Q&A: Who Are The Leading African Art Buyers?

Q&A: Who Are The Leading African Art Buyers?

Written by Maryanne Maina | From Luxury Business In Africa

Hannah O’Leary the Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art from Bonhams in London shared insights on the African art market and the African art buyers.

What is the highest price paid by an African collector for a painting?

The most expensive African painting sold at auction was the ‘Arab Priest’ by the South African artist Irma Stern, but that was purchased by a Museum in the Middle East for £3.1 million in March 2011. The second highest price was the ‘Bahora Girl’, also by Irma Stern, which was sold to a private South African collector for £2.4 million in October 2010.

South Africa has commanded the highest prices for African fine art for the past decade. Excluding South Africa, the highest price paid at auction for an African artwork by an African collector is £361,250, for the set of Daily Mirror sculptures by Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu in May 2013.

In 2014, what was the value of the African art market?

The total value of the international auction market for modern African art in 2014 was estimated at £20 million, of which Bonhams sold £7.6 million

Why has the African art market suddenly become the ‘hot cake’?

African art has had a small but dedicated following for several decades, but the rise of the market over the past few years mirrors the economic growth in the African continent, and in South Africa and Nigeria in particular. As individuals in those countries become wealthier they spend more money on art, and international speculators tend to follow these emerging markets. The same thing happened with contemporary Chinese and Indian art in the 2000s, and the focus is now on Africa and Latin America.

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What are the top three African art buying nationalities?

The market is dominated by the South Africans in first place and the Nigerians in second. Third place is quite a far way behind and is probably Senegal or Morocco.

Other countries of interest to African collectors include Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, DRC, Angola, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

What are the top three non-African markets buying art? What kind of African art do they mostly purchase? Contemporary pieces or tribal pieces?

Non-African collectors tend to be mostly British, American, or Middle Eastern. We also have a number of important collectors  – mostly France and Switzerland. They are a mix of private buyers and institutions, and they collect mainly contemporary art from across the continent. By ‘contemporary’ I mean 21st century art and avant garde, as opposed to the more traditional modern art that we offer, which is more often purchased by African collectors. Again, I cannot comment on the tribal market.

In 2012, you had a record price paid for a piece of art by a contemporary African artist was £541,250 in 2012 for New World Map by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui? What about 2014? What was the record price for artwork, and who was the artist?

The highest price of 2014 was another Irma Stern painting, ‘Zanzibar Woman’, which Bonhams London sold for £1,082,500 ($1.8million). Close behind was El Anatsui’s ‘Paths to the Okro Farm’ that sold for $1,445,000 in New York.

Do the buyers buy the art for love of art or for investment pieces?

I would say the vast majority of collectors buy for the love of art. Of course they also consider the resale value before investing in a piece, but they then enjoy it on their wall, as opposed to storing it in a bank vault.

In which European market can a buyer find the most desired art pieces?

London is undoubtedly the centre of the contemporary African art market, which makes sense as many wealthy Africans have homes here. Bonhams London is the only auction house that specialise in this field, with four auctions of modern and contemporary African art in 2015. The 1:54 African art fair is held every October at Somerset House, in the same week as the major international art fairs Frieze and Frieze Masters. There are also a number of art galleries in London that specialize in African art, such as Jack Bell, GAFRA, Tiwani, Tafeta and the October Gallery. Second to London would be Paris, which is home to a buoyant tribal art market.

Bonhams had an auction for contemporary African art that exceeded 1 million pounds. What drove the auction to this figure? An increase of buyers in comparison to the number of buyers in 2014?

Our Africa Now auctions in 2013 and 2014 both totaled over £1million. We have certainly seen an increase in the number of collectors bidding in these auctions but also in the amount those buyers are willing to spend as competition heats up.

How do they insure their artworks?

Most reputable insurance companies, such as Chubb, Hiscox or Axa, has a fine art department. We often assist clients and insurance companies by providing up to date valuations since the market is changing and growing year on year.

A few years ago, Angola became the first African country to win a prestigious Gold Lion at the Venice Biennale. Is there an increase in art work from Angola and buyers from Angola, at Bonhams?

We actually held a charity auction of Angolan art in May 2014 to benefit the LOGOS Project, which supports the youth of Angola. We sold 100%, to a mixture of Angolan and European buyers.

Maryanne Maina is a Kenyan luxury consultant and writer. She has an MBA in Luxury Brand Management from HEC Paris, School of Management.