The Year in Africa: Art Scene Grows Dramatically in Lagos, Accra, and Other Hubs

Prices at auctions this year have been shaky, leading to questions about whether there is a market slowdown, but that didn’t stop Julie Mehretu from setting and resetting records.

In October, the Ethiopian-born, US-based painter set a new record for an artist born in Africa when an untitled work from 2021 sold for $9.32 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. It beat the previous record, set by South African artist Marlene Dumas’s The Visitor (1995) in 2008, when it sold for $6.33 million at Sotheby’s London. Then, in November, Mehretu broke her record with a new one: her 2008 work Walkers With the Dawn and the Morning (2008) sold for $10.7 million at Sotheby’s New York.

Mehretu’s records were a sign that the international market for African art was hot this year. That was also evident in October at Sotheby’s London when British-Ghanaian painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s auction record was reset by her painting Six Birds in the Bush (2015), which sold for $3.6 million—more than $1 million above its estimate.

The spotlight builds on the momentum gained in 2022. A 2023 report by the insurance company Hiscox revealed that Ivory Coast–born Abdoulaye “Aboudia” Diarrassouba was the top-selling artist in 2022, with 75 works sold at auction, beating out Damien Hirst. And an Artprice report issued in March stated that “contemporary African art has become a staple element of the global art market,” with top auction houses working to meet the demand. Hiscox estimated that $63 million was spent on works by artists born in Africa in 2022, compared to $47 million the previous year.

Featured image: El Anatsui’s commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. PHOTO MIKE KEMP/IN PICTURES VIA GETTY IMAGES

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