2020 turned out to be surprisingly robust for financial as well as art markets given the rapid spread of the pandemic. Stock markets recovered rapidly from the initial March shock to end at new highs and the art market, despite the shutdown of the art fair industry, fared better than suspected, adapting quickly and efficiently.
Galleries, as well as art fairs, moved rapidly to initiate a huge amount of online events. Museums and Auction Houses rapidly embraced new digital tools. Augmented reality, viewing rooms, guided online exhibition tours, studio visits, and virtual art fairs were readily available to entertain global audiences locked-down in their homes.
Specifically in the auction field, online sales volumes grew more than 500% in 2020, to $1.05 Billion according to ArtTactic, accounting for 14% of total auction turnover for the year, which for the big 3 houses (Sotheby’s, Christie’s & Phillips) declined (only) 25% to $7.37 Billion in 2020, offset by substantial growth in private sales of c. $3 Billion.
The market for African and African diaspora artists continued to boom in this environment. Galleries and auction houses around the world embraced black figuration like never before, facing unprecedented demand from collectors the world over. The trend is so strong that some are sounding alarm bells (see ArtTactic article by Stella Botes). New initiatives have helped propel global interest: Residencies like BlackRock Senegal founded by Kehinde Wiley, the Noldor residency in Ghana and the Cuperior residency in Berlin; Art Fairs such 1:54 partnered with Christie’s in Paris or ArtHarare which was recently founded by Richard Mudariki; Projects such as The SCCA founded by Ibrahim Mahama and the renewed vigor of the African Artists Foundation since Azu Nwagbogu left the Zeitz Mocca; Esteemed curators and collectors partnered with various platforms to promote emerging African voices - Azu with Unit Gallery in London, the new media darling Destinee Ross-Sutton with CFHILL in Stockholm and Christie’s New York, Stefan Simchowitz with Christie’s in Beverly Hills while also launching an eponymous gallery and residency, and myself partnering with Lempertz auction house and more recently artnet in founding Africa Present. An unprecedented number of new galleries have been set-up to promote African artists around the world and the vast majority of existing galleries have been looking to add black artists to their rosters.
As you will see in the newsletter, we have continued to grow the Africa First collection in the 2nd half of 2020, adding 58 works by 27 artists from 10 countries. The acquisitions span a wide range of artists, from virtually unknown/unrepresented artists to globally established artists such as Wiley and Mahama. In our spotlights section, we try to highlight the practice of emerging artists we find especially interesting. We hope you find the newsletter informative and look forward to hearing from you.
We have also taken the time in 2020 to restructure our operations, from moving legal entities to storage facilities and domains (note our new web address: africafirst.art), to refreshing the website’s look and our physical office in Tel-Aviv, where we hope to see you soon.
Best wishes for a healthier 2021 with a return to personal encounters with people and art,
Founder of the Africa First Collection