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Senegal: Why the art market is slow to take off

Art is slow to take off in Senegal

Dakar is the capital of contemporary African art for a few more days. And the city continues to live to the rhythm of openings and artistic performances.

However, notes Le Quotidien, which conducted a survey on the subject, this effervescence very little reflects the state of a sector that suffers from the gaze that ordinary Senegalese give it.

Indeed, with the exception of a select few, very few artists manage to regularly sell their works. In the land of the late Léopold Sédar Senghor, protector of the arts par excellence, art no longer feeds its man.

Artists are always more talented, some amateurs are happy to collect their works and new galleries are springing up everywhere.

But should we therefore speak of an art market in Senegal? The answers diverge. Curator and art consultant, Mohamed Amine Cissé thinks so.

“If we start from the principle that a market is a given product, with someone who offers this product and someone who wants to buy it, then yes, there is an art market. There are many contemporary artists and in front of people buying. Afterwards, it is not a structured market, it is a market which is not yet mature, which is developing little by little, ”he underlines.

For the art critic, Aliou Ndiaye, on the contrary, one cannot speak of an art market since the prerequisites, a well-organized artistic milieu, galleries which permanently exhibit and which have a real identity, are absent.

This is confirmed by Dr Babacar Mbaye Diop, assimilated professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and director of the Higher Institute of Arts and Cultures (Isac).

“A real art market presupposes a legal framework with laws that govern this market, expertise with antique dealers, brokers, consultants, exhibition curators, auctioneers, art dealers, gallery owners, art critics, etc., and the enhancement of works of art through commercial institutions, auction houses, galleries, museums, art fairs, festivals, biennials, journals and art magazines, etc. I’m not saying that all this doesn’t exist in Senegal, but all these trades that revolve around art and the art market are sorely lacking in Senegal,” he says.

It must be said that the heart of the world art market throbs far from our skies. “It is outside the continent, and more specifically in the West, that the real market for African art takes place,” emphasizes Dr Diop.

And according to the figures, only 8% of collectors are in Africa. And the Global Africa art market report 2016, founded by art dealer Jean-Philippe Aka, estimates between 300 and 400 million US dollars collectors’ investments in African art, with buyers between South Africa, Nigeria and Morocco.

Among the largest Senegalese buyers, the name of the chairman of the management board of the Consortium d’entreprise (Cse), Oumar Sow, comes up very often.

Considered the greatest collector in the country, he recently teamed up with Biby Seck in the Galerie Quatorzerohuit sur Ponty. And some have no doubt that great Western masters are in his collection.

“Today, in the art market, it is necessarily to be in Paris, New York and London. These cities are symbolic because it is there that we find the biggest auction houses of contemporary art”, underlines Aliou Ndiaye. There is Drouot, Gaïa and Cornette de Saint-Cyr in Paris, Christie’s and Bonhams in London, Sotheby’s in the USA, Strauss & Co in Johannesburg, etc.

Rating, a must

Africa is still rich in artists and major cultural events. The Biennial of African Art in Dakar, the Parcourt, the various biennials organized all over Africa, in Lubumbashi, Brazzaville, Marrakech… contribute to boosting an increasingly attractive artistic sector and now perceived as a market where works of art are exchanged according to well-established standards.

“The more we are validated by the international, the more it goes up”, indicates Mohamed Cissé. He thus gives the example of Badu Jakk, this young artist whose coast continues to rise.

“Alioune Diack, Badu Jakk by his artist name, is represented here by OH Gallery and in France, by Anne de Villepois, a large gallery. He has had very large exhibitions and is in very good collections. But Aliou will be difficult to collect by a Senegalese. His paintings start at 10 thousand euros. It has large formats, it’s true, but it can go very quickly on 20 or 25 million CFA francs. And yet, he is a young man of 34 years. But, it has been validated in the West,” he says.

It must be said that these fairs and biennials which are organized in the West are the main places of sale for African artists. According to Aliou Ndiaye, 50 to 60% of their sales are made at contemporary art fairs such as Foire 1-54, which is a traveling contemporary art fair organized between Paris, London and the United States.

Equally highly rated, Soly Cissé who has exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris. He made the Divine Comedy which made the 5 continents and that’s how an artist’s rating is determined. In which collection it is, which exhibition it has done, exhibition-sale or biennial.

The works of an artist can cost 1 million on March 16, on March 17, they are collected by the Museum of Art in New York (Moma) and sell for 10 million”, underlines Mr. Cissé.

“It’s a set of criteria. First, the nature of the artist’s works, the discourse that accompanies them. There is also the fame of the artist, how much he is treated in the national and international media, the sales, the galleries where he signed, ”adds Aliou Ndiaye.

In this rating exercise, names come up regularly for Senegal: Soly Cissé, Ndary Lô, Ousmane Sow, Awa Seni Camara. But, on an African scale, the best-rated artists are Cameroonian, Ghanaian or Nigerian. Like the Nigerian El Anatsui whose works reach the million dollars or Kehinde Willey who appears in the top 500 compiled by the Artprice report and who installed the Black Rock artist residency in Dakar.

Closer to home, Mohamed Cissé cites the names of Soly Cissé, Badu Jakk, Ndary Lô whose works have already been sold for 800,000 euros, Barthélemy Toguo, Ouattara Watts, Amadou Sanogo.

Rarer still are women artists to appear on these lists. In an article published on Ashakan, Khady Gadiaga wonders about the place of women in contemporary art, while denouncing “the undervaluation of women”.

“Male living artists thus hold 93% of the top auctions globally. Although there are more artists today and a few major dealers are trying to correct the price disparities, the undervaluation of women is resisting on the contemporary scene. Yayoi Kusama, the most expensive of the fairer sex, is ranked 34th best bid after 33 male records. Moreover, it is clear that this best bid for women is ten times less than the best bid for men and that a gap of nearly 47 million dollars separates Koons’ record from that of Kusama! she.

As for artists who do not yet have access to this international market synonymous with opulence and success, they can still cut their teeth among the art galleries that invest locally in the search for new nuggets. Even if again, the result is not guaranteed.

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