While the term ‘African art’ encompasses a vast expanse of time periods, diverse themes, cultures and geographies, Sotheby’s new move indicates a continued global embracement of art from the continent. As institutions (Fondation Louis Vuitton), art fairs (1:54) and new spaces in Europe and South Africa open in dedication to a growing awareness of Modern and Contemporary African art, Sotheby’s also enters the fray by launching specialist sales.
They will, says Hannah O’Leary, Sotheby’s Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art, provide “a fresh platform for these artists, attracting the interest of new collectors and enthusiasts who have not yet explored this field.” O’Leary was previously at Bonhams, where she helped spearhead the successful African art sales that have been running for some years at the rival auction house.
Sotheby’s will hold pre-sale exhibitions in Paris, Johannesburg, Cape Town, New York and London ahead of its first 16 May sale. The selection of 60 artists – by no means an attempt at a comprehensive or academic survey of what the continent’s art production entails – originate from 14 countries, including Algeria, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Uganda, Cameroon and Zimbabwe.
There’s a mix of seminal names with auction records over $1 million with artists who have limited auction exposure. “This is our opportunity to redress some of the current price anomalies; to identify those artists who we think currently undersell but have huge potential,” said O’Leary. Highlights include works by Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, who won the Venice Biennale’s prestigious Golden Lion Award in 2015, British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare, South African William Kentridge and Algerian Kader Attia. There will also be works by Modern Masters such as Uche Okeke, Skunder Boghossian and Irma Stern.
“The marketplace for modern and contemporary art from Africa has transformed dramatically over the past decade,” said O’Leary, “but despite this long-overdue correction, there’s still a considerable way to go towards addressing the underrepresentation of African artists, who account for just 0.01 per cent of the international art market.”
The market demand for African art has exponentially increased in recent years and Sotheby’s is confident this is just the beginning. The impact, relevance and strength of this largely untapped area is yet to come.
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