The evolving African contemporary art market

Audio 02:15

The 2021 edition of Art Paris was held until September 12, 2021. © Marc Domage

By: Olivier Rogez Follow

5 mins

Contemporary African art is trendy and sells well.

As evidenced by the success of artists from the continent, last week at Art Paris, a major international contemporary art fair in the French capital.

However, is the African market structured enough?

In this area, things are starting to change.


In recent years, African artists have invaded contemporary art exhibitions and fairs around the world.

But they are not yet prophets in their continent.

The African market still has too few art foundations, galleries or museums.

And we could see it at “Art Paris”, the big fair which closed its doors last Sunday.

For Flavie Dannonay, researcher in the field of contemporary African art, “ 

this year we notice that there were many artists from the African continent, but very few galleries based in Africa.

It was mainly French or American galleries which presented African artists.


"Powerhouse" countries to structure the African art market

However, things have been moving for ten years.

Countries acting as locomotives, like South Africa, structure the market, mainly thanks to private initiatives.


South Africa is indeed a fundamental player in the market which has been weakened a bit in these times of Covid-19.

But who is still active anyway.

For example, from this Wednesday we are participating in the "Cap-Town art fair online" fair.

And alongside these actors, we see that the mapping is starting to be more and more diversified,

 ”explains Véronique Rieffel, who runs a young contemporary art gallery in Côte d'Ivoire.

The main characteristic of the contemporary art market in Africa is that it is dominated by private actors.

Few African states have a public policy in this area.

However, as Flavie Dannonay reminds us, contemporary art is an economic activity in its own right.


There is a definite economic interest, since there are direct economic benefits, through the jobs and activities that it generates, and also indirect through the influence, the image and the attractiveness that it provides. for the country.

Then there are the fallout from tourism,

 ”she says. 

The Complementary West's Perspective

While waiting for mentalities to evolve, the art market in Africa still needs Westerners, which also weighs on artistic proposals, as Véronique Rieffel explains.

There is still this prescriptive gaze of the West.

I see it at my level, that is to say that I need to do fairs like Art Paris, in addition to the fairs that I can do on the continent so that artists are recognized in their own country.

But I think it's changing.

There are more and more fairs taking place on the continent.

Countries like Nigeria are really starting to become influencers when it comes to buying works of art with large collections.

And that will balance out, although that balance has not yet been achieved.  

The whole challenge of structuring the art market in Africa is therefore to be able to free oneself from Western prescription, whether artistic or economic. 


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