Value of contemporary African art rising despite the impact of Covid

Updated: Sep 15, 2021



The secondary market for African modern and contemporary art has seen a recovery since the impact of Covid-19 on the art market in first six months of 2020. This is according to the findings in two new reports released by Corrigall & Co last week.


The findings in the two reports, titled African Modern and Contemporary Art Auctions 2020/2021, are based on in-depth analysis of data pertaining to 45 auctions that took place from January 2020 to June 2021. Figures from the first six months of 2020 are compared with those of 2021.


As the focus was on gauging the temperature of the African art market only auctions dedicated to the sale of African art were under the microscope. These auctions were conducted in Africa and Europe by the following auction houses; Sotheby's (London), Bonhams (London, New York), Artcurial (Paris, Marrakesh, Piasa (Paris), Strauss & Co (Cape Town, Joburg), Aspire Art Auctions (Cape Town, Joburg), Compagnie Marocaine des Oeuvres et Objets d'Art (Casablanca) and Arthouse (Lagos). Over 9000 lots were analysed.


The reports reveal that the turnover of these African auctions in the first six months of 2021 increased by 22% compared to that of 2020.


“This is a particularly surprising finding, when you look at the rate of recovery for the major auction houses in the global art market but also given the fact that the number of lots sold in 2021 in the African sales was not particularly higher than in 2020. The overall sell-through rate in this market has decreased by 5% in 2021 as well,” observes Mary Corrigall, founder and lead researcher at Corrigall & Co.


The increase in revenue or turnover in the first six months of 2021 in the African art market can be attributed to the increase in the average value of the works that were sold, according to Corrigall.



The average value of contemporary African art has shot up by a staggering 57% since 2020.

“Naturally, this increase isn’t experienced equally in all the art capitals where African art is valued and traded and relates to the particulars of the artworks in this time period. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that all contemporary artworks are 57% more valuable than they were last year. What it does mean is that artworks that have value in this market are fetching substantially higher prices than they were a year ago,” says Corrigall. The report focussed on the Contemporary African Art Auctions 2020/2021, digs into where in the African art ecosystem the value of art is increasing and why this has occurred at a time when sales are thought to be under pressure.


The conditions and changes occurring with the sale of contemporary African art – defined as being produced after 1980 - is not necessarily echoed with modern works. As such Corrigall & Co, were keen to produce two reports which analysed contemporary and modern together but also in isolation.



The turnover for modern African works exceeds that of contemporary despite the fact that almost all the houses, barring Strauss & Co (South Africa) and Marocaine des Oeuvres et Objets d'Art (Morocco), offer more contemporary lots and the demand and value for contemporary works appears to be much higher.


“It should be expected that high sums can be demanded for valued modern works. Yet despite the fact that the value of contemporary African art is increasing it is disappointing that only a very few works by living African artists command high figures. This seems to suggest that there is still much room for the growth in value of contemporary art, which is extremely positive for the African art market,” says Corrigall.


The reports offer insight into which auction houses have high sell-through rates for modern and contemporary as well as offering an aggregated list of not only the works which attracted the highest sums during the January 2020 to June 2021 period but those artists whose works are repeatedly going under the hammer for more than the high-estimates set for them.


Irma Stern’s Arab with Dagger (1945) fetched just over €1,million at a Bonham’s London sale earlier in 2021 while the highest figure fetched for a contemporary work in the same time period was El Anatsui’s Vumedi, which fetched €1,2million at a Sotheby’s sale in October last year.


Each of the reports offer analysis of high-selling artists on the secondary market, which include Irma Stern, Mohamed Melehi, Ben Ewonwu, William Kentridge, Chéri Cherin and Aboudia. Not surprisingly it was found that art by Kentridge accounted for the highest turnover of contemporary art in the time period under study. Similarly, it was established that works by Aboudia have consistently exceeded high estimates set for them.


The artists whose works are doing well in domestic sales in the African art capitals in South Africa, Morocco and Nigeria are mapped in the reports.


If you missed the launch you can watch it here





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