Famed Art Auctioneer Phillips May Open A South Africa Office

By Dana Sanchez Published: February 17, 2016, 9:36 pm
Detail from art by Sandra Kriel, Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch. Photo: Dana SanchezDetail from art by Sandra Kriel, Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch. Photo: Dana Sanchez

U.S. art expert Arnold Lehman, adviser to international fine art auctioneers Phillips, traveled recently to South Africa to scout out the visual arts scene and help decide if Phillips should participate in it, BusinessDayLive reported.

Lehman’s first impressions were of an impressive South African art infrastructure that has disseminated information about South African art and placed it prominently in international art circles. “There is a great vibrancy, not only from young artists,” he told BusinessDayLive. “There are older, more established artists doing things that are equally vibrant.”

While modern and contemporary African art is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international buyers, it’s just “at the beginning of its structural development,” according to Jean Philippe Aka.

A Paris-based art dealer, Aka is editor in chief of the Africa Art Market Report 2014, a review published in December 2015 that took two years to assemble. It’s the first public accounting of its kind on the African art market, according to ArtNet.

The study includes regional and country-by-country highlights, and identifies structural and macroeconomic rationale for the continent’s newfound artistic energy.

Here’s a few examples of African art being showcased outside the continent:

Right now, African art and design are on display in Spain’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao until Feb. 21. “Making Africa” is then scheduled to go to the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona from March 22 to July 31.

In New York, the annual Armory Show (March 3 -6) has an Africa focus with three of the 14 participating galleries from South Africa, and the rest from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya; Lagos, Nigeria; Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire; London, Berlin and Seattle.

The global contemporary art world is excited about the upcoming opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa at Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, scheduled for later this year, said Hannah O’Leary, head of South African art at international auction house Bonhams, in a BusinessDayLive interview.

The museum will house German businessman and collector Jochen Zeitz’s collection — considered by many to be the leading collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Zeitz is underwriting the costs of running the museum and providing a budget for the museum to acquire new important artworks over time to stay on the edge of contemporary cultural production, according to his Zietz Foundation.

“When people in New York or London talk about contemporary art out of Africa, the focus is on South Africa,” Lehman said. “South African art is getting to be viewed as an important aspect of the art world.”

Lehman visited as many Johannesburg galleries and museums as he could, including the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Apartheid Museum, the Museum of African Design and the Maboneng Precinct including artists’ studios and the Museum Africa, BusinessDayLive reported.

“I have found everything and everyone optimistic about art, and with a great deal of vibrancy,” he said.

Lehman said he was particularly taken with Arts on Main and the Museum of African Design in Maboneng. “I’m from Brooklyn, and I had a feeling of it being a little bit of home. The ambiance was so diverse.”

Phillips is deciding whether or not to open an office in South Africa, and how it will interact with the South African art scene, according to BusinessDayLive.

Phillips has headquarters in New York and London, with offices in Berlin, Geneva, Moscow, and Paris. The fine arts auctioneer conducts sales in contemporary art, photos, editions, design, and jewelry. It also does special exhibits and private sales. The company was founded in London in 1796.

Lehman’s South African trip included a visit to Cape Town to explore its artistic community and to visit the Cape Town Art Fair (Feb. 19-21).

“There has to be a good economic reason to establish ourselves here, but I can say there are a lot of people looking at South African art,” Lehman said. “I wasn’t at the Venice Biennale (last year), but I am told South Africa had a positive showing there. Africa is getting viewed as an important new aspect of the art world and South Africa is certainly a part of that.”

In evaluating Africa’s art market, Aka’s Africa Art Market Report considers new auction records, the number of new museums being built, increase in sales at art fairs devoted to African art, and—most crucial for the future of the African art market—the dramatic rise in the number of homegrown millionaires, ArtNet reported.

Sales for Bonhams’ “Africa Now” sale in May 2014 were up 47 percent from the previous year. Cape Town’s 65,000-square-foot Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, opening 2017, is one of the new museums planned. The number of biennales grew from seven to 15 over the last five years, and the 2014 FNB Joburg Art Fair recorded a 30 percent increase in sales from 2013, according to ArtNet.

ArtNet covers six African auction houses holding regular sales. These include Circle Art Agency, Kenya; Stephan Welz & Co., South Africa; Russell Kaplan Auctioneers, South Africa; Strauss & Co., South Africa; and CMOOA, Morocco.

Aka’s report appears to significantly minimize the importance of auction results in gathering its Top 100 list of African artists, weighting other information instead, according to ArtNet.

According to U.K- and South Africa-based consultancy New World Wealth, there are now about 165,000 millionaires in Africa with a combined net wealth of more than $660 billion—about 28 percent of the continent’s total individual wealth.

Africa’s number of dollar millionaires increased by 145 percent compared with a global average of 45 percent from 2000 to 2014. This rise in wealth clearly benefits the expansion of a luxury goods market—of which the arts sector is often considered a subset, according to ArtNet.

South Africa, for example, has 48,800 millionaires, followed by Egypt with 23,000, Nigeria with 15,900 and Kenya with 9,000. But, according to Africa Renewal Magazine, the boom in African millionaires has not been limited merely to the continent’s economic powerhouses. Ethiopia, long considered among the world’s poorest countries, has doubled its dollar millionaires, from 1,300 in 2007 to 2,700 in 2014. The net result of all these commas and zeroes? For the African art world, beaucoup millionaires could very well translate into a massive expansion of the continent’s art market.

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