At the end of December, Paris-based auction house Artcurial staged its Contemporary African Art sale at La Mounia, a luxury hotel in Marrakesh. The sale, which was one of three slated across the evening, came on the heels of the appointment of Christophe Person as the new department head in September.
Across 48 lots, the contemporary African art portion of the night, dedicated to offerings of emerging contemporary artists across the continent, made €463,000, or €602,000 ($818,000) with buyer’s premium, just above its estimate of €402,800. The auction yielded a 68 percent sell-through rate.
In the market, awareness of contemporary African artists has expanded, attracting leading commercial players. This fall in London, the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair partnered with Christie’s to host an online leg of the 2020 London edition, in a sign of the region’s growing prominence in the market.
Artcurial’s expansion in the region signals rising demand among collectors. According to a statement from the auction house, several collectors from France, England, Switzerland, the United States, and Belgium, as well as several African countries, including Morocco, battled for work by Aboudia, Joseph Ntensibe and Dickens Otieno.
Among the top lots included was Ntensibe’s Tropical Garden, which sold for 780,000 MAD ($87,400). “Ntenisbe’s works are rare on the market and prized by some collectors who follow him, several bidders fought for this Tropical Garden, canvas which has almost quadrupled its estimate,” said Person.
Based in Kenya, Otieno was represented by an untitled upcycling work sold for 494,000 MAD ($55,400), more than six times its estimate. “Beyond the visual aspect, Otieno reflects on consumer society and its consequences on the abundance of waste and its impact on our living environments,” Person said of the artist’s work.
Elsewhere in the sale, French-born artist Maya-Inès Touam’s untitled triptych also outpaced its estimate of 44,000 MAD ($4,900), selling for a final price of $338,000 MAD ($37,900). Parliamentarians Standing (2019) by Zemba Luzamba, whose figurative works featuring political rituals are influenced by the artist’s coming of age in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sold for 286,000 MAD ($32,053), three times the pre-sale estimate of 88,000 MAD ($98,62).
Another major artist represented in the sale was Gonçalo Mabunda, whose three mixed-media sculptures sold for prices between 32,500 MAD and 65,000 MAD ($3,600–$7,300). Drawing on political history of his home country of Mozambique, Mabunda creates works from weapons recovered in 1992 at the end of the 16-year civil war that divided the region. The artist represented Mozambique in the 2019 Venice Biennale.
Ivorian artist Aboudia’s 2015 untitled mix media canvas sold for 201,500 MAD ($22,600), more than three times its estimate of 66,000 MAD ($7,400). “Aboudia made his debut in the art market with the exhibition ‘Pangea’ held at Saatchi in London in 2011, during which emerging artists from Africa and Latin America were presented,” said Person. “Quickly spotted by English and American galleries, then Ivorian galleries, he has been one of the rising figures of Contemporary African Art for nearly 10 years.” Works by Aboudia appear regularly at Sotheby’s and typically surpass estimates. In October, his 2018 canvas Le petit chien rouge sold for £75,600 ($102,700), four times the pre-sale estimate.
Elsewhere in the sale, Sudanese painter Salah Elmur‘s painting The Green Room (2019) sold for 201,500 MAD ($22,583), below the estimate of 220,000 MAD ($24,656). Recognition of Elmur has been on the rise since 2018, when he was featured in a group show at London’s Saatchi Gallery titled “Forests and Spirits: Figurative Art from the Khartoum School.” He was also the subject of a major retrospective at the Sharjah Art Museum in the United Arab Emirates in 2018. The artist’s auction record was set at Sotheby’s in 2019 by the $30,600 paid for The Family Portrait (2017).
Amand Boua, an Ivorian artist whose acrylic and collage works of formless figures respond to ongoing political unrest in West African, was also featured in the sale. His newly completed work Covid-19 and Baby’s children (2020) sold for 91,000 MAD ($10,200).