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African Art Auctions, Europe, October 2020

 African focused auctions in London and Paris in October, staged by Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Piasa are important annual events to the African art market as they offer an opportunity to gauge how the market for art produced by Africans  is faring. African-based galleries and artists depend on European collectors and these auctions provide immediate insight into this collector base. With the economic and social fall-out of Covid-19 impacting on the art market, an analysis of these records has become pertinent as they offer immediate and tangible insight into confidence levels, the kind of artists, works and price levels that are finding traction.  


This report presents in-depth analysis via graphs and interviews of the three sales (listed below), comparing the results to the those from the same auctions  in 2019. In this way the report presents the shifts that have occurred in the last year.


In October 2020 three auctions took place to coincide with 1;54 Contemporary African Art fair in London, which manifested as a live event pared with online platforms facilitating sales. Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary African sale took place online from 2 to 9 October. Bonhams equivalent was live at their London office on 8 October. Piasa's sale took place on 7 October at their Paris office, although, as with Bonhams, online bidding was accommodated. This report looks at the results of these auctions collectively, isolating the patterns and realities they present.


The global auction market has taken a huge knock, with an estimated loss in turnover in the first quarter of 49% (this pertains to the major auction houses Sotheby’s, Christies and Phillips). How has the secondary market for African art fared? Has the average price of artworks in this category also decreased and which artists works are exceeding estimates? Is there a price barrier? Are modern works still fetching the high prices they did earlier in the year?


These are some of the questions this new report is aimed to address. Results are contextualised and complemented by commentary from the auctioneers in question.

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