Sotheby's holds debut African modern art sale

Some 115 artworks by 63 artists from 14 countries across Africa are going under the hammer at Sotheby's in London next week

Sotheby's, one of the world's oldest auction houses, is holding its first ever sale of modern and contemporary African art in London in response to a surge in demand.

African artists currently account for just 0.01 percent of the international art market but the auctioneers are confident they are tapping into a fast-growing market.

Some 115 artworks by 63 artists from 14 countries across the continent are going under the hammer on Tuesday next week.

They include works by Ghana's El Anatsui and William Kentridge and Irma Stern from South Africa, all of whom have sold for more than $1 million (920,000 euros) before.

"Sotheby's has been watching this market grow for several years," said Hannah O'Leary, head of modern and contemporary African art at the auction house established in 1744.

"We're on the verge of African art finally being acknowledged and represented in the international art scene," she told AFP.

"In recent years, I've seen an exponential increase in market demand," she said.

The sale is expected to fetch £2.8 million-£4 million ($3.6 million-$5.1 million; 3.3 million-4.7 million euros).

The main countries represented are South Africa and Nigeria, but there are also works from Angolan, Malian and Ugandan artists, among others.

Six of the artists have never had their work sold in an auction before.

"There's a real gulf in representation of Africa in the art market that really needs to be addressed," O'Leary said.

"There are great opportunities, while the market is young, to really start collecting in this field.

"This auction has really caused a lot of excitement in the international art world."

The highest-priced artwork is Anatsui's "Earth Developing More Roots" (2011), a large-scale hanging sculpture made from discarded foil bottle-neck wrappers and copper wire.

It is expected to fetch £650,000-£850,000.

Francisco Vidal's "Icarus Chocolate" (2013), valued at £15,000-£20,000, is painted directly onto machetes, one of the symbols on the Angolan flag.

"Crash Willy" (2009) by the Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare, depicts a headless driver strewn across the back of a vintage car, its window pane broken and wheels coming off. It is set to fetch £120,000-£180,000.

Pre-sale exhibitions have been held in Paris, Johannesburg, Cape Town, New York and London.

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