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The Growth and Dynamism of the Modern and Contemporary African Art Market

As the art world descended on Paris this spring to celebrate Modern and Contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, the city buzzed with various events that placed Africa and its artists centre stage. Since debuting in 2012, Art Paris has prided itself on its existence as a platform for emerging art markets and the 2017 edition of the Parisian fair was no different, choosing to honour art from Africa and its diaspora for its sixth run. Across town at La Villette, Simon Njami’s Afriques Capitales brought together a myriad of artwork created by artists from across the continent, their presence together at La Villette forming a melting pot akin to that of a large buzzing capital city.

CÉLINE SEROR AT THE EVENT

Opening a series of travelling exhibitions supporting the inaugural Modern and Contemporary African Art sale on 16 May 2017, Sotheby’s was delighted to show a selection of highlights from our current sale in the French capital. In addition to our traveling exhibition and together with IAM Intense Art Magazine, Sotheby’s Paris played host to a round table discussion focusing on the history, growth and potential of the market for modern and contemporary art from Africa.

Moderated by Céline Seror and Nadine Hounkpatin of IAM Magazine, panellists Cécile Fakhoury (Director of Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Abidjan), Nathalie Berghege-Compoint (Galerie Lelong, Paris), Victoria Mann (Founder and Director of Also Known as Africa art fair, Gervanne Léridon (collector) and Bathélémy Toguo (artist) discussed a range of subjects pertaining to the growth and dynamism of the market for modern and contemporary art from Africa. Take a look below at highlights from the discussion.

Nadine Hounkpatin: I would like to begin by asking Cécile Fakhoury - you are based in Africa - in your opinion, what are the elements that characterize the current market for Modern and Contemporary art from Africa?

Cécile Fakhoury: I think that when talking about the structure of the market on the continent, you need to look in two directions, internationally and nationally.  International recognition of Africa, whether it be by curators or fairs such as Art Paris honouring Africa, needs to continue and we are all responsible for what is going to happen or what is not going to happen. You also need to look at collections, it is often said you cannot have a collection without an African work, absolutely. You cannot say that we are curators without integrating African artists, without considering them. There is an incredibly dynamic scene in Africa, it’s right there; we just need to look at it. We need to look in that direction and listen to those voices. There is also what is happening on the continent - none of what we are discussing today will be possible if there isn’t a wake-up call on the continent.  Africans need to support their scene, their artists, and their production. It has to happen at every level and one cannot grow without the other.

Nadine Hounkpatin: For collectors based outside of the continent, do you believe they have the knowledge and the right amount of exposure to be able to collect Contemporary art from Africa?

Cécile Fakhoury:  That is the problem. I regularly deal with collectors who do not know. They do not have the background, it’s not that they are not interested but they do not know this market or these artists and because of this, they don’t think about it.

PANELLISTS BARTHÉLÉMY TOGUO, CÉCILE FAKHOURY AND NATHALIE BERGHEGE-COMPOINT

Nathalie Berghege-Compoint: There is also a big job to be done by art critics and art historians. They have a responsibility to break open this market, a responsibility to the history of this market and to share it with the world.

Nadine Hounkpatin: Victoria, you once said ‘I wanted to contribute to this market, and to become a central figure within the market for Contemporary art from Africa in Paris.’ I wanted to ask you what your vision was for Also Known As Africa (AKAA) and what led you to begin this adventure?

Victoria Mann: It was a real gamble and it was something I began working on in 2011-2012. I started my career in the United States where I followed the growth of many artists from Africa such as William Kentridge and Yinka Shonibare. I came back to Paris and noticed a huge paradox. I noticed that after 2004-2005 and after Les Magiciens de la Terre, Africa Remix and Revue Noire there was not much happening in Paris. I said to myself: ‘We need to create a platform in Paris for this Contemporary scene’. I saw growth happening during the period where I began to think about AKAA, the fair in Johannesburg, the Zinsou Foundation, the Dakar Biennale, growth in Lagos, and so it seemed logical to create something in Paris. In France, people began to notice that the market and institutions go hand in hand, and I wanted to create a platform that handled both sides. It slowly began to become clear that it might be the right time for AKAA. Beauté Congo, Seydou Keïta at the Grand Palais, Andre Magnin’s rising status within the market etc. and so we decided to do it.

Nadine Hounkpatin: It seemed clear that there was a public demand for it; many people came to your fair. I think it appealed to the greater public. Gervanne, you have been collecting since the early 2000s, it would be interesting to hear your experience within this market. What have you witnessed?

Gervanne Léridon: There was an exhibition that was mentioned, Les Magiciens de la Terre and for me it was the founding exhibition for this market. It was an aesthetic shock, a revelation. It was magic. After that, we started to collect Contemporary art from Africa. We already had a connection to the African continent but we also thought that the African continent and its diaspora were completely revolutionizing the idea of modernity and thus the contemporary. I think what is happening on the African continent today will dictate much of the 21st century.

Nadine Hounkpatin: In terms of quality of the works, do you think this has changed?

Nathalie: I think in the new generation of artists that are rising today, the majority of them come from a classical background. Today, the most in demand artists have benefitted from this classical education.  They are African artists but they are also practicing artists, Bathélémy is the only artists hailing from Africa that we have at our gallery and our initial appreciation for his work was based in its aesthetics, not his nationality. It was an aesthetic shock for us, so to speak. We first engaged with Bathélémy’s work in 2009 in New York at the Robin Miller Gallery and then in 2010 Bathélémy had his first solo show in Paris at the Galerie Lelong. Bathélémy was already very present in the art world through various Biennales. We cannot forget that there was an incredible push for the inclusion of more African artists in biennales across the world, especially within Africa.

NADINE HOUNKPATIN LED THE DISCUSSION

Nadine Hounkpatin: We are going to move to the mobility of artists. There seems to be an incredible amount of movement by artists these days.

Bathélémy Toguo: For me, the desire to constantly be on the move is what nourishes my work and it’s like an adrenaline that allows me to discover new ideas and diversify my production.  To move from one place to another is for me a source of richness in my life. Today, I travel between Bandjoun, where I created Bandjoun Station, and Paris and this really helps my work. Traveling between the two cities allows me to be able to escape Paris when I need to and also allows me to adopt a new and fresh artistic viewpoint.  I can produce new work.  

Nadine Hounkpatin: It does seem to be the case that a lot of artists are returning to the African continent to create. Cécile, can you confirm this?

Cécile Fakhoury: Yes, I have observed it ever since I started my gallery five years ago. I have seen artists come back. For example, in the Ivory Coast, artists want to come back and do residencies and create work there. I think that this is integral to the construction of a sustainable market on the continent. There is no art scene without artists, so we need them there. Also, in terms of the quality of production, you can do things in Africa, production wise, that might be too expensive elsewhere in the world. We sometimes can give them resources they cannot get elsewhere.

Nadine Hounkpatin: I’d like to talk about valuing works of art. Can we discuss the mechanics of how that functions for this market?

Cécile Fakhoury: I use the same principles in valuing Contemporary art from Africa that I have observed and used in Europe or in the United States. I think because the western world is currently so heavily involved in the development of the market for Contemporary art from Africa we see the same mechanics being put in place to value works of art from Africa as we do for works from other parts of the globe. We also need to talk about critics; we do not have enough of them. I become frustrated because I produce exhibitions and then there is no trace that they ever existed. The job of the critic is being taken up by people outside of the continent, foreigners, and even then there are not that many.

Nathalie Berghege-Compoint: We value Bathélémy’s work as we would for any other artist in our gallery, meaning we produce exhibitions and support the production of his work for events such as the Venice Biennale etc. Our work with Bathélémy is done with the long term in mind.  

Bathélémy Toguo: I created Bandjoun Station after noticing that classical art was not being shown in Africa, that it was confined to the walls of European and American museums. So, I decided to build an exhibition centre on the continent that connected African artists and international artists. I wanted to put artists like David Hockney next to young Togolese artists and keep art on the continent. I didn’t want to ghettoize African artists, I wanted to put them next to masters, and I think this also helps contribute to valuing these works of art.

Nadine Hounkpatin: Can we discuss the role of education within the market?

Cécile Fakhoury: Even though educating the general public is not the official role of a commercial gallery, I think it is very important to do so. We are trying to motivate the youth to take interest and in turn educate their parents about what they have seen. The problem we face is trying to make the general public realize the importance of the arts, especially for our younger generations.

Bathélémy Toguo: I have experienced resistance to art education at Bandjoun Station. I had some children come to Bandjoun station for a tour with their teacher, a young priest and the director of the school. When the children came into Bandjoun, I asked them to wash their hands in two buckets that we placed at the entrance of the museum. During the tour, we showed the children some traditional Cameroonian vases and we highlighted the relationship between these traditional utilitarian vases and the buckets the children used to wash their hands upon entrance to Bandjoun Station. When the children went home, they told their parents where they had been and what they had learned and that they washed their hands in these buckets that resembled traditional vases upon entry to my museum and to my surprise, many parents were not pleased and scolded the young priest who had agreed to bring the group of school children to Bandjoun Station! I later learned that many children had told their parents they washed their hands in traditional vases, many of which were used to hold the brains of ancestors. Several parents thought I was performing a form of voodoo on their children! This is a funny story but ultimately it highlights the need for education within the continent.

The Modern and Contemporary African Art auction is in London on 16 May.

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