How a Quatar museum can influence prices of African Art and why ?

How a Quatar museum can influence prices of African Art and why ?

It might be a strange feeling for a painting collctor to hear that “The Card Players” by Cezanne sold for more than 190 million as it is for an African Art collector a strange feeling to hear that a simple  Songye axe valued at 3,000 € sold for 384,000 € just because it has a signature of Leo Frobenius who wrote a few books and articles on African Art in the early  XXth century

Leo Frobenius on African History, Ar…

Leo Frobenius


But if I tell you both pieces where sold to the royal family of Qatar, in preparation of the new museum by architect Jean Nouvel and inspired by the desert sand roses to grows organically around the former palace, will probably changes your view about the meaning of this event.

national museum of Qatar

The new museum is scheduled to open in December 2014 and they want to become a touristic attraction containing Masterworks from around the World.

You may not want to think on all the African Art objects you could have bought with the fortune that the Al Thani family spentnot only on a simple Songye axe but also to the other African Art master pieces they bought the last two years  including many for a few million euros, and many of you might find it outrageous thinking on the price they spended for a single painted canvas, depicting two simple laborers in a French cafe playing cards while enjoying a pipe and a glass of wine. You could have bought several collections of African Art together with the houses containing these objects.

The art market since the eighties, more and more become a playground for the super rich collectors from around the world, and I am not surprised anymore when I see African Art auction with more than 25 objects above 100,000 € and 4 or five above 1 million. At the Sotheby’s and Christie’s receptions you don’t see only the usual collectors of the eighties and nineties but also American “hedge funds” wonder boys,  japanese industrials, Arab oil sheiks, and new rich from Russia, China and India, who found all the way to the major auction houses and expensive galleries like those of Larry Gagosian, who have branches from Rome to Hong Kong, Pace Gallery, etc… The fabulous prizes that were once only for old masters, impressionists or the great modernists are also paid today for African Art and even for contemporary pop artists such as Damien Hirst .

The art area flourishes, when you see the results of the auction houses for 2011. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s reported a sales increase of 14 percent. The African Art auctions of Christie’s increased 400% and for the whole art area they where the leaders last year with 4.3 billion of art and antiques sold. While in many countries the impact of the economic crisis is felt and leads to painful savings, the art market produced a million dance as if the sky is the limit.

Is African Art Trophy Hunting ?

Of course there is a wide gap between the top of the market and the daily practice of the tribal art collectors market where people like me and you try to find some genuine objects, masks and statues between 1,000€ and 10,000€ . But even the main street art and antiques market seems to pass these times of crisis rather well. Antique dealers and gallery owners have to deal with customers who lost their trust in money and the stock market and seek refuge in art. Not only are these tangible objects that will always retain some value, but they also give us a lot of pleasure. Investors who wants to diversify their portfolio, consider the better art pieces as a relatively safe alternative.

For the emir of Qatar and his family, who in recent years, spend phenomenal amounts to buy art, there are other motives. Just like in Abu Dhabi, Qatar wants to a destination for cultural tourists, in prevision of the day the source of oil has dried up. Abu Dhabi hopes to open in the following years a branch of the Louvre and a Guggenheim Museum . And Qatar spared no expense to make from the Museum of Modern Art in Doha a top collection.

So did the Al Thani family to get their hands on pieces like the Master of Buli or paintings by Francis Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein. It started five years ago, when they bought the painting of Mark Rothko White Center for $ 72 million  in New York, and it turned out that the piece was moved to Qatar. It caught the imagination of collectors, because all those years it hung in the office of banker David Rockefeller . Rockefeller himself got the painting in 1960 and paid it only $8,500.

The fact that news people focus on record prices in the art market, not only has to do with he fact that people are in a quest for safe investments, but also because of the hunger for status symbols among buyers.

For people who possess all material wealth has to offer, art becomes the ultimate proof of good taste. A painting with a famous signature is like a trophy on the walls of their villas.

But the main reason for the record prices at the top of the art market is purely economic. Paintings by major artists or African Art objects proven early XXth century with dcumentation are becoming more expensive because they have become extremely scarce. Most of that work is stuck in museum collections where they never come out. From the recently sold “The Card Players” by Cezanne only four other copies are know such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris or the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. To give their own museum World class assets the Qataris had no other choice than to count down a colossal amount  – almost double the previous record price. It was a chance they could not let pass.

When one sees how deep the Arabic, Russian, Chinese and even some Greek buyers today have in their purse to attack, one can only be grateful for the amazing collections in our museums. Those institutions have not always easy at a time when the government saves on culture. But record prices for Cézanne’s Fang masks etc.. as an incitement to public ownership is not as cost but as a luxury to consider.

But don’t let these record prices fool you, there still are genuine and affordable objects on the market

Click here to Find Fine African Art Antiques for your collection

This article was inspired , translated and enhanced on the following article at from Jan Van Hove, 07 februari 2012

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