A Breakdown of the African Art Market

May 16, 2022
A Breakdown of the African Art Market

Through yet another unusual year after COVID-19 has been introduced into our lives in 2021, the art market as a whole has experienced incredible innovation and a steady comeback after the events of 2020. But how does the impact of artists from Africa and the diaspora fit into this narrative? Pavillon54 provides a breakdown of this year’s major events, and what we can look forward to for the second half of 2022.

Major African art events in 2021


Art fairs, physical auction house sales, and exhibitions rebounded in 2021–even if they took on a new form—and institutions in Africa did not exclude themselves from the circuit. In October 2021, the well-known international contemporary African art fair 1-54 successfully hosted their physical fair in London’s Somerset House. An online art fair in partnership with Artsy and Christie’s in New York, accompanied by an exhibition at Christie’s Rockefeller Plaza also took place, as well as a debut event in Paris at Christie’s. The Art Newspaper reported that the event in London demonstrated strong sales, with more African vendors participating than ever — a total of 47 dealers exhibiting works both physically and online. Regarding art fairs on the continent itself, Art X Lagos represented over 30 galleries during their physical event and also organised an online counterpart to its business. The event also presented an exhibition of 11 NFTs from African artists at the event, demonstrating the fact that the African art world is well in-tune with current trends in the international art market as a whole, and that digital artists in Africa are gaining well-deserved recognition. In a statement, the fair expressed that the intention of this new addition to its offering was to ‘explore NFTs as a vehicle for experimentation and empowerment, presenting unparalleled opportunities for individual and collective growth, and creating avenues for creative ecosystems to thrive, including Africa’s…’

Image of digital collage on Microsoft Word showing a pool, one standing man and one person swimming in the pool.

POOL DAY II – PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST by Osinachi (2021). Courtesy of the artist 

and Daria Borisova. 

As for key exhibitions, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) opened the Allied with Power: African and African Diaspora Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collectionshow which displayed works from more than 30 artists. The exhibition recounted a rich and nuanced range of experiences of life in Africa and the diaspora, countering the tendency to display African art as a monolith. Through its diversity of geographies, generations and genres, Allied with Power presented a timely summary of the complexity and personality of various African art styles, complicating the idea that ‘African art’ is a genre in and of itself. In South Africa, the Zeitz MOCAA museum exhibited Tracey Rose: Shooting Down Babylon, the largest retrospective of the performance artist’s oeuvre, spanning work from 1996 to 2019. The show exhibited film, photography, sculpture, painting, performance and print works. Lastly, in New York, the Met Museum announced that it will be undergoing a $70 million renovation of their African, ancient American and Oceanic galleries. This transformation will bring a modernised display of over 3000 objects and will better contextualise 5000 years of cultural development in these regions. The Met has one of the finest collections of pieces from sub-Saharan Africa, which represent around 223 cultures and 31 nations. When the galleries open with their new display in 2024, African art lovers will be waiting with baited breath to see how this new arrangement coincides with the rapid development of the African art discourse we are currently experiencing.

Record sales for artists from Africa and the Diaspora


In 2021, Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo experienced a meteoric rise. The 36-year-old artist, based in Accra, has been smashing estimates out of the park in recent sales, with his painting Hand’s Up (2018) breaking his record to date, selling for an incredible $3.4 million USD at Christie’s Hong Kong in early December. This sale trumps Boako’s previous record of $1 million USD, achieved at Christie’s in 2020, by more than three times. African-American artist Elizabeth Catlett also achieved a fantastic result for her sculpture Head (1943), one of two sculptures known to have been produced by the artist before her move to Mexico. The piece sold for more than four times its upper estimate, for $485,000 USD at Swann Galleries, and beats her previous record of $389,000 USD that was set in 2019. This recent sale may signal that the artist’s demand is likely to increase in the future. Young Zimbabwean talent Kudzanai-Violet Hwami also had an impressive year, ousting her previous auction records with her painting Skye waNehanda (i) 斯凱·威尼漢達(i) (2017) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2021. The artwork sold for $486,000 USD, a whopping 845% above it’s estimate.

Image of a man's head sculpture

Head (1943) by Elizabeth Catlett. © SwannGalleries

Impact of COVID-19


As revealed in the Pavillon54 Art Market Report, African nations experienced a mixed reception to the coronavirus pandemic. In general, African art galleries and institutions felt that they had received less governmental support compared to larger markets such as the US, UK and China. Though 28% of art businesses had previously reported that they were required to downsize, Africa was also one of the few regions that increased employment in art businesses during the outset of the pandemic, with 28% of businesses stating that they actually increased employment. Since the debut of the coronavirus effect, however, art businesses worldwide have adapted their strategies and bounced back, including institutions in Africa. In 2021, African art galleries and art fairs reopened, experienced healthy sales (as reported with 1-54 and Art X Lagos), and have even opened up locations in other countries. This year alone, Ethiopian gallery Addis Fine Art opened their location in London’s Fitzrovia art district, and Rele Gallery became the first Nigerian gallery to open a space in Los Angeles earlier this year. Despite these international expansions, art fairs in Africa reported that collectorship on the continent itself was increasing rapidly, resulting in less of a reliance on Western collectors for African art market buoyancy. 

Photo of Rere gallery's main entrance.                           

Rele Gallery, Los Angeles  © Rele Gallery

About Pavillon54


Here at Pavillon54, we’ve also been evolving in the past year. Our roster of artists is consistently growing, providing African art lovers with a vast range of artistic genres from artists harking from various countries in Africa and its diaspora. We also partnered with international galleries, such as Morton Fine Art in Washington DC and Sulger-Buel Gallery in London, both of whom represent promising emerging African talent. Meron Engida, Rosemary Feit-Covey, Victor Ekpuk and Osi Audu are just a handful of artists that we have had the pleasure of hosting in our gallery thanks to these collaborations. As the online destination for art from Africa and the diaspora, another core mission of Pavillon54 is to provide our audience with the tools required to build a sustainable and beautiful art collection. That’s why we also provided key insights and content about the African art world. Everything from ‘What can you expect from buying art online?’ to ‘NFTs: What to know and how they can empower the African art market’ are at your disposal over on the P54 e-magazine. Lastly, we held our very first in-person event in London during Frieze Week! The Art From Africa exhibition displayed a selection of artworks from some of our most promising artists, with the support of the MOSI-OA-TUNYA Foundation. An online viewing room was also held for those who were not able to join us for the physical event.

Photo of the exhibition space of Morton Fine Art Gallery, showing visitors while talking.

Morton Fine Art Gallery © Jessica Del Vecchio Photography

Turning to 2022: Market evolution and artists on the rise


In terms of expected evolution of the African art market in 2022, as physical art fairs have begun to return to some semblance of normalcy in Africa, art experts are likely to continue to keep an eye on the demand for African art pieces, not only from collectors based in the West, but also from Africa’s rapidly growing cohort of high net worth individuals. We may see other top-tier African art galleries follow the example of Rele Gallery and Addis Fine Art, by opening additional spaces in Europe and the United States. Lastly, as demonstrated at Art X Lagos, there is a particular sustained interest and curiosity towards NFTs, and the art market as a whole will be observing how this phenomenon develops or dies down. For African art aficionados, it may be worth keeping an eye out on emerging digital and NFT artists, to scope out the talent and potential for investment in this sector.

Photo of the exhibition space of Ivory Coast Pavilion, showing an artwork with abstract human figures on blue background.

 Pavilion of  Côte d'Ivoire (59th Venice Biennale). Image courtesy: ArteMagazine

Lastly, young African artists have continued to experience incredible auction results, sales, and exhibitions, despite the setbacks of the coronavirus, and we expect even more talent to emerge and thrive in the coming years. Here at Pavillon54, we have our eyes on the following three artists (but not only): Amoako Boafo, who, as previously mentioned, hit his record price of $3.4 million USD earlier this year. British-Nigerian artist Joy Labinjo is also on our radar. By employing digital collages using elements from family photos, Labinjo explores topics such as race, culture, family and identity. The artist has already been collected by the UK’s Government Art Collection, and museums in Morocco and Nigeria. She has also consistently exceeded her upper estimates at auctions such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. Lastly, Pavillon54 will be excited to see more of Saint-Etienne Yeanzi. The Ivorian artist is currently participating in the 59th Venice Biennale as one of the artists selected to represent the Pavilion of  Côte d'Ivoire. This is a great time for this very talented artist, as he will also participate in the Dak'Art: African Contemporary Art Biennale of Senegal, starting from May 19th. His works have achieved over 200% increase in value in the past couple of years. 


What African art exhibitions, fairs, auction sales and events are you most looking forward to in 2022? What kinds of trends do you think will emerge in the coming year? Comment below to start the discussion with us!


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