Artnet Analytics Deep Dive: We Take a Closer Look at the Recent Boom in the Contemporary African Art Market

On the occasion of Artnet Auctions’ "Africa Present" sale, we’re looking at the breakout success of the contemporary African art market.

Ablade Glover, Market Scenes (2012). Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

Prevailing Against the Odds

In the face of closures, cancellations, and overall havoc during the past year, the market for contemporary African art has continued to grow. This growth is largely due to accessible price points, and an emphasis on safely hosting in-person events during the pandemic, such as the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair editions in London and Paris.

There is much optimism about the rise of the African art market over the next five years, due to a speculative secondary-market interest in African artists. And despite the unexpected shutdowns that hit just months into 2020, the market has continued to move.

Blessing Ngobeni, Blunt Truth Diptych (2019). Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

Setting New Records

On October 2, 2020, Sotheby’s London opened their Modern and Contemporary African art sale. Despite obstacles facing the art market, the auction brought in $4.4 million, the second-highest sale total for the African art category at Sotheby’s. The auction also set new auction records for three artists from across the continent: Olu Amoda, Iba N’Diaye, and Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq. Participants from 25 countries bid in the sale, signifying an increasing global interest in African art.

Works by artists included in Artnet Auctions’ Africa Present sale, such as Blessing Ngobeni, Wole Lagunju, Kelechi Nwaneri, and Ablade Glover, have reached records on the secondary market in recent years. Ghanaian painter Ablade Glover set an auction record in 2019 when his work People sold for $35,356 at Sotheby’s London, against a $19,285–25,713 estimate. Meanwhile, Untitled, a mixed media work by Blessing Ngobeni, sold for $16,791 in February 2020––far surpassing its $10,060–13,414 estimate.

Kelechi Nwaneri, Can’t Let Go (2019). Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

Global Representation

Because of African art’s status as an underrepresented category, the price-points for works by notable African artists are much more accessible than those of other well-known artists. “African art is still an under-explored and growing segment of the market in which remarkable returns can be achieved,” Valerie Kabov, the director of First Floor Gallery in Harare, Zimbabwe, told Artnet News.

Though the market for contemporary African art is still relatively nascent, the growing popularity of artists such as Mohamed Melehi, Ablade Glover, and Mounir Fatmi positions it as the next breakout market. As works by African contemporary artists gain popularity in the mainstream art world, through auctions and global fairs like 1-54, now is the time to explore and collect from this up-and-coming market.  

To stay on top of the contemporary African art market’s impending boom, and learn more about the artists featured in our Africa Present sale, contact us to order your own custom Analytics Report. Gain access to all of the valuable data you need, including global auction sales volume, adjusted average sale prices, sell-through rate, and more.

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