Sotheby’s first-ever sale of modern and contemporary African art took place in London yesterday, for a total of £2,794,750 (about $3,600,000), just short of the low estimate of £2,800,000. Out of 116 lots, 79 sold (while one was withdrawn before the sale).
Despite a slight overall failure, a number of works sold within their estimates or greatly exceeded them. In addition, the sale surpassed the previous record for a sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art: according to The arts journal, Bonhams held the record at £1.6 during a sale in 2016.
Yesterday in London, the top seller was no surprise. El Anatsui Earth grows more roots, a bottle cap and copper wire sculpture from 2011, sold for £728,750 including fees. It was estimated between £650,000 and £850,000.
Anatsui’s work was followed by the oil painting of Irma Stern in 1942, Sunflowers, which grossed £416,750, also in its £350,000-£550,000 estimate.
Two other works also reached six-figure prices: Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Crash Willy, a 2009 assembly, which cost £224,750 (about $291,000), beating its high estimate of £180,000. According to artnet’s price database, Shonibare’s previous auction record was $194,000.
by William Kentridge The world on its hind legs the sculpture also surpassed its high estimate of £90,000, dropping to £125,000.
Some 46 lots attracted five-figure prices, with a few selling for more than expected. The painting of Cheri Samba An Unfailed Life (A Successful Life), with a high estimate of £30,000, went for £52,000; and his The Woman Leading the World sold for £32,000, more than double the high estimate of £12,000.
Two works by Ben Enwonwu more than doubled their high estimates. The painting Negritude, with a high estimate of £35,000, sold for £72,500; similarly, a draw estimated between £5,000 and £9,000 went for £20,000.
The textile work of Abdoulaye Konaté, Composition n°25 (Sun), doubled its estimate with a hammer price of £30,000, while an untitled multimedia work on paper by Nicholas Hlobo fetched £60,000, five times its high estimate of £12,000.
The remaining 29 lots sold for prices between £2,750 and £10,000. Some point to the relative affordability of African art as the reason for its recent surge in popularity.
Hannah O’Leary, head of modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby’s, told artnet News last month that demand for her area of expertise was growing “exponentially”, both from African collectors than international.
Institutional support is also not detrimental to the rise in power, for a market ignored by Western museums. Currently in Paris, the Louis Vuitton Foundation is hosting a three-part exhibition on African art, including works from Jean Pigozzi’s collection. And elsewhere in the market, contemporary African art is also picking up: the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair will launch an edition in Marrakech next year, following its successful editions in New York and London.
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