giovedì 14 agosto 2008


(Bloomberg) -- Africa is the best-kept secret in the contemporary-art market, dealers say.

Works by the artists El Anatsui and Romuald Hazoume have sold to U.S. and European museums and private collectors for as much as $450,000 at the October Gallery, London, and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. At auction, neither artist has fetched more than $10,000, according to Artnet, which tracks salesroom results.

``African art is still mainly a gallery-based market,'' said Elisabeth Lalouschek, artistic director of the October Gallery. ``It has yet to become part of the international auction scene.''

Works by a dozen of the continent's leading contemporary artists are on show at the gallery to coincide with publication of ``Angaza Afrika: African Art Now,'' by Chris Spring, curator of the British Museum's African galleries.

El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor whose hangings made out of thousands of flattened metal bottle tops were lauded by critics at last year's Venice Biennale, is represented by a new 12 foot-wide ``cloth'' -- as his works are known -- reserved at $300,000, Lalouschek said.

The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the Pompidou Center, Paris, are among the museums that have bought El Anatsui cloths, according to Spring.

``I have quite a long waiting list of buyers,'' Lalouschek said. ``I get e-mailed requests every day.''

Three photographs of motorbike-riding gas-smugglers, issued in an edition of six, by Benin-based Hazoume, are priced at 3,000 pounds ($5,900) each. In 2006, the British Museum paid the October Gallery 100,000 pounds for Hazoume's slave ship installation, ``La Bouche du Roi,'' made using more than 300 black plastic gas cans, according to an annual report published in 2007 by the Art Fund.

`Big Stuff'

``It's big stuff for the right names,'' said Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at the London-based auction house Bonhams. ``But trying to develop the auction market for African contemporary art is hard work.'' Gallery prices don't automatically translate into high prices at auction, he said.

``There isn't a large enough stable of good artists, and there just isn't enough money in Africa at the moment,'' he said.

Africa has just four billionaires, according to Forbes Magazine's 2008 Rich List.

In January, the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York's Chelsea held a sell-out show of 13 bottle-top cloths by El Anatsui, priced at $125,000 to $450,000, said Claude Simard, co-owner of the gallery.

``Nobody's putting major works by El Anatsui up for auction,'' Simard said. ``It's not like the market for Indian or Chinese art. Collectors buy these works because they love them, not as an investment.''

Jumbo Work

El Anatsui will produce a new cloth for Shainman, measuring up to 30 foot wide, that will be exhibited at the Art Basel fair, previewing on June 3, he said.

``The market will develop eventually,'' Jean Pigozzi, the world's leading collector of African contemporary art, said in a telephone interview. ``But it really has to come from local collectors, or if rich African Americans start to buy this material, it could also become big.''

Pigozzi, who lives in Switzerland, said he has amassed more than 10,000 works of African contemporary art over 20 years.

``Africa is the last place the auction houses haven't got their teeth into,'' said the London-based dealer John Martin, director of the Gulf Art Fair, in a telephone interview. ``The galleries don't want to release works by the top internationally established names to the salerooms, and the people who buy these works don't need to be reassured by high auction prices.''

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)

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