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07/04/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/04/2023 01:08

The auction market adopts textile works

The auction market adopts textile works

[04 Jul 2023]

Weaving, embroidery and knitting are gradually emerging from artistic prejudice. Over the years, with the recurring presence of textile works in museum exhibitions, biennials and international art fairs, collectors have come to terms with this practice once considered too "traditional", too artisanal, or too linked to the domestic sphere (especially in Western culture) to be symbolically admitted into the field of Contemporary creation.

In reality, textiles began to appear in Contemporary art a long time ago in the hands of well-known Western artists, mainly women. Louise Bourgeois and Annette Messager imposed textiles by unraveling and re-knitting their personal stories in daring creations, sometimes within the framework of imposing installations. And although textile works by Rosemarie Trockel, Gerhard Richter and Alighiero BOETTI, three Western artists, can fetch over one million dollars at auction, high-value textile works are extremely rare compared with high-value paintings or sculptures. Today ,the market's boundaries appear to be shifting, giving more prominence to this type of creativity.

Alighiero Boetti's annual results for tapestry artworks at auction (copyright artprice.com)

Global market reception

The "tapestry" category of the Artprice database focuses on woven and embroidered works offered at auction, without exhaustively listing all the creations using textiles. Although it doesn't cover the entire field of textile art, it nevertheless allows a better appreciation of the evolution of the market and the blossoming of collectors' tastes for this type of work.

Indeed, the database figures are very telling, suggesting a profound change in transactions over the past twenty years: the number of works in the "tapestry" category sold at auction tripled in the first decade of the new millennium, and then more than tripled again after 2012. The market also saw a record number of transactions in this category last year with more than 2,000 lots sold, of which a third by Contemporary artists, proof that interest in these works, very modest a few years ago, is continuing to grow over time.

The increased supply and clearer interest from collectors has significantly boosted annual turnover, to an all-time high of $40 million in textile works sold at auction in 2022, compared with $13 million in 2012. Admittedly, a large part of the 2022 figure was generated by works by Alighiero Boetti, the artist most acclaimed for having fully brought the ancestral techniques of embroidery and tapestry to life in Contemporary creation. Last year, Boetti hit a new auction record at $8.5 million with a superb Map (1989-1991) measuring nearly six meters wide. This result alone represented one-fifth of last year's global turnover in the textiles medium.

African artists

The art market has recently welcomed creations linked to Africa's historical textile practices. These practices, in full renaissance, constitute a major means of expression for Contemporary artists, while establishing an interesting and unique niche for collectors. There appears to have been a breakthrough of these textile works in auction catalogs since the mid-2010s, in particular with the arrival of creations by Konaté, Gateja and the young Athi-Patra RUGA in major auction sales. The latest generation of African textile artists are from Morocco, Lebanon, Mali, Nigeria, Angola, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Iraq and South Africa. They are supported by auction houses on their continent, but also quickly by foreign operators including Piasa, Artcurial, Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams who are responsible for introducing them to international collectors in Paris, London and New York.

Geographical distribution of Athi-Patra RUGA turnover at auction since 2020 (copyright artprice.com)

The recent interest shown by auctioneers in textile creations from contemporary Africa appears to have been triggered, at least in part, by the phenomenal success over the past ten years of the artist El ANATSUI. The voluptuous beauty of Anatsui's metallic weaves have whetted the appetite of collectors and the inflation of his prices has encouraged market players to take an interest in other artists working in the same field. Auction companies also started to introduce new contemporary African textile creations into their catalogs after Anatsui received his first 7-digit auction result and after he was awarded a Golden Lion at the 56th Venice Biennale (in the mid-2010s).

Following these two milestones in the career of the Ghanaian artist, works by the Malian artist Abdoulaye KONATÉ (1953) began to be offered regularly in specialized African Art sales from 2015, and also began to interest the major auction houses (Bonhams, Sotheby's, Artcurial, etc.). The following year (2016), it was the turn of Sanaa GATEJA, now 72 and considered one of Uganda's most important living artists, to be presented at auction for the first time (Piasa in Paris). One of the two proposed works, a superb tapestry in vegetalfabric, paper beads and raffia (Memoro of me Kitilili) found a buyer at $3,800. Some of his works are still accessible at around $5,000 at auction, but his prices are firming and his last work presented at auction, Big Mama (2014), fetched over $17,000 at Christie's in London.

There has also been a more acute acceleration over the past two or three years, with the arrival of works by Dickens OTIENO (born in 1979, Kenya) in auction rooms in 2019, first in Nairobi, then in Paris and finally in London, the best market place for this type of work. Otieno's weavings with strips of aluminum cans, whose œuvre inevitably evokes that of Anatsui, are priced between $5,000 and $55,000 depending on their size and these successes are very likely to be reinforced on the international art market. Indeed, after being shown at the Untitled Art Fair in Miami last year, Otieno's work will be exhibited this year at Art Dubaï and in London. Other artists recently included in major sales include the self-taught Joshua Michael ADOKURU (Nigeria) supported by Christie's and Sotheby's for two years, Ana SILVA (1979, Angola) whose auction debut in 2021 fetched $9,000 at Artcurial Marrakech and Thania PETERSEN who, at 29, elicited a bid of $16,000 for her embroidered work Tanne Men in February 2022 in a Sotheby's Live sale. The decompartmentalization of the auction market towards art forms other than painting seems a direct consequence of the immense success of Contemporary African art, where explorations of textiles has played an important role, and with extraordinary diversity.

Artmarket by Artprice Article published in Diptyk magazine