Modern and Contemporary African art soars at Sotheby’s auction

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Gerard Sekoto, Cyclists in Sophiatown. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s’s fifth sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art (15 October) surpassed pre-sale expectations to realise £4 million / $5.1 million (pre-sale estimate: £1.9-2.8 million / $2.4-3.5 million) – the highest total ever achieved for a sale in this category. The sale featured over 100 works from 56 artists across 20 countries and established nine new auction records.

The sale was led by works from two 20th century masters of African modernism – Gerard Sekoto and Ben Enwonwo. Four bidders competed for Enwonwu’s enchanting Christine over the course of a 13-minutes battle, pushing the final price to £1.1 million / $1.4 million (est. £100,000-150,000) to become the second highest price for the artist at auction.

The artist’s Africa Dances from 1970 also achieved £471,000 / $596,333 (est. 150,000-200,000). In total, ten works by Enwonwu were 100% sold to realise a combined total of £1.8 million / $2.3 million.

Forming the cover lot of this season’s sale catalogue, Gerard Sekoto’s Cyclists in Sophiatown was painted in 1940 and draws attention to the harsh reality of the lives of black South Africans in the years leading up to apartheid. Within ten years, the artist had been exiled and the residents of Sophiatown forcibly removed. The work achieved £362,500 / $458,961 (est. £250,000-350,000).

Hannah O’Leary, Sotheby’s head of Modern and Contemporary African Art, said: “If today’s auction confirms anything, it’s the position of African art as one of the most eclectic and exciting areas of the global art market today.”