The emerging African market for contemporary art

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Contemporary African art is trendy and sells well. As evidenced by the artists’ successes from the continent, last week at Art Paris, a major international contemporary art fair in the French capital. But is the African market sufficiently structured? In this area, things are starting to change.

In recent years, African artists have invaded contemporary art exhibitions and fairs around the world. But they are not yet prophets on their continent. The African market still has too few art foundations, galleries or museums. And we could see it at “Art Paris”, the big fair that closed its doors on Sunday.

For Flavie Dannonay, a researcher in contemporary African art, “this year we notice that there were many artists from the African continent, but very few galleries based in Africa. It was mainly French or American galleries that presented African artists. ”

“Powerhouse” countries to structure the African art market But things have been going on for ten years or so. Countries that operate as locomotives, such as South Africa, structure the market, mainly thanks to private initiatives.

“South Africa is really a fundamental player in the market that has been weakened a bit in these times by Covid-19. But who is still active anyway. From this Wednesday, for example, we will participate in the fair “Cap-Town art fair online”. And alongside these actors, we see that the mapping is becoming more and more diversified, ”explains Véronique Rieffel, who runs a young contemporary art gallery in the Ivory Coast.

The main characteristic of the contemporary art market in Africa is that it is dominated by private actors. Few African states have a public policy in this area. But as Flavie Dannonay reminds us, contemporary art is an economic activity in itself.

“There is a definite economic interest, because there are direct economic benefits, through the jobs and activities that it generates, and also indirectly through the influence, image and attractiveness that it provides. For the country. Then there is the fallout from tourism,” she says.

The complementary perspective of the West While waiting for the mentalities to develop, the art market in Africa still needs Westerners, which also weighs on artistic proposals, as Véronique Rieffel explains.

There is still this prescriptive gaze from the west. I see it at my level, that is, I have to do fairs like Art Paris, in addition to the fairs that I can do on the continent so that artists are recognized in their own country. But I think that is changing. There are more and more fairs on the continent. Countries like Nigeria are really starting to become influential when it comes to buying works of art with large collections. And it will balance out, even if that balance has not yet been reached. The whole challenge of structuring the art market in Africa is therefore to be able to free oneself from Western recipes, whether it is artistic or economic.

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