By Nii B. Andrews.

This past week was boom time for CAA in London.

There were auctions at Philips and Bonhams; the 1-54 art fair was also in full swing and so was the Frieze London 2021.

Art patrons and the BEAUTY FULL people – who had hitherto been event starved, were out in force creating a buoyant vibe and at times it appeared that from a buyer’s standpoint, there was not enough CAA to go round.

UNTITLED: Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, (2021). Courtesy of the artist and October Gallery, London.

Let us start at the 1-54 held at Somerset House.

“It’s a very different landscape this time. Last year we were looking into the unknown,” the fair’s founder and director, Touria El Glaoui, told Artnet News.

This year’s event welcomed 34 returning galleries and 14 new exhibitors representing 150 African and diaspora artists from 23 countries, including Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, as well as Brazil, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, Switzerland, Belgium, and the U.K.

Reportedly, the sales were rolling in.

LA SOMERSET D’ÉTOILES (‘The Star Sower’): Papa Ibra Tall, (undated), tapestry, 201 × 298 centimeters. Photo © the artist

For example, Accra’s Gallery 1957, reported sales of “many works” between £3,500 to £20,000 ($4,800–$27,400) at its booth, which featured works by Serge Attukwei Clottey, Godfried Donkor, and Arthur Timothy.

From the Ethiopian capital, Addis Fine Art placed all of its works on paper by recent Saatchi Yates star Tesfaye Urgessa for £10,000 ($13,687) apiece, while DADA Gallery, of Lagos, sold three fabric works by Bunmi Agusto priced at £8,000 ($10,949) each.

There is the apocryphal story of one collector running into the Nuweland Gallery booth shouting, ‘Are there any left?’ before snapping up the last available sculpture of Ben Orkin.

FASHION ICONS: Serge Attukwei Clottey, (2020–21). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Now to Philips; the October 15 evening sale of 20th-century and contemporary art got off to a sizzling start when a barely-dry painting by Ghanaian-born artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, FASHION ICONS (2020–21), which was estimated at £30,000 to £40,000, soared to £340,200 ($465,500).

It is worth questioning if such stratospheric prices can be sustained. This sale was at almost 50 times Clottey’s previous auction record of $9,600 which was only set in 2021.

Perhaps it had to do with the marketing strategy of Philips who brought in the East London rapper, Kano, to consult on both the day and evening sales. One of his recommendations for the evening sale was FASHION ICONS.

“There was a time when critical value and investment value were inseparable,” the art advisor Lisa Schiff told The Art Newspaper, “that isn’t the case anymore. The art market is becoming more of a fan-based economy. When you see prices like this for artists who are right out of the gate, the work is, more than anything else, a tradable commodity. Bids are based on who’s trending.”

…….Aka buying with your ears rather than your eyes!

Installation view of the 1-54 Art Fair 2021.

In addition, the South African emerging artist – Cinga Samson, had a piece – HLISO STREET IV(2016) which sold for £239,400 ($327,600) with premium, shattering the £30,000 high estimate.

Bonhams was also not left out; its auction catalog had 81 lots with the banner header being LELEMANA DANCE (1945) by Irma Stern.

The oil on canvas painting was bought for £1, 222, 750 which was above the pre sale estimate of £1 million.

BREAKING GROUND: Michele Mathison, (2014), steel and enamel, 203 × 104 × 40 centimeters. Photo © the artist, courtesy Michele Mathison and WHATIFTHEWORLD

A lyrical piece by Kye Quaicoe – KILL THEM WITH MY INNOCENCE (2017), sold within its presale estimate; the collage contained text which stated, “Smile, it lets your teeth breathe”…..useful advice to relax and recuperate with after navigating the minefields and bushfires of contemporary Tema and Accra.

But yet again, as has been the trend in the recent past, two lots from Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah failed to sell.

Touria El Glaoui summed it up best for the CAA ecosystem when she said, “I’m hoping that we are going to see this engagement and integration continue in the long term…… We are having an amazing moment.”

Refugees (1977), Obiora Udechukwu. Courtesy Kó
Johnson Eziefula, The Virtual Valentine, 2021© Johnson Eziefula/ Courtesy The Breeder, Athens and Ross-Sutton Gallery, New York

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