Behind the rise of millennial art market sensation Aboudia, which achieved the most successful direct auction since Damien Hirst

Christie’s made a bet last spring by agreeing to organize a sale of works by Ivorian-American artist Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, better known as Aboudia. To say it paid off handsomely is an understatement.

Auction houses generally do not accept direct shipments from artists, let alone an entire sale’s worth of work sent directly from the studio, barely dry paint. But the online auction of 21 lots, held over two weeks in February and Marchexceeded all expectations when it grossed just over $1 million.

In today’s overheated art market, that might not seem like a lot of money. But consider that the top six lots, all of which carried low estimates of $10,000 to $12,000, soared to over $100,000 each. All works are dated 2020 and have a single provenance: “From the artist”. Not since Damien Hirst’s infamous “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” sale at Sotheby’s in 2009 has such a direct auction been so successful.

The artist and an undisclosed representative approached Christie’s directly with the opportunity. Aboudia did not respond to a request for comment for this story, and his galleries remained relatively silent on the sale. VScontemporary hristie scholar Michael Baptist knew this was unusual. “We talked about it internally at the time and what we saw was a unique opportunity,” he said. Some paintings and works on paper had estimates as low as $3,000; in almost all cases they sold for prices over $10,000.

Source: Artnet Analytics.

“That kind of kickstarted the current secondary market activity that we’re seeing right now,” said Baptist, in which paintings regularly top $100,000. “It attracted many clients who hadn’t seen or known much of Aboudia and who had been collecting serious, top-notch work for some time.” Last year, Aboudia’s global auction sales totaled $10.5 million, and he’s on track to beat that amount this year, with $6.7 million in sales to date. Three of his works sold this week at Phillips Hong Kong, each for at least double its high estimate.

So who is Abudia? And how did a millennial artist who was largely unknown just over a decade ago soar to the top of the auction food chain? Even amid the current market fervor for the work of ultra-contemporary African artists, who have raised nearly $65 million at auction since 2019, the response to Aboudia’s work has been intense.

behind the rise

The artist’s dizzying paintings stopped New York dealer Ethan Cohen in his tracks when he spotted them at an art fair in London around 2011. By this time, the artist had already exhibited with Cécile Fakhoury, who has galleries in Abidjan and Paris, and London-based Jack Bell. The going rate for his works during this early period, according to Fakhoury, was between €1,000 and €12,000.

“I sent him a note saying, ‘Aboudia, I love your work, I’d like to talk to you,'” Cohen told Artnet News. He brought the work to Basel, then to Singapore and Hong Kong. This was before the market became as international as it is today. “People thought I was crazy and asked me, ‘Why would you bring African art to Asia?'”

The bet is successful. “We sold out,” Cohen said. “This opened the door to Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Filipino customers. Cohen has shown Aboudia’s work at Volta Basel every year since, including at last month’s fair.

Jack Bell, who gave the artist his first exhibition in 2011, said his audience has grown alongside the wider market for contemporary African art, boosted by events like the 1- 54. “Aboudia’s collector base has evolved to become very strong and international with a truly global audience,” Bell said.

Installation view of a solo exhibition by Aboudia at 1-54 Paris. Image courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery, London.

The artist’s life and work are intimately linked. His layered paintings – with varying amounts of oil stick, collage, spray paint and tagging – reflect both the vibrant street art culture of Abidjan, where the artist was born, and the political turmoil that surrounded it, especially after the country’s disputed presidential election. election in 2010.

The canvases reflect the so-called “Nouchi” culture, a reference to street children whom he captures alone or in groups. “I feel close to [the children in my paintings] because when I decided to get involved in art, my family was against it and I left my house and lived alone,” the artist said in a meeting. These characters often face armed soldiers, skulls, and semi-abstract depictions of children with blank eyes or expressions of horror.

“The scenes painted by Aboudia are rooted in his own experience, that of community and solidarity,” said Fakhoury.

Aboudia graduated in 2003 from the Technological Center for Applied Arts in Bingerville. As the violence in the area escalated, he reportedly took refuge in a basement studio and created a work that was both a response to and a documentation of the conflicts around him. (The artist now divides his time between Brooklyn and Abidjan.)

Unsurprisingly, Aboudia’s raw, graffiti-style imagery has consistently evoked comparisons to 1980s art star Jean-Michel Basquiat. Although he adamantly denies the influence, and even has never seen Basquiat’s early work – he cites his hometown graffiti artists as his only source of inspiration – the comparison persists.

According to Cohen, the two drew from the same well: Basquiat, who also worked in stick oil, used a lot of West African imagery in his work.

who wants to enter

In addition to the artist’s three main galleries – Fakhoury, Bell and Cohen – Aboudia has won the support of a number of powerful tastemakers. Charles Saatchi, an early collector, gave the artist a considerable place in his two “Pangea” exhibitions, which highlighted new art from Africa and Latin America in in 2014 and 2015.

The collector Jean Pigozzi also owns some works by Aboudia. “It’s a bit reminiscent of Basquiat,” Pigozzi said. “But he has his own very strong style.” Sources say Christie’s owner Francois Pinault also owns several paintings, but may have sold a few during the artist’s market rise. Musician and actor Kano is a fan.

Experts say collectors gravitate towards medium and large canvases with figures, faces, chalk pastels and pasted-on elements. On the secondary market, there is strong demand for earlier works from around 2011 that Aboudia created during the Ivorian crisis.

Nevertheless, Cohen clarified, “everything is sold. He’s the biggest salesman I’ve ever met…bigger than Ai Weiwei. (Cohen was the first to show Ai in the United States.) He estimates that there are around 450 Aboudia collectors worldwide.

Source: Artnet Analytics.

All of this activity has some onlookers worried about a supply glut. Same Baptist admitted some uncertainty after the 2021 sale. “It’s like, okay, we just put 20 on the market – will the prices stabilize? And they kept going up, and then we thought, okay, they make close to $200,000, they probably can’t make more than that, and then they sell out for $300,000.

No less than 111 works were offered at auction last year, far more than many of his peers. All but one have found takers. “People now see a lot of his work at auction and think, ‘Oh my god, he’s too productive,'” Cohen said,but it’s 10 years of work.

His boosters say the volume is part of the appeal. “Collectors want to see that he’s been working for ten years and actually has variety in his practice,” Baptist said. “The market does not undergo the same control that an artist who only makes ten pieces a year must undergo when reselling.”

Aboudia, The baramogoh of the ghetto, (2022) was exhibited at the recent Taipei Dangdei (2022) by Jack Bell Gallery. Image courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery.

Aboudia’s current record of $498,000 was set last March at a Christie’s online sale, for Hands up (2020). Twenty-five works have sold for over $200,000 each; about 75 sold for over $100,000. These figures, according to Jack Bell, correspond to the artist’s current primary market prices, which range from $100,000 to $200,000.

“There has been a resurgence of interest in Aboudia’s work,” said Simon Tovey, head of Phillips London’s contemporary and 20th century art sale.

Can the series continue? We will know: two other works by the artist are on display in London next week.

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