Artist Dossier: Wangechi Mutu
by Ladun Ogidan
In recent times, African art has experienced unprecedented growth with the establishment of art fairs focused on art from the continent such as AKAA (Also Known As Africa) and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London, which has expanded to New York since 2015 and to Marrakech in February 2018. We have also seen major art fairs dedicating some of their editions to Africa (Art Paris Art Fair 2017 and TheArmory Show 2016) to further underscore the strong international demand for African art.
In addition, major auction houses have begun to pay attention to this shift by also committing their sales to African art. For example, the French auction houses, PIASA, Cornette de Saint–Cyr and Artcurial, have committed to the promotion of contemporary African art via dedicated sales. London’s auction houses Phillips, Bonhams and Sotheby’s have also joined the movement by establishing modern and contemporary African art departments and an increasing number of specialised sales. For example, Sotheby’s first London sale of Modern & Contemporary African Art, held on May 16, 2017, and generated £2,733,714.
Among the most influential artists working today and contributing to the current global attention on African art is the Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu whose workexplores issues of gender, race, war, colonialism, global consumption, and the eroticisation of the Black female body. Referencing artists such as Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Chris Ofili, and Romare Bearden, as well as art-historical movements like Surrealism, Mutu works mainly on paper and is best known for her provocative collages depicting hybridisedfemale figures—part human, animal, plant, and machine—in fantastical landscapes that are simultaneously intimidating, alluring andempowered by their survivalist adaptation to atrocity, immunised and ‘improved’ by horror and victimisation. The artist encourages audiences to consider these mythical worlds as places for cultural, psychological, and socio-political exploration and transformation.
Her highest selling work A Dragon Kiss Always Ends in Ashes, 2007, mixed media (ink, paint, mixed media, plant material, plastic pearls)/mylar, 135.3 x 257.5cm, was previously estimated between £113,713 – £151,617 and sold for £217,950 (buyer’s premium included) at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on November 16, 2017.
Other high sellers include; A Little Thought for All Ya’ll Who’re Thinking of Beating Around the Bush, 2004, mixed media (ink, acrylic, sequins, faux bois contact paper, printed paper collage)/mylar, 106.6 x 129.5cm, with a pre-sale estimate between £100,000 and £150,000 but sold for £204,500 (buyer’s premium included) at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale in London on February 7, 2008; How to Stab Oneself in the Back, 2004, mixed media (sequins, ink, acrylic, contact paper, photo collage)/mylar, 203.2 x 108cm, previously estimated between £90,867 – £136,300 and sold for £208,237 (buyer’s premium included) at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction in New York on November 17, 2017; and Untitled, 2004, mixed media (ink, acrylic, sequins, faux bois, paper)/mylar, 190.5 x 104.1cm with pre-sale estimates of £87,174 – £121,075, sold for £186,455 (buyer’s premium included) at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Sale in New York on November 14, 2007.
In 2018, Wangechi Mutu was rated as #211 in a report of the top 500 contemporary artists for the period from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, based on a figure of £600,856.69 achieved from the sale of 11 lots with £218,270 as the highest selling. The artist’s turnover from July 2018 to present day records merely £103,135 in total, realised from the sale of only 6 lots (25% bought-in, prints excluded), her highest turnovers having occurred in 2007 with £481,755 and in 2008 with £479,429.
Wangechi Mutu has participated in several significant shows including; the inaugural exhibition of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town (2017 – 2018); 56th International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Venice Biennale (2015); the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2017 and 2014); Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); Studio Museum in Harlem (2017); Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2016- 2017); Fondazione Prada, Milan (2016); Yale University School of Art, New Haven (2016); Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco (2016); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2016); SITE Santa Fe (2016]; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, North Carolina (2013); Grand Palais, Paris (2015); Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco (2015); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humblebaek (2015); Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC (2015 and 2014); and Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt (2014).
Wangechi Mutu has also received recognition and several important awards such as; Artist Honoree, African Art Awards Dinner, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. (2018); Artist Honoree, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Gala, Washington D.C. (2017); National Artist Award, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Aspen, Colorado (2017); Cultural Leadership Award, American Federation for the Arts Gala, New York (2016); BlackStar Film FestivalAudience Award for Favorite Experimental Film, Philadelphia (2013); African Diaspora Awards New York, (2013); Deutsche Guggenheim Artist of the Year; and Berlin Feminist Press: 40 Under 40, New York, both in 2010.
‘Contemporary African Art… a growing segment’, retrieved March 6, 2019 from https://www.artprice.com
Biography: Wangechi Mutu, Kenyan (1972 – ), retrieved March 7, 2019 from https://rogallery.com
Biography: Wangechi Mutu, retrieved March 7, 2019 from https://www.artsy.net
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