Contemporary art Fairs United Kingdom

African artists get overdue focus in London this week

As the art world globalises, new names and galleries are emerging

Meschac Gaba's La traversée et le capitaine (Horloges des indépendances) (detail), 2010, at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo: courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

There is more art made by African artists on show in London than ever before. Visitors to the capital during Frieze week will see work by artists such as Adel Abdessemed, Meschac Gaba and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at galleries including David Zwirner (FL, C12), Tanya Bonakdar (FL, C10) and Corvi-Mora (FL, D15). For the first time, two South African galleries—Stevenson (FL, F16) and the Goodman Gallery (FL, H8)—are participating in Frieze London, with the latter also showing in the Spotlight section of Frieze Masters (S3). Several African artists also feature in Spotlight, including the Beninese sculptor Georges Adéagbo at Frittelli Arte Contemporanea of Florence (FM, S15) and the Cairo-born feminist artist Nil Yalter at Valencia’s Espaivisor (FM, S5).

Beyond Regent’s Park, there is a new fair for contemporary African art, 1:54, which opens to the public at Somerset House today (until 20 October). The Auction Room, an online auctioneer, is due to launch its first sale of African art on 18 October, with estimates for the works ranging from £1,000 to £75,000. “I’ve never seen a week where so many black artists are on show in London, whether contemporary African artists or part of the diaspora,” says the art adviser Bomi Odufunade.

“Europe and the US are tired of what they’re seeing and are looking for new ideas,” says Joost Bosland, a partner at Stevenson, which is presenting work by Gaba (whose prices range from €15,000 to the low six figures) and the South African artist Robin Rhode (€50,000-€70,000). Many artists working in Africa today are the first generation to come of age after the colonial era, when artistic production was suppressed, censored or stifled. “In South Africa, at least, there’s a sense that the whole 20th century of art history is happening right now,” Bosland says.

Institutional support has encouraged the growth in interest. Last year, the Tate established an African art acquisitions committee, which has already acquired around 30 works. We understand that the group will meet this week to discuss future acquisitions, although the museum declined to confirm this. “For an institution that is trying to have an international collection, it seemed odd not to include works from an entire continent,” says Fiona Fox, who helped to establish the committee and is now a director at the Nairobi-based Circle Arts Agency.

Most agree that an African art market cannot be built by the UK alone. “You can’t sustain a vibrant community of active artists in a country unless they are supported by local collectors, institutions and governments,” says the collector Robert Devereux, who founded the African Arts Trust. The more works that are sold to international collectors, the fewer that remain at home to inspire the next generation. “Right now, we have to look to cities like Frankfurt to remember historically significant art from Kenya,” Fox says.

Because few African governments invest in art, private money has sought to fill the gap. In South Africa, two major collectors, including Gordon Schachat, are rumoured to be developing contemporary art museums. In Kenya—a country with very little arts infrastructure—the Circle Art Agency has organised the first ever auction of East African Modern and contemporary art, scheduled for 5 November. In addition, the Kenya Museum Society’s annual art fair returns to Nairobi (25 to 27 October) after a seven-year hiatus.

Jack Bell, a London-based dealer of African art, describes the development of the African art market as “a slow burn”. He and other experts doubt that it will spur the kind of speculation evident in other emerging markets, such as China and India.

“There will inevitably be some element of speculation, but… prices for many excellent contemporary African artists have been artificially low—a factor of global prejudice as much as anything else,” says Ed Cross, a specialist at the Auction Room. “What we are beginning to see is an upwards correction in pricing as the market realises their importance—as do their own communities.”

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18 Oct 13
11:44 CET


we hope someone will pick up the scrabbled art from the local art scene and open it wide to the international standards

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