African Art Market: Charting Growth Amidst Global Challenges

Despite a slump in sales worldwide, Africa’s art scene demonstrated resilience in 2023. This year, the focus is on leveraging this strength for further growth.

By Nkgopoleng Moloi
Market resilience was marked by a strong demand for artists with significant museum presence including William Kentridge, who attracts robust bidding in the secondary market

The African art market demonstrated remarkable resilience in 2023, weathering global economic challenges through stability and potential growth —standing firm against the headwinds of a softer global art market.

According to the latest report from ArtTactic, (giving insight into Modern and Contemporary African art sold globally, including auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips, Bonhams, Piasa, Strauss & Co and Arthouse Nigeria), auction sales of Modern & Contemporary African artists declined by 8.4 per cent from $87.2 million in 2022 to $79.8 million in 2023. The decline, while significant, was notably less severe than the global art market’s overall drop of around 18 per cent during the same period. This performance is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the African art market, particularly in the face of inflation, slowing economic growth, and geopolitical tensions.

Art Tactic’s Head of Analytics, Lindsay Dewer

The report indicates the prominence of women artists in the African art scene. Women artists under the age of 45 accounted for a larger share of the NextGen auction sales, surpassing the sales totals of their male counterparts, highlighting a growing recognition of the contribution of women artists to the African art landscape. This signals a positive evolution in market dynamics. However, lower international demand did hurt the market for Young African artist sales. Market resilience was marked by a strong demand for artists with significant museum presence including Irma Stern, Sydney Kumalo, William Kentridge, and Cinga Samson, all of whom attracted robust bidding in the secondary market.

Cinga Samson 1986- Hliso Street V. Signed and dated 2017 on the reverse. Oil on canvas 80 by 60cm excluding frame. 83,5 by 64 by 6,5cm including frame

North African artists saw an increase in auction sales in 2023, achieving a 13.5 per cent increase from 2022, with Egyptian artists dominating the Northern African artist auction market (which represents 6.3 per cent of the total sales by African artists). Auction sales by Southern African artists also increased by 13.8 per cent in 2023, with South African artists continuing to dominate the auction market for the region. A strong presence of artists from Zimbabwe and Mozambique is also notable. The market for West African artists fell back to pre-pandemic levels with the largest portion (42.5 per cent) of the 2023 total sales value achieved by young contemporary Western African artists (aged 45 years or under). A new peak year for East African artists was established in 2023 with a gain in market share. The increase in total sales was driven by a particularly strong year for Julie Mehretu, with a new auction record for the painting Walkers With the Dawn and Morning (2008) — its hammer price was $9.5 million at Sotheby’s New York in November 2023. In 2023, Mehretu was the top African artist overall, and her sales accounted for 88.2 per cent ($21.7 million) of total sales by East African artists.

Looking ahead to 2024, experts remain cautiously optimistic about the African art market. According to the report, 34 per cent of experts predict that the market will go up further. A further 42 per cent believe the market will level out, while 24 per cent anticipate a decline. If the same trends that took place in 2023 hold, collectors can expect continued strong interest in works by women artists, an interest in East African, North African, and Southern African artists as well as a keen interest in established artists whose works are included in museum collections and exhibitions. Strategies that focus on engaging new audiences, such as a focus on virtual platforms, are likely to continue driving growth underscored by a focus on good quality works and enduring value.

Key Takeaways

  • The African art market remains in good health despite a softer global market
  • NextGen African artist boom deflates
  • Higher demand for an older generation of Contemporary African artists
  • Women artists lead the way
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