East Africa
Frank Wealth Report
Geoffrey Musaka

Collectors Snap Up Artworks in Nairobi Auction

According to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2018, art is becoming the top luxury possession that the rich are buying.  Forget about the classic cars, watches, wines and jewellery. It’s art, including African art, that had an outstanding growth rate of 21 per cent last year with classic cars and watches falling far behind.

The most highly-prized artwork of the night was by the late Ugandan artist Geoffrey Musaka. His oil painting done in 1993, ‘In the Sugar Plantation’ went for Sh1.9 million. The artist’s works have been sought-after by international collectors for many years.

The one bidding by phone from the USA ultimately secured the 1989 painting for Sh1.4 million. It is one of the most subtly colourful works by the Kenyan artist who is best known for her stunning black and white oil paintings.

But Ms Waite’s work was not the only one that elicited a bidding war. There were several more ‘wars’ over amazing artworks coming from all over Africa, including DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

In part, the combative bids picked up quickly by the eagle-eyed former Sotheby’s auctioneer Mr Easton, had to do with the quality of works curated by Ms Jaroljmek who this year assembled artworks from 10 African countries.

At the auction, there was a table set up near the auctioneer where proxy bidders sat glued to mobile phones as they listened to clients making instant decisions, whether to up the ante or not.

When Mukasa’s other painting in the auction, ‘Birds at Home’ done 29 years ago, went on the auction block, it got bidders going both by phone and from the floor. Ultimately, the winning sale was for Sh997,900.

The energy in the room had warmed up early in the night and it wasn’t long before a second slightly shorter ‘war’ got underway for Peterson Kamwathi’s 2007 ‘Untitled’ sheep done in charcoal and pastel on paper. The artist is one of Kenya’s most acclaimed painters. His sheep sold for Sh939,200, which was right within the range of valuation that Ms Jarolmjek had estimated and included in the catalogue.

‘‘But it isn’t just the quality of an artist’s technique that counts. It’s also the history of previous sales of an artist’s works, among other factors, that affects the valuation,’’ she added.

This year’s art auction attracted a host of new bidders. Some were invisible, as they only bid by phone; others having heard the auction was an important place to be if one wanted a ‘crash course’ in what’s happening around East Africa artistically.

“I’ve attended all five auctions and I always take home at least one painting,” said Mr Koinange who was among the 200 collectors as well as many absentee and telephone bidders at the auction.

For the past five years, the auction has attracted high net worth art collectors who bid energetically on phone or on the floor for pieces dating from the 1960s.

‘‘We are proud that the auction has continued to grow and build a space for collectors of African art and members of the East African business community to not only acquire art, but also to be able to learn about the important artists in the region,” said Ms Jaroljmek.

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