Auction HousesPeople 17-05-2017

The highs (and lows) of Sotheby’s debut African Art Sale

It was a premier long-awaited. Sotheby’s "Modern and Contemporary African Art" sale took place last night, May 16. In the wake of successful art fairs such as 1:45, the art world has witnessed a surge in attention paid to the continent and its diaspora, creating a certain air of pressure in the auction house.

Of the 115 lots offered, 79 were sold. Whilst this might seem like a mixed result, Sotheby's should be fairly satisfied, bringing in a total of £2.77 million, with fees — corresponding more or less with the low estimate of £2.8 million.

However, hitting the target was predominantly down to some very successful successes: Whilst the work of El Anatsui, Earth Developing more Roots, dominated the evening, bringing in £728,500, the sums realized by Chéri Samba was particularly notable.

The Congolese painter saw four of his works feature among the top 15 lots, with some far exceeding expectations. The Woman conducting the World sold for £32,500 with fees, which was four times the low-end estimate. This was also the case for Collège de la Sagesse, sold for £38,750, at almost 5 times the work's lower estimate!

Hannah O'Leary spoke with H A P P E N I NG, revealing: "We are careful to include works by artists who we believe have longevity in the secondary market, which have exhibited internationally and have a strong following among private collectors. And very young artists were proposed in London.”


Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga, ELONGATED HEAD (2014) Courtesy Christie's


The youngest artist to debut at Sotheby's was Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga, born in 1991 and represented by October Gallery in London. His piece Elongated Head (2014), estimated between £5,000 and £8,000, sold for a staggering £11,250, with fees.

Hannah O'Leary, estimated that "the proportion of African buyers was around 50%", with others coming from a range of countries including "Australia, Mexico or Hong Kong."

Another success was that of Nicholas Hlobo, born in 1975 in Cape Town, South Africa, who is represented by Lehmann Maupin. His work Untitled, was estimated at £8,000-12,000, but ended up reaching £60,000 with fees. A work by the artist was presented in 2014 at Christie's in NYC, but found no taker.




Among the young artists who also performed well, was Mikhael Subotzky (1981), winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2015, with his four photographs sold at prices ranging from £3,750 to £8,125. The sale of a photograph by Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou (1965), Untitled (Demoiselles de Port-Novo Series), estimated at £4,000-6,000, went for £12,500, with fees.

Unfortunately the young Zimbabwean Virginia Chihota (1983) didn't see her drawing Raising your Own (Kurera Wako) find buyer on its first show at auction.

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