African Contemporary Art — a short story of a planetary success



Today, African art continues to rise and to achieve new heights of recognition with prestigious exhibitions, biennials, and auctions setting records by living artists. All around the globe, notable curators, scholars, and galleries regularly include African Contemporary and Modern artists in major exhibitions and publications. Collectors and institutions worldwide are slowly starting to realize the potential of the continent’s flourishing art market. `


In 2015, Okwui Enwezor was appointed the first African director of the Venice Biennial. The same year, the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement was attributed to El Anatsui (Ghana). This international recognition of curatorial and artistic talents of the majors' actors on the African contemporary art ecosystem, testifies alongside the major exhibitions of the growing interest in their work. An increasing number of African countries take part in the Venice Biennal, among them Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Ghana, Israël, Madagascar, Madagascar & Zimbabwe. Since 2017, the Biennal is also organizing a special exhibition known as African Art in Venice to give voice to the artist form unrepresented countries. Moreover, many biennials on the African continent, such as well established DAK’ART and Lubumbashi, allow the artist to show and promote their works. 

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During the past two decades, there has been a surge of interest in the work of contemporary African artists. A major reason for this turn of events is partly due to the impact of globalization on contemporary art and culture. Like others artists who were once situated on the margins of mainstream artistic narratives, African artists have been beneficiaries of the globalizing phenomenon that has included the rise of biennials and art fairs, and the unprecedented surge in collecting art on a worldwide scale. 


— Okuwi Enwezor & Chika Okeke-Agulu, Contemporary African art since 1980, p. 10.

Dolet Malalu Wateko (°1980)

Major exhibitions of African Contemporary Art 

Magiciens de la Terre, Centre Georges Pompidou & the Grande Halle de la Villette (Paris, France) -1989
Out of Africa exhibition of Jean Pigozzi’s Contemporary African Art Collection, Saatchi Gallery (London, UK) -1992
Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, Whitechapel Gallery (London, UK) -1995
In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to Present, Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA) -1996
Authentic/Eccentric — Conceptualism in African Art exhibition is presented as off-program during the Venice Biennial — 2001
Exhibition AFRICA REMIX showed an important panorama of sub-Saharan art in Germany, Great-Britain, France and Japan -2004
Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Museum of African Art (New York, USA) -2004
Snap Judgements: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, International Center of Photography (New York, USA) -2006 
Space: Currencies in Contemporary African Art at Museum Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa) -2010 
Beauté Congo - Congo Kitoko, Cartier Foundation (Paris, France) - 2015 
Malik Sidebé, Mali Twist, Cartier Foundation (Paris, France) -2016 
African Metropolis, Museo Nationale Delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI, Rome, Italy) -2018
Congo Stars, Kunsthaus Graz (Austria) -2018 
Kinshasa Chronicles, Musée des Arts Modestes (Sète, France) -2018 
Retrospective Bodys Isek Kingelez. A first solo show of an African Artist hosted by MoMA (New York, USA) -2018 
Multiple Transmissions, Art in the Afropolitan Age, WIELS (Brussels, Belgium) -2019
Incarnations - African Art As Philosophy, BOZAR (Brussels, Belgium) - 2019

I think the importance of African art has been highlighted by all of this. Biennials, museums, festivals, galleries, the art market, and of course the mainstream press, have followed this phenomenon and it has inspired the public to discover the creations of the artists.

— Mounir Fatmi, Artist

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TOP 10 contemporary artists on the Secondary market 2018

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Sales Records 2017-2019 

1. Julie Mehretu (°1970), Black Ground (Deep Light), 2006

Acrylic, ink/canvas/board. Auction result: $ 5,631,696, sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 01 Apr 2019

2. Marlene Dumas (°1953), De gele vingers van de kunstenaar [The yellow fingers of the artist], 1985, Oil/linen (diptych). Auction result: $ 3,615,000, sold by Phillips NY, USA on 16 Nov 2017

3. Njideka Akunyili Crosby (°1983), The Beautiful Ones, 2012, Acrylic, pastel, colour pencil and Xerox transfer/paper. Auction result: $ 3,072,753, sold by Christie’s, London, UK on 07 Mar 2017

4. Julie Mehretu (°1970), Arcade, 2005, Mixed media (ink, acrylic)/canvas. Auction result: $ 3,020,000, sold by Sotheby’s NY,USA on 16 May 2019

5. Marlene Dumas (°1953), Magdalena (Underwear and Bedtime Stories), 1995,

Oil/canvas. Auction result: $ 3,016,000, sold by Sotheby’s NY, USA on 05 Nov 2019

6. Ibrahim El Anatsui (°1944), Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch), c.2005, Installation - found aluminum bottle caps and copper wire. Auction result: $ 1,512,500, sold by Christie’s, NY, USA, on 16 Nov 2018

7. Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu (1921-1994), Christine, 1971

Oil on canvas. Auction result: $ 1,396,315, sold by Sotheby’s London, UK, on 15 Oct 2019