African Art Gaining Ground

April 25, 2013


It is now possible to buy important African artworks as the market experiences an influx of unique ancient objects and sculptures that have been hidden in private collections since the beginning of the 20th century.

Many African works that are coming to auction are still relatively inexpensive compared with other genres and periods, so it is possible to acquire masterpieces without having to pay six-figure sums. That is not to say that certain African works have not been sold for over a million dollars, though: only last year, Christie’s sold a nine-foot-tall Nkundu reliquary figure for over $3.5 million in Paris, making it the most expensive African object sold at auction.

Christie’s holds African & Oceanic art sales twice each year in Paris, the “capital of African art,” in June and December, with single-owner sales held in both New York and Paris. The next sale is set for June 12 in Paris.

While there are a number of contemporary African artists currently enjoying success, such as the Ghanaian El Anatsui, whose exhibition “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works” is on at the Brooklyn Museum until August 4, it is the ancient tribal artworks and objects that fetch the highest prices. “These works are no longer made so they are very rare,” says Charles-Wesley Hourdé, Christie’s African and Oceanic art specialist. “Figurative objects, like those made by the Sanj Tribe in Gabon, and other everyday pieces that represent African life are very important historically.”

Much African art was collected at a time when other styles were dominating the art scene, so buyers were able to amass vast collections without serious competition. “In the future many of these pieces will come to the market, because as African works become more popular, collectors will begin to take advantage of this by selling when the prices are high. This is great news, as we will begin to see a greater number of what are considered to be pure examples of tribal art on display,” notes Mr. Hourdé.

Images provided by Christie’s

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