While that might irk the purest at heart among some art collectors, it is a testament to the growing interest that African artists have spurred on the international markets.
British auction house Bonhams
has seen average lot prices increase 5-fold — to about $50,000 — since it started specializing in contemporary African art in 2007.
ArtHouse Contemporary Limited
, an auction house based in Lagos, Nigeria, notes that pieces bought at their very first auction, back in 2008, have increased up to 10-fold in value today.
The trend falls within a general rise in value for African art as a whole — Sotheby’s
, whose auctions currently combine African and Oceanic art, took in an “outstanding” $84 million
in 2014, compared to just $4 million a decade ago. They are now considering specialized sales for African art alone.
From nothing to millions
You’d be hard pressed to find a man who has witnessed the rise in recognition and value of African art better than Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who is reported to be Nigeria’s largest private art collector.
Ghanaian artist El Anatsui.
A bright future
At the moment, large international players such as Bonhams still hold their events in Europe or the U.S. “I think it’ll be a while before we start auctioning works in situ in Africa,” said Peppiatt.
“We have offices in Lagos and Johannesburg, I think it will remain that way for a bit. There’s also the advantage that there’s a whole structure of art dealing and art selling is here in London — the restorers, the conservators, the transport, the shippers, the packers. Everything is here and it’s very easy for people to buy and sell in London.”
Yet. ArtHouse Contemporary, who hold their auctions in Lagos, are noticing encouraging local trends: “There’s much more awareness,” said Chellaram. “People all over Nigeria and Africa today are looking towards art, and in fact Kenya has opened an auction house, Uganda’s having an auction this year, so there is a bit of a domino effect in Africa,” she continued. “Auctions can provide a platform to showcase African art to the world.”
And according to Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who’s planning to open a private art museum in Lagos, the fundamental role of art should not be overshadowed by the investment appeal: “I don’t believe collections should just be about collecting and enjoying art. I think it should go beyond just collecting — it should go into the element of propagating the culture or the heritage of the people and way of life of the people.
“Not only that, it should finally go to the extent of creating a legacy.”