A new report shows Africa's top 50 most 'validated' artists

Pascale Marthine Tayou, Mask, 2016, crystal, mixed medium, 74x24x21cm
Pascale Marthine Tayou, Mask, 2016, crystal, mixed medium, 74x24x21cm

The value of art is often in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes it’s also determined by how many times it’s exhibited, where and by whom. Corrigall & Co, a Cape Town consultancy, has put together a list of African artists who are the most “validated” within the industry. This doesn’t necessarily refer to the price their work brings in, but how popular each artist is among curators.

The consultancy looked at the work of 20 curators, among them the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa’s Koyo Kouoh and Azu Nwagbogu, South Africa’s Gabi Ngcobo, Okwui Enwezor and the late Bisi Silva.

“Validation is vital in the realm of art, given that its value, whether fiscal or cultural, relies on such uncertain qualities, such as individual taste, perception, fashion and insider or specialist knowledge. Revealing the consensus on the most important artists by Africa’s most recognised curators offers some solid opinion in the sea of uncertainty that swirls around the continent’s nascent art ecosystems,” says the consultancy’s press release.

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The report even includes interesting findings on gender. Unsurprisingly, 77% of artists in the top 35 are men, but more heartening is that 55% of the top 20 curators are female.

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The report divides the artists into seven “tiers”, based on the number of exhibitions each artist participated in that was curated by one of the top 20 curators between 2007 and 2017.

In the top tier is Zanele Muholi; the second tier features Bili Bidjocka from Cameroon, Otobong Nkanga and George Osodi from Nigeria; the third tier includes Kada Attia from Algeria and Kudzanai Chiurai from Zimbabwe.

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Kudzunai Chiurai, 2017. Picture: Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Big names like William Kentridge and Marlene Dumas – whose works would probably pull in the most money – are absent from the list. This is because “tastemakers may be less interested in presenting art produced by ‘big names’ already known to the art world or art-viewing public and/or whose expression may, as a result, be regarded as operating ‘independently’ from the African continent and its expression”, says the press release.

Corrigall & Co founder Mary Corrigall says this is what makes the report important.

“It identifies those overlooked artists who already have significant CVs, yet have not been signed to an important commercial gallery or enjoyed media interest. With regard to the recognisable and celebrated names; the study exposes the influence these elite curators have had on the careers of artists.”

  • The full report is available from corrigall.org for R610 for the soft cover version and R390 for the PDF
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