibande, Johannes Pokela, Bernie Searl, Moshekwa Langa, Robin Rhode, Air Patra Ruga are all potential artists in the contemporary sphere amongst many others that we will be considering seriously in the furture.
What do you think of the boom of contemporary art from Africa?
The booming contemporary art in Africa has two components to it. One; is that the through the efforts of a generation of curators originating from Africa and more broadly the “Global South” contemporary art practices in Africa are being researched, published and acknowledged in exhibitions throughout the world. This has taken many year to establish. Art historians and critics have charted the evolving interest in contemporary
There is no doubt that seminal exhibitions in the 1980s such as the Tributaries exhibition in Johannesburg and Magiciennes de La Terre in France were significant markers in the global acknowledgement of the African practice in the global art world. Further on the Johannesburg Biennials in the 1990s, the second one being directed by Okwui Enwezor had a profound effect on the South African art world and was a significant step for Okwui to become a globally recognised curator. His championing of African contemporary art, albeit much of it produced outside the continent in the diaspora, through shows as the The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 and Global Conceptualism celebrated African art within a global paradigm. There are many other exhibitions and curators who have successfully championed Africa’s place in the global art world – too many to mention. The result is that great museums of art in Europe and the United States have taken notice and are reviewing their acquisitions strategies to incorporate representations from Africa and Global South.
Two: as a result of the above, but also at the same time with European and American modern and contemporary arts shooting the lights out at auction sales, art fairs and gallery floors, African contemporary art presented an opportunity for savvy operators, agents, dealers and auctioneers to offer vital ground breaking works to clients at a significant discount to European and American practitioners. While African artists were becoming academically and historically acceptable they also become tradable commodities. Not unlike the Chinese boom the African boom has had its positive as well negative effects. For anyone being part of this boom requires a steady head and a capacity to differentiate between quality and fashion.
In what ways do you think the growing market of modern and contemporary art from Africa will develop further?
There is no doubt that this market has grown and will grow rapidly into the future. With the rise of wealthy private collectors on the continent, hopefully the development of more institutions such as the MOCAA in Cape Town and the realisation of the value of culture by governments in Africa, the demand for modern and contemporary art is going to grow exponentially. That Sotheby’s is prepared to establish and contemporary African art department in competition with Bonhams in London and local auction houses in South Africa indicates there is much more to potential for this market to grow. The question would of course be to what extent will resident Africans benefit or be deprived if this market remains primarily driven from Europe or the United States for time to come.
Which artists would you like to add to the collection?
To what extent one can speak of a new era we will only be able to tell in a decade or so. There however seems to be an optimism and self-consciousness in the market which presents all the symptons of a new era being upon us.
Are you planning any new projects?
We are presently going through a re-strategisation of what the collection is going to do in the future. There are many new ideas which will involve more contemporary artists but also trying to build better links with established institutions to facilitate collaborations on exhibitions and possible acquisitions. Watch this space.
Curator : ABSA Art Collection and Museum, Johannesburg
Dr Paul Bayliss is the art and museum curator of Absa, a wholly owned subsidiary of Barclays Africa Group Ltd. Besides being responsible for Absa’s art collection and the Absa Art Gallery for the past six years, Bayliss curates the Absa Money Museum, South Africa’s only money and banking museum, and is project manager for the Barclays L’Atelier art competition across the African continent.
Absa has an extensive art collection comprising of approximately 18,000 artworks representing several thousand artists. The collection is primarily South African but more recently has included artworks from artists across the continent. Artworks from South African Masters and more recent contemporary works are included. The collection is displayed in the boardrooms and corridors of our head office and in regional offices and branches. We also continually loan works out to other galleries, museums or institutions for exhibitions.
The Barclay’s L’Atelier art competition, now in its 31 st year, is a platform for young and emerging artists to showcase their talent. It is aimed at artists aged 21-35. Artists resident in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Mauritius and the Seychelles are invited to participate therein. Historically, the competition was primarily aimed at South African artists. In 2015, as part of the 30-year celebration of the competition, it was broadened to include artists from Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Botswana. In 2016, the competition was further broadened and opened to artists from Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Mauritius and Seychelles.
In 2016, the overall winner received a cash prize of 225,000 rands (US$15,000) and a six-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Several Merit prizes are also awarded: a threemonth residency at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, a two-month residency with the Sylt Foundation on the Island of Sylt, a one-month residency at the Ampersand Foundation in New York City and a threemonth residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts. The winning artist is also granted a solo exhibition in Absa’s Art Gallery.
Absa’s Art Gallery provides a platform for artists to continue to showcase their talent and build their brand. These works are also for sale through the gallery, which takes no commission from sales as all the proceeds go to the artist. As part of Barclays Africa’s Shared Growth initiative, which endeavors to make a difference to the various communities in which we operate, the objective of our exhibitions is to nurture talent and support young artists.
One of our big focal areas is around education – educating the public about what they’re looking at and how to think about investing in the visual arts. The gallery also provides an advisory service to our clients and stakeholders on how to manage their portfolios and on upcoming talent to watch.