OVER the last four years African art value has risen by a whopping 200%, this according to Giles Peppiatt, Bonham’s director of African Art.
In an interview with Mail and Guardian Africa, Giles explained that “when [Bonhams] first started offering Modern African Art, about six years ago, the price levels were modest. But prices have risen as collectors [have] become engaged in the market…offering the work in the international market in London has shown “western/northern” collectors the quality of this work and they have responded with enthusiasm [which has in turn] had a dramatic effect on the prices.”
This was confirmed with the recent staggering £870,000 price (currently about $1.26m) achieved for the latest Irma Stern painting offered in London; “Arab in Black”. The picture that helped to save Nelson Mandela’s life as it was once sold to help fund his legal defence.
Bonhams, a privately owned British auction house that was founded in 1793, has had a key role in pushing the prices higher, having set the world record prices for all the major African and South African artists.
Peppiatt said after the sale of the “Arab in Black”, that “once again [Bonhams’] top prices command all others. The flow of art in and out of London makes this the only place to sell if you want to achieve the best prices, record prices…In the past nine years Bonhams has sold in excess of R1billion (more than $60million) worth of South African art.”
But it’s not just South African art that is dominating the ranks. While the art-market in South Africa acts as a key springboard for the larger African market, Giles said that the African countries producing the most valuable piece include “Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Angola and Senegal”, and that the artists to watch out for include El Anatsui, Robert Hodgins, Yusuf Grillo and Gerard Sekoto.
Also, in terms of those buying the art at auction, the buyers are equally spread between Africa (mostly South Africa) and existing collectors from Europe, the USA and the Far East.
This is good news for Africa’s vast pool of artists, but how to make it big?
Giles says that “certainly they have to be creating work that is unique, authentic and technically adept. They then need to have perseverance to gain representation with a reputable gallery. A good dose of luck along the way will also help.”