sabato 7 giugno 2008

African Art sales: a continent out of the shade

Colin Gleadell on African art
Angaza Afrika (Swahili for "shed light on Africa") is the title of an exhibition and a new publication about contemporary African art. So is someone tipping African art as the next big thing?

The book, which illustrates 350 works by 70 artists, has been compiled by Chris Spring, curator of the African galleries at the British Museum, who began to introduce contemporary art to the museum's collection in 1995. First there was a commission from the Nigerian-born, UK-educated sculptress Sokari Douglas Camp, followed by the acquisition of drawings and ceramics by Kenyan-born Magdalene Odundo, who also lives in the UK.

The African galleries in the British Museum opened in 2001, and Spring spread his wings further afield, showing the work of the Egyptian Chant Avedissian, El Anatsui from Ghana, and the Benin artist Romuald Hazoumé.

The museum now owns about 100 works by contemporary African artists. The idea, says Spring, is to display them within the ethnographical collection to challenge the notion that African art is simply tribal masks and carvings. Hazoumé's La Bouche du Roi, a boat-shaped installation assembled with empty plastic oil canisters, was considered an appropriate exhibit for Tate Modern.

Perhaps unanticipated by Spring is the way the market for these artists has grown. Odundo's pots were selling at auction last year for as much £27,000 each. Spring says they can now command between £50,000 and £60,000.


A work by Avedissian, who paints on recycled cardboard, sold for a record £36,000 at Christie's in Dubai last year. El Anatsui's wall hangings, made with metallic bottle tops that fold and crease like cloth, were acquired for the British Museum by the Art Fund when they cost about £10,000 each. Major new works by El Anatsui and by Hazoumé can now sell for up to £250,000 each. (MORE...)

'Agaza Africa: African Art Now' is published by Laurence King on May 19

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