Africa Confirms Its Presence on the International Art Landscape

BY Katrina Kufer / May 1 2017 / 12:06 PM

Several key events promoting contemporary African art build the foundation for a surge in its popularity

Africa Confirms Its Presence on the International Art Landscape
Image courtesy Pigozzi Collection / Fondation Louis Vuitton
Chéri Samba. (Detail) Little Kadogo, I am for Peace, That is Why I Like Weapons. 2004. Acrylic on canvas. 204.5 × 245.5 × 2.5 cm.

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair Branches Out

Dedicated to art from Africa and the diaspora, the 1:54 fair was established in London by Touria El Glaoui five years ago. The London original during Frieze Week (5-8 October) was joined a couple of years later by a New York version, also during this week’s Frieze Week (5-7 May). And now, the organisers have just announced that it will make its way to Marrakech 24-25 February 2018. “It has been an important goal of 1:54 to host an edition on the African continent, and we could not think of a better place than Morocco,” said El Glaoui of the move.

The New York edition this week is a compact 19 exhibitor event, and galleries include Taymour Grahne Gallery (New York), Vigo Gallery (London) and (S)ITOR / Sitor Senghor (Paris). There’s also an educational programme, FORUM talks programme curated by Koyo Kouoh, and film screenings. Highlights include Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj’s Kesh Angels and My Rockstars photographic portraits, a fusion of his North African heritage and pop culture; The Eye of Modern Mali, an exhibition of the collection of the late Malick Sidibé’s black and white photographs that chronicle life in 1950s Bamoko in the wake of Mali’s independence, and the sonic work Vectors (Pan Africa), which features African latitude and longitude data translated into sound played against spoken text as part of FORUM.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Until 28 August, the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris will exhibit dual shows under the title Art, Africa: the New Atelier. Curated by Suzanne Pagé, it features recent work from lesser known art scenes. A special site-specific work by Pascale Martine Thayou sits alongside select pieces from the Fondation’s own collection as well as that of Jean Pigozzi, who will be opening his own museum (see below). Artists on view include Seydou Keita, Bodys Isek Kingelez, William Kentridge and Lawrence Lemaoana, with supporting texts provided by seminal art figures such as Okwui Enwezor.

A New Institution 

French venture capitalist Jean Pigozzi will make his mark on the art scene by founding a new European foundation to house his collection of contemporary African art. Pigozzi’s collection began in 1989 following a trip to sub-Saharan Africa, where he sought out works conforming to three conditions: the artists had to be from black Africa, and live and work there. While his collection has endured criticism for being a “neo-colonial approach that privileges handicrafts”, his initiative does arise at a time when “neither the MoMA, nor Pompidou, nor MET have a department of contemporary African art,” as Pigozzi said in a statement to Le Quotidien de l’Art.

With a desire to showcase his 10,000 piece collection in one cohesive whole, the foundation plans to be operational in five years and will join another eagerly anticipated space, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), due to open this September in Cape Town.

Sotheby’s Auction

Sotheby’s London also recently announced its first Modern and Contemporary African Art sale slated for 16 May, which aims to exceed last year’s auction record of £1.6 million set by Bonhams. Set to feature lots by artists such as Ablade Glover, William Kentridge and El Anatsui, “It’s where a lot of the market is right now, but it won’t stay there for long,” stated Hannah O’Leary, Sotheby’s Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art, of the auction house’s decision to contribute to a faction of the art market that currently constitutes just 0.01 percent.