‘Africa Now’, Bonhams auction of Contemporary African Art in London on 21 May, was a celebration of art from across the African continent. However, it was Nigerian and Ghanaian artists whose work took top prices in a sale that made a total in excess of £1million and saw new world record prices for at least ten different African artists.
Hannah O’Leary, Bonhams Head of Contemporary African Art commented “Since our inaugural Africa Now auction just five years ago, this market has gone from strength to strength. While artists from at least fifteen African countries were represented, the top prices were reserved for the best pieces by the Nigerian Masters, which seems appropriate for a country celebrating their centenary and that recently became Africa’s largest economy”.
One of the world records set was for Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo (Nigerian, born 1934), whose 1972 painting ‘The Flight’, lot 42, which illustrated the cover of the auction catalogue, sold for £62,500. This record was broken a second time just minutes later when lot 52, ‘Woman with Gele’, sold for £80,500 against a pre-sale estimate of £30,000 to £50,000.
‘The Flight’ depicts a young family in native Yoruba dress, seated on a bicycle. The artist began the work during the Civil War, and the sight of civilians abandoning their homes to escape the soldiers reminded Grillo of the flight of the Holy Family from Israel to Egypt: a saw can be seen along with their baggage; a reminder of Joseph’s profession as a carpenter.
Other artist auction records included a graceful sculpture by Bunmi Babatunde (£31,250), a 3D triptych by Peju Alatise (£17,500), a market scene by Ablade Glover (£15,000), a chair made of decommissioned weapons by Goncalo Mabunda (£10,000), a coffin in the form of a Porsche by Paa Joe (£6,500) and paintings by Amon Kotei (£9,375), Aboudia (£9,375) and Uzo Egonu (£9,375).
The most valuable picture in the sale was lot 67, the 1976 oil painting ‘Princes of Mali’ by Ben Enwonwu, which sold for £92,500. Other notable results include his paintings ‘Ogolo’ (£67,300) and ‘Workers in the Fields’ (£35,250) and sculptures ‘Anyanwu’ (£64,900) and ‘Africa Dances’ (£35,000).
A wooden sculpture by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui (born 1944) titled ‘The Clan’ sold for £27,500. Now an internationally celebrated sculptor, his work is displayed in public institutions around the world, and a major touring exhibition of his work is currently on show at the Bass Museum of Art, Miami, Florida.
On Monday 19 May Bonhams hosted a charity auction of contemporary Angolan art. Angola received international recognition last year, when their pavilion at the Venice Biennale was awarded the prestigious Leone d’Oro. Such is the interest in this emerging art market, from international art collectors and speculators alike, that fiercely competitive bidding on the night resulted in a ‘white glove sale’, with 100% of the lots selling.
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