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Art fairs

Business booms for 1:54 as fair’s ‘African’ tag comes into question

It’s a testament to the popularity of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (6-8 May) that VIPs were sneaking in during the press view to get a head start with buying. “Collectors here are quick and they’re prepared,” says Erica Fenaroli, the manager of A Palazzo Gallery, from Brescia, Italy.

The gallery sold two works from the Golden Lion-winning Angolan artist Edson Chagas, from his photographic series Oikonomos (2014). Each had an asking price of $8,500. Works from the same series are currently on show at the Brooklyn Museum in Disguise: Masks and Global African Art (until 18 September).

The same show includes work by the Beninese artist Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, represented by the London-based dealer Jack Bell, who sold photographs from Agbodjelou’s Egungun series (2012) and his Demoiselles de Porto-Novo series (2012) for $6,500 and $8,600 respectively.

The fair is provoking debate about what African art is. “It would be nice to drop the ‘African’ from the fair title,” said the US gallerist Mariane Ibrahim. Her geo-cultural point was perhaps best summed up by Axis Gallery’s presentation—the New York gallery’s star work was Change (2010), a $75,000 striking wall piece designed in the US by the African-American artist Al Miller, dubbed the “father of Afrofuturism”, and made in Uganda out of discarded campaign materials from Barack Obama’s first term in office. The work was under offer as we went to press. Around 80% of the galleries had sold-out booths by the end of the fair.