African Art Hotter than Gold

The value of contemporary African art is skyrocketing prices and demand from investors worldwide. Art pieces bought back in 2008 have increased up to 10-fold in value today.

“You could buy a piece of good art for 20,000 Naira [about $100 at current conversion rates]. Today it would sell for millions,” Prince Yemisi Shyllon, reported to be Nigeria’s largest private art collector commented.

A leading factor of the increasing demand and value of African art is the exponential growth of African economies and the rising wealth of the middle class. More and more Africans are investing and spending their time and money in appreciating art and their culture. As we’ve all learnt in AP Economics, as the demand increases and the demand curve shifts to the right, the price undoubtedly increases.

These investments made in Africa have also caught the attention of the global market. Contemporary African artists have started fueling international exhibitions as their works continue to rise in fame. And this domino effect of holding auctions has raised much awareness especially in Europe and the US.

According to director of contemporary African Art auctions at Bonhams, Giles Peppiat, there are two principal reasons for this sudden awareness of African art: “Until about 15 years ago there was no email, there was virtually no internet and you can’t do these sales without modern communication. I also think it has to do with the general globalization of the art world. People are now much more used to seeing other cultures’ art at auction.”

These are some of the pieces that have been sold at unbelievable prices:

‘Senufo Female’ Statue
An extremely rare ‘Senufo Female’ Statue curved by Ivory Coast-based artist, Master of Sinasso, sold for a record $12 million in November 2014. It was part of a $41.6 million worth of collection sold by an ambitious African art collector, Myron Kunin, at the Sotheby’s in New York.

‘Muminia Lega’
The Muninia mask, a previously unseen masterpiece, was auctioned off at Sotheby’s France for about $4.4 million, one of the highest price in history for an African mask.

Through these auctions, Africa has its golden opportunity to showcase African art to the world, as the fundamental role of art should not be overshadowed despite the investment appeal.

Africa’s booming contemporary art market is without doubt on its way to creating a legacy, and spectators are looking forward to what more can be presented to the world.

– Hyun Jung Choi (’16)

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