African Art: Spotlight on Art Fairs

African Art: Spotlight on Art Fairs

Posted in Art Market

Art fairs are big opportunities for galleries and artists to reach a large audience composed of art lovers. With good fair attracting thousands of visitors, galleries can see more potential clients in few days than they do locally in a year. So, art fairs could become essential to emerging art markets which needs international exposure.

Indeed, contemporary African art is still emerging and it is challenging to find many initiatives to help its purveyors. Inside Africa, there are only two art fairs: the FNB Joburg Art Fair and Marrakech Art Fair, of which the later was suspended since 2012. Outside Africa, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair is burgeoning in London with a good spot on the West, the place where decisions are made.[1]

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair

1:54 is an art fair dedicated to projects which involves African or Africa related contemporary art. With the growing popularity of African art, the fair want to offer an opportunity to discover art from an emerging market. Building on different artistic styles and practices, the fair is a platform for galleries, artists, curators, art centres and institutions to promote art amongst an international audience.

This year, 1:54 returned concurrently during Frieze week after its successful inaugural launch in 2013. The fair showcased works from 27 selected galleries representing nearly 100 artists living and working inside or outside Africa. The fair also showcased an artistic programme of lectures, talks and discussions featuring some influencers of the African art scene. It was hosted by Koyo Kouoh, founding artistic director of Raw Material Company, a center for art based in Dakar.   

1:54 is initiated by Touria El Glaoui and designed by Rashid Ali of RA Projects, a young London based architecture and design studio established in 2009. The fair is held at Somerset House, a cultural arts centre based in London.

FNB Joburg Art Fair

The FNB Joburg Art Fair is an international art fair which supports the emerging contemporary art from Africa. This event represents the only sustainable art fair on the African continent open to the international art scene. The fair is helping to build a solid base of buyers from Africa. Without such a base, there is little chance of promoting a sustainable art market. Although all galleries which have an interest to African contemporary art are welcomed to participate, the fair aims to keep a low number of participating galleries to ensure quality and efficiency.

Now in its seventh year, the fair is managed by Ross Douglas and held annually in Johannesburg. This year, the fair featured 37 exhibitors which include established as well as young galleries from 8 different countries. The focus was particularly on art from Nigeria with several participating galleries and publications. There was also a balance between the number of paintings and photographs exhibited during the fair.    

Marrakech Art Fair

The Marrakech Art Fair is an international art fair for modern and contemporary African art. The fair developed an approach which focuses on the international identity of the event and its role as a platform for African art scene. The fair featured organization of meetings between institutions, collectors, artists and galleries. The fair also became a place of artistic discovery with a proposed cultural tour throughout the Red City. 

There were only two editions since its inception in 2010. Organizers are considering a new positioning and a new operating mode before resuming the fair. Meanwhile, Marrakech relies on the biennale to remain a pivotal place for contemporary art inside Africa.   


[1] In Chicken and Egg, Simon Njami reflects on the place of African art markets in a world under the monopoly of Western art, and the role of contemporary art fairs in Africa opposing culture and finance.

Posted in Art Market  |  November 08, 2014