Who said African art did not pay bills? It may have been true in years gone by that art in Africa was not exactly the most lucrative career out there but the following ten contemporary African art pieces redefined the whole dynamic. They made money in one auction that some of us can only dream of. In no particular order, these are some of the big sharks of African art and indeed, world art.
“Senufo Female” Statue
Records tumbled in November 2014 when this extremely rare “Senufo female” Statue curved by Ivorian artist Master of Sinasso sold for $12 million. It was in Myron Kunin’s collection sold at the Sotheby’s in New York.
Fang Ngil Mask
The Fang Ngil Mask, a 19th century antiquity by the Gabonese Fang people; also called the Gorilla mask was auctioned for a cool $7.5 million. AFK Insider says the mask was used by men during the initiation of members and the persecution of wrong-doers. In 2006, the Mask persecuted records, fetching the ridiculous $7.5 million. This was a nod of respect to African culture in its purest, unadulterated form.
Irma Stern, the acclaimed South African painter‘s golden touch made sure this precious gem of art was bought for no less than a record breaking $4.8 million in March 2011. Stern painted the Arab Priest in 1945 after acknowledging that she was “conquering new ground for my work and development. I am painting dramatic pictures, compositions and faces”. Who knew the dramatic could haul in almost $5 million?
Of this Stern painting, Forward says, “Bahora Girl, an oil on canvas, depicts a sultry-looking, young Zanzibri Indian slouched casually in her bedroom.” It fetched a staggering $3.78 million on the London, Bonham auction floors resulting in revitalised interest in South African art in October 2010. The Arab Priest may have benefited from the resulting headwind.
This art piece, referred to by Mail and Guardian as a “previously unseen masterpiece” fetched $4.4 million, the second highest for an African mask. An interesting fact about Lega masks is unlike other tribal masks, they were attached to the body or carried in the hand rather than worn on the face. To add to the interesting facts is the more than $4 million haul.
Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation
The painter, Julie Mehretu, an Ethiopian born abstract painter who now lives in the United States of America says of her work, “My aim is to have a picture that appears one way from a distance almost like a cosmology, city or universe from afar – but then when you approach the work, the overall image shatters into numerous other picture, stories and events.” The piece is ink and acrylic on canvas and sold for $4.6 million.
Marlene Dumas’ depiction of the apartheid era through a painting of a class in South Africa was good for a $3.3 million in 2005. When it was sold, it snatched the record for highest price for a living female artist at an auction. Dumas’ “Feather Stola” had pushed her into the spotlight after it had been sold for $307,663 which was more than double its high estimate.
Fang Mabea Statue
2014 was the Fang Mabea Statue’s turn to shine raking in $5.17 million. The statue was previously owned by Felix Feneon and Jacques Kerchache who were major lobbyists for the recognition of African art in Europe. The $5.17 million is a testament of their hard work and resilience.
Mahmoud Said’s painting sold at an auction in Dubai for $2 million yet it had been estimated to be worth $150,000 and $200,000. The painting shows a veiled woman carrying water and two men and a white donkey drawing water from a well. It became the most expensive work of art by an Arab artist ever to be auctioned by Christie’s Dubai.
The Kota figure
The 66cm tall Kota figure, in June 2015 fetched around $6 million in Paris which was not good enough to dethrone the Senufo statue but still made waves around the world. The figure comes from the collection of William Rubin, former director of painting and sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
African art has been raking in millions as the above pieces prove but large international players still hold their evens in Europe and the United States of America. Speaking to CNN, Giles Peppiatt, director of contemporary African Art auctions at Bonhams said, “I think it will be a while before we start auctioning works in situ to Africa. We have offices in Lagos and Johannesburg, I think it will remain that way for a bit.”
Though they may not have events in Africa, they now know just how important Africa is to art.