Art market in Paris auctions modern and contemporary art from Africa

Aspire Art Auctions and the French auction house Piasa collaborated for a second time to present a large-scale auction of modern and contemporary African art – this time in Paris.

The auction took place on Wednesday, 24th June, and although the fallout of COVID-19 has resulted in extraordinary social and economic changes and challenges the world over, the resounding strength of the auction demonstrates that despite present difficulties, the art market remains robust.

Although the bullish prices that have peppered the market on occasion have declined, and which often obscure readings of the sector’s actual standing, the sale’s sturdy results indicate a healthy market holding steady.

Moreover, it demonstrates that art trading has resumed successfully, and that borders reopening and restrictions being relaxed globally bodes well for the future of the market. Aspire and Piasa put together an impressive collection of 173 artworks by 85 artists from 19 African countries that went under the hammer.

Top lots

The auction was led by the cover lot; William Kentridge’s important 1989 drawing from Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris (Soho Eating) which sold for €234,000. Another mixed media work by Kentridge Electrical Industries (Rodchenko), Alphabet Coloré sold for €18,200, almost three times its high estimate.

Joseph Ntensibe’s large-scale dreamlike depiction of tropical greenery stole the show when it sold for more than double its high estimate at an impressive € 67,600, the second highest price achieved at auction for this artist. The Ugandan artist’s concern with ecology and the changing environment, and in particular the disappearing forests in rural Uganda, resonated with many bidders.

Irma Stern’s exquisite 1943 portrait of Dora Sowden, the eccentric music and arts critic for the Johannesburg-based progressive newspaper The Rand Daily Mail during the 1940s and 1950s achieved €182,000. A rare and early bronze sculpture by Edoardo Villa, Figure with Drapery, attracted substantial interest realising a stellar €54,600 – a historic record for a work by this artist sold in his native Europe.

A new world auction record (for a single work) by David Goldblatt was achieved for a rare platinum print – A Miner Waits on the Bank to Go Underground, City Deep Gold Mine, 1996 – which sold for €32,500.

Zimbabwean artists fared well too. Kudzanai Chiurai’s mixed media work Untitled VIII (Auto and the Workers Movement) sold for €22,100 and Fountain by painter Misheck Masamvu, an artist relatively new to the secondary market, sold for €20,800, toppling his previous auction record also set by Aspire.

Further records were achieved for Senegalese artist Omar Ba’s intricate work This Way is Not Easy which sold for €44,200; Kenyan artist Dickens Otieno’s intriguing wall-hanging of woven metal strips, €14,300 – well above its high estimate; and Ugandan artist Sanaa Gateja’s paper tapestry titled Twitter and the Ostrich, which also sold for €14,300.

In debut appearances in international auctions, records were established for the young South African artist Siwa Mgoboza (€7,800) and British born Tomi Olopade (€3,900).


Peter Clarke’s powerful triptych, The Crossing from 1987, impressed serious collectors and achieved a firm €37,700. This was the first time that a work by this prominent South African artist appeared on auction in Europe.

Paintings by renowned Congolese painter Chéri Samba sold well – Lutte Contre Les Moustiques sparked competitive bidding and achieved €58,500 – almost double the high estimate.

Appearing on an international auction for the first time, both works by the up and coming South African artist Simphiwe Ndzube sold well at €23,400, and Mary Sibande’s photograph Her Majesty, Queen Sophie achieved €13,000.

Young star Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga (from the DRC) proved that he remains one of the artists to watch when his impressive large scale painting sold for €50,700.

In defiance of all expectations and challenges, the outstanding results of this landmark auction endorses the pioneering spirit and collaborative ethos of Aspire Art Auctions and Piasa. At a time when the world seems to be larger and more separated than before, this auction is a crowning example of what can be accomplished in these trying times, especially by virtue of innovation and collaboration.

Not only did it grow Aspire’s reach and status as the first auction house on the African continent to champion modern and contemporary art from Africa in Europe, but also provides an unmistakable reminder that top-quality art remains resilient in the face of adversity.