Amid strong demand and skyrocketing prices, contemporary African art is increasingly attracting the attention of investors worldwide.
While that might irk the purest at heart among some art collectors, it is a testament to the growing interest that African artists have spurred on the international markets.
British auction house Bonhams has seen average lot prices increase 5-fold – to about $50,000 – since it started specializing in contemporary African art in 2007.
ArtHouse Contemporary Limited, an auction house based in Lagos, Nigeria, notes that pieces bought at their very first auction, back in 2008, have increased up to 10-fold in value today.
The trend falls within a general rise in value for African art as a whole – Sotheby’s, whose auctions currently combine African and Oceanic art, took in an “outstanding” $84 million in 2014, compared to just $4 million a decade ago. They are now considering specialized sales for African art alone.
From nothing to millions
You’d be hard pressed to find a man who has witnessed the rise in recognition and value of African art better than Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who is reported to be Nigeria’s largest private art collector.
“When I started collecting art as an undergraduate at university in the mid 1970s, it had virtually no value,” he told CNN.
“You could buy a piece of good art for 20,000 Naira [about $100 at current conversion rates]. Today it would sell for millions.”
He now has about 7,000 pieces, which he displays in his house in Lagos.
“I’ve studied the movement of the prices of artwork sold in auctions in Nigeria since 1999,” he said. “And I can tell you how much the artworks have grown over time, of different artists – if we draw a correlation analysis we come up with a positive graph about the growth, and therefore it can form a solid basis for investment.”