African art in New York



Phillips de Pury & Company’s New York Africa sale on 15 May 2010 confirmed the rising price trend for African art and not just for the internationally recognized headline artists whose works already enjoy “global” demand. However, with total income from the sale at $1.1m and a bought-in rate of 38.4%, the sale was only partially successful, even in the less than $10,000 price bracket.

In fact, this “thematic” sale was not exclusively reserved to African artists and its best result was for a work by the London-based artist, Yinka SHONIBARE, at $88,000. In second place, Chéri SAMBA set a new personal auction record at $80,000 for a large painting from his J’aime la couleur series.
Both of these artists have substantial and reassuring CVs for collectors: the Nigerian Yinka Shonibare was born in London where he cultivated his dual background in the form of efficient installations combining Victorian and African cultures. Spotted by Charles Saatchi at the end of the 1990s, he participated in the Sensation :Young British Art from the Saatchi Collection exhibition that launched the YBAs (1997) and he was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 2004. The Zairian painter Cheri Samba, who lives and works in Kinshasa, has works in the permanent collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. His works were exhibited at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris (J’aime Chéri Samba) in 2004 and presented at the Venice Biennial in 2007.

High prices were therefore expected for these two signatures, but not for John GOBA, an artist born in 1944 in Sierra Leone where he lives to this day. His sculpture – Hunter’s Zone – presented within a price range of $8,000 – $10,000, fetched $32,000!
Collectors preferred John Goba to Marlene DUMAS whose drawing/collage entitled “World Cup SA 2010” (65.1cm x 49.5cm) remained unsold against a low price estimate of $35,000. Another star creator from South Africa, William KENTRIDGE, received only lukewarm bidding for his Bicycle Kick (2009-2010) which fetched $45,000 against a low estimate of $50,000.
The young Satch HOYT, born in London and experiencing his first-ever New York auction exposure, sold one of two pieces. The hammer price ($25,000) for his Rimology was well below the $40,000 estimate, but was nevertheless a handsome sum for a first-time test of the secondary market. Wangechi MUTU, on the other hand, had already participated in New York auction sales. The secondary market for his works began to warm up in November 2006 with a first-ever auction result for an untitled acrylic work ($55,000) at twice Christie’s estimate. The following year, a large painting (dated 2004) fetched $320,000 at Christie’s. After an anaemic 2009 for the artist, his index has recovered somewhat with the sale of a drawing/collage (90.8cm x 61cm) for $95,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company’s Contemporary Art sale on 13 May 2010.

Among the African photographers, Seydou KEITA stood out from the crowd with seven out of eight pictures sold. The reasonable prices for the artist’s works (the 7 photographs fetched between $2,400 and $8,000) combined with his notoriety translated into buoyant demand. Seydou Keïta is known to buyers since the 1990s thanks to his presence at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles in 1994 and the Cartier Foundation in Paris and his 1996 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Among the worst results of the sale, we note the buy-in of Nnenna OKORE’s superb ceramic sculpture – Ulukububa – considered too expensive at $25,000 – $35,000 and of Olu AMODA’s Ball Costume estimated at $12,000 – $18,000. Two works by MOKE (Mama, Doctreur Africain and Anniversaire de Mariage) also went unsold against estimated ranges of $5,000 – $7,000, as did a large painting entitled Woudji Woudjigbe by Cyprien TOKOUDAGBA. In fact it was the largest painting by the artist ever offered at auction and it was also, at $7,000 – $9,000, his most expensively priced.

Collectors will be in Paris on 31 May for the Contemporary African Art sale at Gaïa with several photographs by Malick SIDIBÉ, Alioune BA and Sammy Baloji in the catalogue, as well as an acrylic by Soly CISSÉ offered at €2,500 – €3,500 and an acrylic entitled Jumping Jack by OWUSU-ANKOMAH at €5,500 – €6,500.