The Economist rarely has great coverage of the art market. And this story on Africa’s growing interest in art really doesn’t break the mold. Nonetheless, the emergence of African artists, on the one hand, and a market for African art, on the other, is a very significant trend.
The single biggest point to make about African art is that it is taking place on a global stage. Bonhams developed the market for South African artists through sales in London. As the Economist points out, 8 of the 14 African artists featured in New York’s Armory Show last week were from galleries on the African continent:
Four of the most prominent contemporary artists of African origin move with ease between Africa and the rest of the world. Julie Mehretu was born in Ethiopia and lives in New York, as does Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu; El Anatsui (whose beer-bottle-top “fabrics”—pictured—are instantly recognisable) was born in Ghana, has worked for much of his career in Nigeria, and has been exhibited all over the world, as has William Kentridge, a white South African. Only the work of Ms Mutu and Mr Kentridge can be said to deal with the African experience directly, though both also address larger themes. Ms Mutu does so through an Afrofuturist exploration of gender and identity. Mr Kentridge is concerned with South African politics.
The magazine goes on to offer some facts and figures behind the acceleration of the market:
Africa’s recent economic growth is a factor in its expanding art market. In the past decade the GDP of the 11 largest sub-Saharan countries has increased by roughly half, twice the rate in the rest of the world. “We have ten times as many collectors from South Africa as we did ten years ago,” says Joost Bosland, director of the Stevenson Gallery, which has showrooms in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The leader among the international auction houses, Bonhams, has seen average lot prices for African art increase fivefold, to $50,000, since it decided to hold stand-alone sales of African artists. Half its bidders now originate from within the continent. Bonhams has been so successful that both Sotheby’s and Phillips are thinking of copying their African sales.
African horizons (The Economist)