(K. Brent Tomer),
IN OCTOBER 2010 a wealthy South African, bidding at Bonhams in London, bought a portrait of a doe-eyed Indian girl from the island of Zanzibar that had been painted in 1945. The artist was Irma Stern, who was born in the Transvaal, the daughter of German-Jewish émigrés. Sentimental in style, it was not a fashionable work of art. Nevertheless, the bidder paid a record £2.37m ($3.3m) for the picture, more than twice the top estimate. Much has changed since that moment, when homesick white South Africans, grown rich on rising commodity prices, would spend millions on the work of artists who reminded them of their parents and grandparents and the white world they grew up in. Half a decade on, the global art world has discovered a quite different Africa—and in a big way.
In the course of the 20th century African tribal art was praised by many outsiders, including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who absorbed what they saw as its “primitive” imagery into their own work. But few collectors on the continent or beyond were interested in Africa’s contemporary art, still less in its artists. One exception was Jean Pigozzi, heir to the Simca motoring…Continue reading