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Introduction: State of the African Art Market in 2015


During the last 10 years, modern and contemporary African art has found an enthusiastic audience both on the continent and internationally. Significantly, this includes important institutions. Taking an interest in the viewpoint of the market and institutions enables the structural issues and initiated changes to be known and understood, and for the role of African artists and those working in this context to be situated. The vitality of artistic production is judged not just by its quality but also by the importance of its market. Visibility and the market are intertwined with each another.

Contemporary African art can be defined as the creation of the recent past and today, taking its sources from pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial periods. The precursors of the 1930s, like South Africa’s Ernest Mancoba (1904-2002) and the Nigerians Aina Onabolu (1882-1963) and Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994) are worth citing as they instigated change towards openness regarding classical arts, known as “primitive arts”.

The notion of contemporary art emerged in the 1960s, regrouping the diversity of artistic production on the continent. It consists of a large, variegated whole irrigated by three types of training: autodidact, including famous artist such as Moké from the Democratic Republic of Congo; studio and cooperative training, often informal, as in the case of Malian photographer Malick Sidibé; and academic education (art schools and national and international universities), examples being Senegalese painter Soly Cissé and Ghanians El Anatsui and Ablade Glover. African artists are producers of visual thoughts like anywhere else. But the temporality 1 is not the same in Africa due to the continent’s vastness and cultural complexity.

During the Conversations last year, why did you decide to include a talk on African art scenes?

Because the developments within the African art scene are hugely interesting for us, our galleries and the collectors who come to our fair, and it ran in parallel to the first Venice Biennale curated by an African, Okwui Enwezor.

In the global art market, what margin do you think art by African artists represents?

I am probably not the best person to answer this question, but it seems fair to guess that the margin is still rather small. However, the international interest from curators and patrons about the art scenes across Africa is growing, as is the number of potential collectors across the continent, and so its market seemed poised for expansion.

What’s your perspective on the African market in terms of its artists, collectors and other professionals, and what how do you think this will develop?

As I have said, it is certainly a growing and developing market. We are delighted that this year in Basel a second gallery from South Africa, Stevenson, has moved into the very selective Galleries sector of the fair where they will be presenting the depth of their gallery program. In addition, we have a gallery from Tunisia, Selma Feriani, the first time we have an African gallery from outside of South Africa. And other galleries will be bringing artists from Africa to the show. The market is developing in such a dynamic way that we have appointed a VIP representative for Africa and we are again expecting a number of new collectors from Africa to visit the fair for the first time.

Marc Spiegler
Global Director Art Basel

“Our aim is to investigate how the tensions of the outside world act on the sensitivities and the vital and expressive energies of artists, on their desires and their inner song. One of the reasons the Biennale invited Okwui Enwezor as curator was for his special sensitivity in this regard”

Paolo Baratta
President of la Biennale di Venezia
Founded in 2013 the fair takes place each February. Produced by Fiera Milano Exhibitions Africa, the fair showcases contemporary art from Africa and around the world, including the African diaspora and new markets. Director of Cape Town Art Fair The Cape Town Art Fair showcases a diversity of work that represents the forefront of cutting-edge innovation which brings contemporary art from Africa to the world and the world to Cape Town. 2015 was the third edition and attracted over 8,500 unique visitors, some visitors came more than once as the total number of visits was 14,000. The fair generated more than US$2.1million in sales. The fair saw greater interest in African and South African art from international collectors and institutions, as well as greater participation in the South African art market from galleries and institutions from the continent and abroad. Cape Town boasts a vibrant arts scene, driven by the top galleries on the African continent. Thanks to its diverse cultural heritage and geographic beauty, Cape Town is a compelling destination for both art world professionals and collectors alike.
Matthew Partridge
Director of Cape Town Art Fair

From Disregard to Normal art

However, its distinction and differentiation are situated in the freedom of creation, attitudes, production methods and hybridization2 , like in the work of Kenyan-born, New York-based Wangechi Mutu. The bulk of the primary and secondary market is outside the Continent, mainly in the US and Europe, even though the offer and demand curves are intersecting locally and an increase of buyers is being witnessed. The low number of galleries does not reflect the prolificacy of local production. The majority of actors, i.e. galleries, are beginning to gain international experience.
A handful of them, such as Goodman Gallery and Stevenson Gallery (both from Cape Town and Johannesburg), Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan) and Omenka Gallery (Lagos), are very active in international fairs.
As central figures, artists are increasingly numerous and are being regularly invited everywhere in the world for various exhibitions, residencies and studies, such as the emerging Zimbabwean artist Gareth Nyandoro at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Beyond other advantages is the role of information technology and modern communication, internet and social networks being important levers because they profoundly modify and amplify the diffusion and access to African creation.
Long misunderstood and “despised”, contemporary art from Africa has eventually settled for the long-term on the globalized art scene. All the indicators come together. In order to understand the institutional acceleration of these last 10 years, it is necessary to go half a century backwards. Along this long path, several initiatives have set in place the plinth of the present enthusiasm, including Evelyn S. Brown’s pioneering book Africa’s Contemporary Arts and Artists (1967), published by the Harmon Foundation 3 . In 1979, the Moderne Kunst Aus Afrika exhibition from Gunter Péus’s collection at the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Berlin, curated by Sabine Hollburg and Gereon Sievernich, brought together 50 self-taught artists and more than 400 works, including Chéri Samba.

The considerable impact of the legendary exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre”, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin 4 in 1989 at the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Grande Halle de La Villette in Paris, is a collision of concepts and aesthetics. It was one of the rare exhibitions, along with “When Attitudes Become Form” by Harald Szeemann in 1969, to have changed the history of art in the 20 th Century. Then in New York in 1991, Susan Vogel curated “Africa Explores: 20th -Century African“ Art at the Center for African Art and at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. In London in 1995, the Africa 95 festival featured two exhibitions: “Big City”, on the theme of enigma and imagination, showcasing works from Jean Pigozzi’s collection and curated by Julia Peyton-Jones and André Magnin at the Serpentine Gallery; and “Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa” at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, conceived by cocurator Clémentine Deliss.

The rhythm and quality of these international exhibitions, with an increase of solo exhibitions, is significant, as evidenced, among others, by the retrospectives in 2013 of the Sudanese painter Ibrahim El-Salahi and the Benin artist Meschac Gaba at Tate Modern in London. Prior to this, the retrospectives of South African artists William Kentridge and Santu Mofokeng took place at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
In 2015, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York dedicated an important exhibition to historical African photography, titled “In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa”. A year later, the Grand Palais in Paris had a retrospective of Malian photographer Seydou Keïta (1921-2001).
In 2007, Sidibé (1936-2016) was the first photographer in the history of the Venice Biennale to receive a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award at the 52nd edition. His genius had been crowned four years earlier, when he won the prestigious Hasselblad photography award.
Touria El Glaoui, Moroccan-born, London based Touria El Glaoui is the director of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which she founded in 2013. The fair serves as a platform dedicated to promoting African and Africa-related art. After launching the fair in London, she expanded it to New York in 2015.
“In New York, 1:54 receives good support and interest from institutions and museums in terms of acquisitions for public collections and private collections with a public component. For New York 2015, highest sales were reported in the brackets $6–12,000 and $12–20,000.
Since London is our home, and 1:54 came into its own at Somerset House, our voice is stronger there, and we’ve established a firm collector base and audience; whereas with our edition in New York, we’re still getting there. That said, visitor figures have increased and the press have been overwhelmingly positive. In 2015, we had 15,000 visitors in London and 5,000 visitors in New York.
Buyers were reported as being established collectors as well as regular clients. The majority of galleries forged relationships with new clients, collectors, and institutions during both editions. We’re interested in providing a sustainable space for complexity, plurality, and difference, and in highlighting a spectrum of perspectives from the African continent and its diaspora – hence the reference to the 54 countries. It is not in our interest to homogenize artistic practices, but the inverse: to challenge reductive stereotypes that claim a totalizing aesthetic.
Touria El Glaoui
Director of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair
In 2015, the Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor was the artistic director of the 56 th edition of the Venice Biennale, where 21 out of 136 artists and collectives that he showed were African.
The market is no exception. One of the three dedicated fairs, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, inaugurated a New York edition in May 2015 following its success in London. And during its June 2015 edition, Art Basel hosted a series of debates about contemporary African art and more galleries were exhibiting African artists.
Until recently, the scene was dominated by patron-dealers, collector-dealers and pro-active galleries, then galleries whose illumination is restrained. The present configuration includes established brands in the global circuit, such as Galleria Continua which represents the Cameroon-born artist Pascale Martine Tayou and the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia, or Marian Goodman Gallery which represents Kentridge.
It is worth noting the attempts of leading galleries to work with African artists, such as Gagosian presenting Keita in 1997, or Robert Miller showing Barthelemy Toguo in 2009, or Tornabuoni presenting Soly Cissé in 2013. It is undeniable that this category of galleries elevates the value of these artists’ works to a higher price level. This is the case of Mutu, represented by Barbara Gladstone and Victoria Miro, and of Ethiopian-born, New York-based artist Julie Mehretu, represented by Marian Goodman and White Cube.
The secondary market has long hoped for the take-off of modern and contemporary art. The collector Jean Pigozzi, who has the largest collection of contemporary African art – numbering some 10,000 pieces – in the world, was a pioneer in experimenting with auction houses and organized a sale of works from his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.
Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been integrating modern and contemporary art from Africa into their collections for several years, while Phillips launched thematic sales seven years ago. The sole criterion should not be the total turnover of this market but its progression: the value of the artworks in the first and secondary markets has increased, according to the artist’s profile, by 200-400%. It’s a segment that has experienced a strong progression both in volume and value, “200% in the last five years”, according to Gilles Peppiatt, director of Modern and Contemporary African Art at Bonhams.

Compared to other markets, the important validation of institutions is not symmetrical to its market which, however progresses constantly without yet reaching stratospheric figures. The auction houses see their efforts rewarded with million-dollar sales, such as the world record for Mehretu in 2015 at Christie’s for her painting Looking Back to a Bright New Future (2003), which fetched US$3,468 million (including buyer’s premium). She occupies the first place in our 2015 ranking according to the methodology of Africa Art Market Report and realized the most important turnover at auction

In this crucial stage of the evolution of African art, the insufficiency of players and the deficit of education are the urgent matters to resolve. The tools of knowledge and its functioning need to be strengthened. Our expertise in the field, its players and the local and worldwide ecosystem enables us to bring reliable data and analysis to the market. n order to judge an artwork in general, one refers to the history of art and diverse contextual elements. Concerning African artists, we establish criteria allowing them to be evaluated aesthetically by those who receive them. Thus, the receiver appreciates them better.
However, when we look at this art with “westernized” certainties, numerous nuggets pass us by. If one wants to understand and feel these modes of expression that are relatively new for a fair number of art lovers, the context of production needs to be taken into account. For example, the commercial question is inherent to the conception and realization of an artwork for the majority of self-taught artists and those trained in studios or cooperatives. An international career should not be the only criterion because certain artists do not necessarily wish to pursue one but nonetheless produce quality work, which can be appreciated if one takes a closer look.
The context of the completely reconfigured global art market provides an historic opportunity for African artists to integrate efficiently. The great institutional (non-commercial and commercial) indicators have demonstrated their willingness to pursue the development of African art. The massive structural investments6 , both direct and indirect, that continue to flow into this segment can only produce mid and long-term results. These aspects are explored later in this report and that clearly reflect the decline of spontaneity and progress in the implementation of a structured, legible market.
These investments have resulted in a vast and palpable enthusiasm that can make this art definitively “normal” in the global network. It still needs to be made ordinary, which seems to be happening.
Federica Angelucci is one of four directors which jointly own Stevenson Gallery, which was founded in 2013. The gallery has two spaces, one in Cape Town and another in Johannesburg. It participates in Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, Frieze London, Frieze New York and Paris Photo.
“Stevenson has an international exhibition programme with a particular focus on the region. In addition to exhibiting gallery artists, we have brought the work of people like Francis Alÿs, Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Hirschhorn, Glenn Ligon and Walid Raad to South Africa, often for the first time. The gallery was conceived when two of the partners saw Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11, and realized something new was afoot that did not yet have a home in South Africa. Our ambition was, and remains, to offer the best platform in the country for the art of our time.
Smaller works by younger artists can cost as little as US$2,200, while a major painting by someone like Barthélémy Toguo or Nicholas Hlobo can cost upwards of US$66,150. To borrow Harald Szeemann’s concept, our artists all create distinctly individual mythologies and influences range from art history to politics to pop culture.
Directly, perhaps 20% of our sales come from art fairs. But if we include indirect art fair sales to people we first meet at fairs but who acquire work down the line, that figure easily shoots up to 60%. Our supporters tend to be very informed about contemporary art globally and have a distinct sense of where our artists fit into the broader narrative of art history. While some patrons are from our part of the world, many are not—and their collections often reflect their cosmopolitan outlook.”
Federica Angelucci
Co-director/partner of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town and Johannesburg