How to buy authentic African art?

Since artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp have highlighted it through their works, African art has never ceased to fascinate collectors and amateurs. Masks, statues, fetishes, but also jewelry, musical instruments, weapons ... have taken over the museums, starting with that of the Quai Branly in Paris. If you are looking for such items, be aware that the market is very complex. A situation which is due to the very history of the African continent, forged in particular by colonialism, tribal wars, missions of evangelization ... The works are rare ... and the fakes are numerous.

We suggest you learn more about this market and we give you tips to avoid counterfeits.

Traditional African art: some landmarks

Above all, when we talk aboutArticle African is in fact evoked a very wide variety of works and objects coming from the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, from Niger to Namibia, from the Ivory Coast to Mozambique, via Nigeria, Congo, Madagascar ...

Until the beginning of the 20th century approximately, this rich artistic production was neglected by Western museums, by collectors and other art lovers. It is essentially the painters of the Avant-gardes who popularize this art, like Picasso in his painting The Ladies of Avignon. Missionaries, soldiers, Europeans who returned to the continent after the independence of these African countries… carry with them in their suitcases a number of works of art that will populate cabinets of curiosity, galleries, museums . And from the 80s, the African art market experienced a spectacular craze. We speak then rather of primitive arts or primitive art. Since then, demand has continued to grow; but the offer remains limited.

Beware of counterfeits

Experts agree that the masterpieces of African art are already preserved in Western museums, for example in Paris, Quai Branly. However, it is still possible to find masks, fetishes and other ritual statuettes as well as everyday objects such as dishes, tools, weapons ... Apart from objects made in bronze, coming from the kingdom of Nigeria in particular, these works remain rare, because their material and their mode of conservation did not allow them to cross the centuries. This is why it is exceptional to find ancient objects over 50-100 years old. Other factors explain the disappearance of these pieces: evangelization, conversion to Islam, war conflicts, an ineffective heritage protection policy, etc.

But the success is there. And it leads to an abundance of counterfeits, often manufactured and purchased directly in Africa. Counterfeiters have developed craft techniques to imitate the patina of old objects and sell as such contemporary productions. They can then be sold at a gold price; and these fakes can even be found at the heart of the collections of the largest museums.

How to avoid fakes?

Another difficulty: traditional art objects created in Africa are neither signed nor dated. This is why, before buying an object, it is essential that it is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, which must precisely trace the history of the work: where, when and by whom it was found, in which countries / places did it transit and on what date, in which hands did it remain, etc. Before deciding on such an object, you must therefore remain vigilant and inform yourself as much as possible. Visit museums and exhibitions, consult sales catalogs and specialized books, meet gallery owners and collectors ...

To know that the value of these works from Africa depends for a lot on their discoverer and collector. The more famous these are, the more likely the work is to be authentic; and its price will be established accordingly. The fact that the mask, the statue, the weapon ... has actually been used also gives it a lot of value, perhaps more than these properly aesthetic qualities.

What about contemporary African art?

African art is not just about statuettes, fetishes, Jewelry and other ritual or usual objects. Painters, sculptors, designers, printmakers… bring their rich creations to life in all African countries, from Ghana to Ethiopia via Mali and Benin. And their productions are, rightly, more and more valued, whether locally or internationally. Evidenced by a market which is certainly young, but which is constantly developing. The growing interest of collectors and museums in contemporary African artists allows you to find quality works, which will undoubtedly increase in value over time. This long-term investment is first and foremost a quest for quality and authenticity. Consult the catalogs, learn about the artists, learn how to get an "eye" and do not hesitate to take advice from specialists to secure your investment.

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