Art economist Clare McAndrew’s 2018 total art market report was published by Art Basel and UBS in March. She found that the art economy in 2017 reached $63.7 billion in total global sales, a rise of 12% since the previous year. Private and gallery sales were estimated at $35.2 billion, with auction sales contributing $28.5 billion. The staggering $450 million paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in November 2017 at Christie’s in New York made up 11% of the auction market figure.

This year, the strong growing trend of the art market seems unstoppable. Global art buyers spent almost $3 billion on art sold in New York over a two-week period in May. Christie’s’ turnover amounted to $1.79bn, of which $833 million was raised from the collection of the late David and Peggy Rockefeller. This impressive collection broke the previous record of $484 million raised for the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge’s private collection. During the auction twenty-two world records were also set and these staggering results again reveal the importance of provenance in the sale of important artworks. The couple’s estate is donating all proceeds from the sale to charity.

Sotheby's Post-War and Contemporary sale in May generated $859m, which includes $157.2m for Modigliani’s Nu Couché oil painting as well as $21.1 million for Kerry James Marshall’s Past Times (1997). Marshall’s result elevated his status to be recognized as the most expensive living African American artist at auction. It has been revealed that Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, the Grammy award rapper, producer and entrepreneur purchased the painting. Besides Marshall’s piece, the sale included important works donated by African American artists to raise funds for The Studio Museum’s new building in Harlem designed by architect David Adjaye. Five works by Mark Bradford, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Julie Mehretu, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Glenn Ligon raised $16,4 million while another 37 works bought in an additional $3.8 million.

Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art sale in March turned out to be their best-ever overall auction harvesting $135.1 million. The main works included Picasso’s La Dormeuse (1932) which sold for $41.8 million. The revived strong collector interest in Contemporary Art points to a gradual new growth path following a two-year staggered decline in this category’s turnover since 2014. The US art market is still the largest, while new money and aggressive bidding from wealthy Chinese collectors are pushing up prices.

The local and African contemporary art market performed particularly well during the first half of 2018. Strauss & Co’s contemporary art auction in February offered 71 lots and achieved a sell-through rate of 80%, generating R13.6 million. The two auction stalwarts William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins fetched the highest prices of R2.3 million and R1.25 respectively for a charcoal drawing from Kentridge’s stop-animation film, ‘Felix in Exile’ (1994) and ‘Drunk in the Docks’ the autobiographical painting evoking London-born Hodgins’s arrival at Cape Town’s harbour in 1938. An important work at their March evening sale included ‘Still Life with Coffee Pot and Fruit’ by Erik Laubscher which sold for a new record price of R2.3 million. Besides these top results, the sale also confirmed a simmering existence of a serious interest for contemporary art as several of the younger generation artists all achieved new record prices. The top selling lot on their 4 June auction was Alexis Preller’s Head (Adapting itself to the Unendurable), which achieved R6.9 million.

Aspire Art Auctions realised two new records at their February Deodar House auction for Willem Boshoff’s Clast Mar (2009) which sold for R682 820 and Angus Taylor’s Sit en Staan (2008) which fetched R2,16 million. William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx’s Fire Walker (2010), which prominently etched the skyline in the Deodar garden, sold for R3.98 million. Paintings by old masters at Aspire’s 25 March Cape Town auction also performed well with Stern’s Hydrangeas and St Joseph Lilies selling for R4,77 million.

Activity surrounding art from the African continent remained buoyant during the first semester. The Investec Cape Town Art Fair in February, as well as at the 1-54 art fairs of February and May in Marrakech and New York all focused on contemporary African art. The 13th edition of the Dakar Biennial curated by Simon Djami, hosted 75 artists from 33 countries. The 10th edition of the Berlin Biennale curated by South African curator Gabi Ngcobo will open on 9 June 2018 at various venues in the city.

Benedict Enwonwu’s portrait entitled Tutu achieved an astounding $16.2 million at the Bonhams African, Modern and Contemporary Art auction of 28 February. Sotheby’s second sale dedicated to Modern and Contemporary African Art in March realised a grand total of $2,55 million against a pre-sale estimate of $2,42 million.

The launch of The Norval Foundation’s, a private art museum located on the Steenberg Estate in Cape Town which opened in April, constitutes a major highlight for the South African art scene. The venue includes a sculpture park, restaurant and a nature reserve and opened with an exceptional retrospective of Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae, and a selection of sculptures by Edoardo Villa and global contemporary artists.

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