As we're experiencing a reinforced second wave in Israel, I look at the world in wonder and admiration. How can stock markets (particularly in the US) have recovered so quickly from the March panic, and why? Does anyone really know the economic and social impact of the past 6 months? Is everyone just happy to ignore the consequences?
And the art world is also a huge puzzle. Some galleries are laying off or closing while others hire and expand to new spaces; after so many postponed/cancelled art fairs it was just announced that FIAC and Frieze are going ahead in October and Art Basel are going ahead with Miami in December. I wish them luck. That said, I don't think we're in the clear and even if the curve remains flat in these places, who in their right mind will travel internationally and risk being infected, being quarantined or even worse, being unable to return home? For what? Auctions have moved online with a bang. The Sotheby's debut new-era markee auction in NY was remarkably executed and achieved astronomical results - an $85 million Bacon led a 363 million auction with 94% sell-through rate. Hong Kong is off to a strong season as well and London sales throughout July look very promising. Cross category auctions are the new big thing with Christie's "ONE - A Global Sale of the 20th century" taking place tomorrow and Sotheby's next mega sale being "From Rembrandt to Richter - 500 years of Art" taking place on July 28.
The African market continues to blossom. In March, Sotheby's had an excellent sale that moved from physical to online pretty much last minute but did extremely well establishing 5 new world auction records and totalling 2.8 million, on a 74% sell-through rate; Bonhams's main African sle also fared well in March and in May they had a smaller second sale for the category; Piasa joined forces with Aspire in an innovative and welcome collaboration and held two good sales in February in Cape Town and in June in Paris; Strauss held its Contemporary auction in February and its main cross category sale in May, generating $5 million combined on a sell through rate of c. 80%. We helped introduce Contemporary African Art to the German market via a collaboration with Lempertz auction house in Germany that had a solid 70% sell through rate. The auction market is expanding and more players are looking into the field.
Several African artists have had major international auction successes. Amoako Boafo, the new auction darling, broke through in a big way when his first auction appearance sold for $870'000 at Phillips London in February - more than 20 times it's reserve. Since then the market has been flooded with another 14 works offered between May and July. So far the market is holding up well with another strong result of $670'000 at Phillips' NY evening sale last week - 'only' 13 times the reserve. If the amount of work coming to the auction block doesn't slow down, this will likely be another temporary phenomenon. In the same auction, another Ghanaian artist rooted in LA, Otis Kwame Quaicoe, saw his debut work fly for $250'000 on the back of a $20'000 low estimate. One should rightly wonder why a new artist goes straight into an evening auction? The frenzy continues despite the economic uncertainty and the social unrest, particularly in America.
Personally, I've continued to focus on promoting emerging voices through acquisitions, loans and collaborations. My last two trips before being grounded at the end of February were to Brussels in January and Cape Town in February. The Brussels trip was primarily to advance the idea of an African pavilion at the Accessible Art Fair which was to be held in October, but also to visit the Lempertz tribal art auction viewing which for the first time juxtaposed contemporary African art which we helped source. In February in Cape Town, I started the legwork and invited a number of emerging artists to participate in the ACAF pavilion. The response was overwhelmingly positive with a strong curatorial concept emerging from the conversations with artists. Unfortunately though, by early April we had taken the difficult decision to postpone the initiative due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 and somewhat later the fair announced entirely new dates in May and October 2021. We will revisit the pavilion idea in the new year. We hope to resume our residency program as soon as practical and are also working on another major initiative which we hope to announce in the coming weeks.
For now we wish you a healthy and relaxing summer.
Founder of the Africa First Collection