In Kenya, virtual auctions and social media are the new online galleries
Kenya’s first online art auction almost sells out, brings big relief to industry | by Kari Mutu | The East African
Circle Art Agency set a record in October as Kenya’s first art online auction. The agency has been hosting annual auctions of modern and contemporary East African art since 2013 and has attracted international buyers and a growing base of Kenyan collectors.
This first virtual auction was a small event, with just 37 lots of mostly secondary market and modern works. However, it achieved a 90 percent sell-out rate and recorded Ksh14 million ($128,182) in sales.
“In spite of a difficult year, the East African art market is stable and growing,” said Danda Jaroljmek, director of Circle Art.
Though the commercial art gallery scene is small and remains challenging (Asni Gallery, one of Addis’ stalwarts, recently shuttered), the growing local and international exposure is starting to pay off. “It’s important that we have a younger generation of Ethiopian artists at the auctions because we are attracting a lot of new buyers,” said Danda Jarolimek, a Nairobi-based curator who runs the annual East Africa Auction. “Those who have been collecting Nigerian, South African or Ghanaian art may not know huge amounts about East Africa, so it can be a starting point to learn about a new market,” she said over a phone call.
Some artists in the region are hoping the international attention will help them get recognition. With growing interest from international auction houses and a flourishing gallery scene at home, East African art is catching on with global collectors and a new generation of local buyers. The region may lag behind the continent’s art powerhouses like South Africa or Nigeria, but experts say art in the region has attracted increasing interest in the past few years.
The Seventh Annual Art Auction East Africa took place last night at the Raddison Blu Ballroom in Nairobi. It featured artworks that Circle Art Gallery founder-curator Danda Jaroljmek had assembled, drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt and Congo.
One special feature of this year’s art auction was that nearly half the artworks were by Kenyans. There were 70 lots in the auction, with no less than 30 Kenyans represented.
A large painting by Cartoon Joseph sold for $3,500 in the recent East African art auction, where a fierce battle between two anonymous telephone bidders pushed the price of an original work by Eduardo Said Tingatinga to just over $54,000; six times its estimate … It is believed to be a world record price for Tingatinga at auction, and is the single highest sale price for any lot in the six auctions held so far by the Circle Art Agency of Nairobi.
They say the best way to test the financial value of a work of art is to send it to auction. Let the market decide; the market is always right, the argument goes.
That is probably true as long as you do not confuse market value with artistic worth. I always think of the comment by Oscar Wilde… “A fool knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Also, it is an odd fact that sellers send work to auction believing it will attract the highest price, while buyers trot along hoping for a bargain.
The scene could easily be set at the dapper auction houses of London or New York. But this is the Circle Art auction in Nairobi, Kenya – East Africa’s only contemporary art auction … Four pieces at this year’s auction sold for more than a million Kenyan shillings ($100,000). That’s double the number of the year before – showing a marked growth potential.
Top spot was a dead heat at Ksh1,878,400 ($18,415) between Geoffrey Mukasa’s Post-Cubist At Home, and Rashid Diab’s large Out of Focus — the surprise of the show which exceeded its top estimate by almost Ksh1 million ($9,803).
With East Africa’s first Modern and Contemporary Art Auction being held in Nairobi this month, msafiri takes a closer look at four of the works to go under the hammer. In recent years the art world has taken a keen interest in African art. However most of the attention has been focused on southern and West Africa. The Circle Art Agency is keen to expose local and international collectors to the wealth of artistic talent that exists in East Africa.