Aspire Art Auctions & Artcurial work to build an African art economy that closes the income gap for Africa's artists | Art Blog
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Aspire Art Auctions & Artcurial work to build an African art economy that closes the income gap for Africa's artists Article Image

Aspire Art Auctions & Artcurial work to build an African art economy that closes the income gap for Africa's artists

Posted on 3 June 2021

The Aspire & Artcurial collaborative sale is part of an ongoing endeavour to showcase Modern and Contemporary African art on a global scale which will contribute to a long overdue "payback" for African artists, say the two auction houses preparing for their 15 June 2021 sale in Paris.

"To build an African art economy we need to create a global market for African art and the long-term ramifications that will have for Africans who work within the broader cultural industries, says Ruarc Peffers, Managing Director of Aspire. "It's about closing the representation gap. It's about aligning value - commercial and cultural. It's about re-positioning art from this continent within the scope of the global canon. We believe it's a social responsibility that will have a very real, tangible impact for artists on the African continent and diaspora."

Buying contemporary African art for long-term investment makes sense given its performance over the past two decades. Steady growth with astonishing peaks has been the hallmark of the art market over the last few years, creating the perception of a safe hedge against inflation. But can it still be viewed as such? What do international and local auction results indicate about the strength of the market? Total auction sales for the period June to August 2020, according to MutualArt, have shown, not unexpectedly, a decrease in activity with areas most affected being the UK (63%) and USA/Canada (50%) while the rest of the world and Europe has only seen a 23% and 21% contraction, respectively.

William Kentridge, Argument from Authority (Charon at the event Horizon)
William Kentridge, Argument from Authority (Charon at the event Horizon), 2013, tapestry and drawing | Estimates: ZAR2 300 000 - 2 800 000 (€135 000 - 160 000)

While there is some speculation of the art market boom fizzling out, there is no doubt that African and South African art sales are booming. Although the African art market represents only a small percentage of global art sales, the South African art market accounts for most of this, and the rate of growth of this market in recent years has outperformed the larger international capitals.

With ever-growing interest in modern and contemporary African art, the international art market has witnessed an exponential increase in prices achieved for African artists, delivering unprecedented results at auction and steadily increasing prices for selected artists.

Peffers, who is not shy of controversy adds: "So much of the wealth of Europe was built off the bodies, efforts and minerals that emanated from Africa, without Africans having received much direct benefit. In many ways this trend has not changed. At Aspire, we aim to present the cultural produce of Africa to a global market, but ultimately return the proceeds to Africa, thereby creating value and building wealth throughout the continent. By growing value in art from this continent we are systematically closing the historical value gap and addressing social and economic development head-on, while adding value to collectors of African art around the world, and simultaneously adding value to Africans in Africa."

In the Contemporary Art Market Confidence Report, published in May 2020 by ArtTactic, William Kentridge jumped from number 25 in 2009 to number 6 in 2020 in the long-term Confidence Indicator ranking. It is noteworthy that Kentridge's Drawing from Stereoscope (Soho in 2 Rooms) sold for R6 600 400 - a world record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a drawing by the artist - at Aspire's auction in 2018, proving that it pays to sell with the best. Kentridge's tapestry Argument from Authority (Charon at the Event Horizon), 2013, and the associated ink and wash painting and collage from which the tapestry was derived coming up at €135,000 - 160,000 on Aspire's next auction in collaboration with Artcurial, is one to watch.

Georgina Gratrix, Most Beautiful Girl
Georgina Gratrix, Most Beautiful Girl, 2010 | Estimate: ZAR420 000 - 600 000 (€25 000 - 35 000)

Other works to look out for at the Aspire-Artcurial Collaborative auction are Georgina Gratrix's painting, Most Beautiful Girl, Zimbabwean Misheck Masamvu's Natural Selection muses on Darwinian notions of human adaptation while South African Athi-Patra Ruga raises questions around ethnicity and sexual orientation in a glorious textile construction that featured in the exhibition Art Afrique at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in 2017.

For more information about the auction, visit

Athi-Patra Ruga, Uzukile the Elder
Athi-Patra Ruga, Uzukile the Elder, 2013 | Estimate ZAR 360 000 - 460 000 (€20 000 - 26 000)

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