London’s Spring Sales Review

London's Spring Sales Review

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With buyers’ increasing interest in acquiring contemporary and vintage African art, the Spring auction season is peppered with African-themed sales and manifests a strong appetite for African works.

On March 19 this year, a very successful South African Sale was held as every year at Bonhams in London. The sale had several highlights including Zanzibar Woman (1945) by Irma Stern selling at £1,082,500. The top ten paintings in this sale included Istanbul by Stern that sold for £326,500, three paintings by Alexis Prellers, two works by Pierneefs, then works by Alfred Neville Lewis, George Pemba and Stella Shawzin. New world record prices were set for Stella Shawzin with Balancing Figures II that sold for £76,900 and for Neville Lewis with The Peach Pickers. Franschhoek sold at £56,250. Bonhams holds the world record prices for the most significant South African artists’ works, and this year the South African art sale made over £2.75million, emphasizing the strength of the market for South African art.

Every year in May since 2009, Bonhams holds the notable Africa Now, a unique sale of contemporary African art that no other established auction house has held so far. Africa Now on May 21, 2014 will feature the work of artists Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo and Ben Osawe amongst other distinguished Nigerian artists as a celebration of Nigeria’s first century anniversary. Among other top lots are the painting Princes of Mali (1976) by Enwonwu with a pre-sale estimate of £80,000 to 120,000, The Flight (1972) by Yusuf Adebayo Grillo with an estimate of £50,000 -80,000) and Sacred Secrets Unfolding by El Anatsui with a pre-sale estimate of £40,000 to 60,000. Giles Peppiatt, Head of African Art at Bonhams says: “A lot of people are looking at the market for contemporary African art, thinking it might be the next China where an interest in art collecting has exploded with Chinese and international collectors snapping up the best work of leading Chinese artists. We are hoping that in a couple of years, the contemporary African art market niche will be turning over as much as £10m per sale.” Buyers tend to come from the expat Nigerian community in Britain, as well as from South African, British, American, French, German, Italian, Belgian and Irish buyers. Works of art for this sale came from South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Benin Republic.

The Auction Room’s May 28 evening online sale of The African Contemporary Photography Auction is also expecting fierce bidding on the top lots such as Uche James-Iroha’s Masked (2012) with an estimate of £1,800 to 2,400, Justin Dingwall in collaboration with Thando Hopa’s Albus: Three Marys (Red and Blue) (2013) with an estimate of £2,800 to 3,400 and Patrick Willocq, I Am Wale Respect Me: Epanza Makita, Batwalé (2013) with an estimate from £1,800 to 2,400. The sale will also include other works from well-established artists such as Malik Sidibe, JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Gideon Mendel, and from many more emerging artists. Ed Cross, Specialist of African Art at the Auction Room, says, “We are working with multiple consignors – many private individuals – as well as cultural bodies such as LagosPhoto, which will be consigning works on behalf of several photographers. Other consignors are dotted around continental Europe and the UK, and many from Africa itself – such as some of the unrepresented photographers who are consigning their work directly to the Auction Room.”

On May 5, ArtHouse Contemporary, the Lagos Nigeria based auction house will hold its 12th evening sale of modern and contemporary African art. Within the consignments are works from artists like Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ben Osawe, Victor Ehikhamenor, George Osodi and Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga. The highlight of the May sale is a panel Cultural Industrial Economic (1978-81) made by Bruce Onobrakpeya. ArtHouse specializes in the works of artists from West Africa, particularly Nigeria and the Diaspora, but offers works of African artists from the entire continent as well. Since 2007, the auction has been held twice each year, one in Spring and one in the Autumn.

It is an impressive result for the contemporary African art market and acknowledges the rise of dedicated sales with works sold at higher prices than in the past. This might be an indication that contemporary African art is becoming the new trend and a booming market.


Romina Provenzi is a London-based Italian art journalist and writer. She has lived and worked in Italy, The Netherlands and London, and has travelled extensively while researching local art scenes such as Cuba, Brazil, Egypt and South Africa. Her writing blends an intimate understanding of contemporary art with keen insights on the international art market, drawn from her in-depth experience in sales and business development. Her articles have appeared in several magazines including Hart International, Printmaking Today, ArtInvestor, ArtHub, and ArtInfo, and her work can be found online at www.rominaprovenzi.blogspot.co.uk

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