Bonface Orucho, bird story agency

Ethiopian artist Julie Mehretu has yet again set a new record for an African-born artist’s highest sale price for a painting at auction.

According to Art Newspaper, Mehretu’s work, ‘’Walkers with the Dawn and Morning’, sold for US$10.38 million at the Now Evening Auction in New York on November 15.

Sotheby’s auction website describes ‘Walkers with the Dawn and Morning’ as “an expansive celebration of black perseverance post-Hurricane Katrina, swirling with dense layers, choreographed linework, and hints of bright colour in a deep, tonal sea.”

According to Lucius Elliot, the head of the Now Evening Sale Auction, the painting possesses undeniable beauty.

“It represents the very best of Julie Mehretu… She looks at architecture and urban planning as a lens through which to examine power and social control over the course of human civilization,” he explains in a video on Sotheby’s site.

Mehretu, who is of both Ethiopian and Jewish heritage, was born in Addis Ababa in 1970 before moving to Michigan in the US Midwest as a child, and eventually settling in New York.

On October 5 at the Sotheby’s auction event in Hong Kong, her ‘Untitled 2001 diptych’ fetched US$9.32 million, the highest price for a painting by an African-born artist at any auction, at the time.

This record-breaking spree is especially significant considering the international art market is male-dominated, and has also been muted of late.

Before Mehretu, South African artist Marlene Dumas, in 2008, made a record US$6 million sale at the Sotheby’s auction in London. Other African women in the top ranks for attracting high sales for their works include South African artist Irma Stern and American-based Nigerian, Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Mehretu has undergone a gradual but steady rise in her artistry. details that her works sold for under US$1 million in 2010 before climbing to over US$2 million in the same year.

“By 2013, a large painting titled ‘Rising Down’ (2008) hit US $3 million at a Sotheby’s auction held in Doha, Qatar,” the report explains.

Today, the 52-year-old dominates the art market with her large signature paintings, illuminating unparalleled dynamism. The Museum of Modern Art describes her art as one that seems to “reinvent abstraction for a new generation.”

But her influence extends beyond auctions. Mehretu’s prowess will soon grace BMW’s 20th commissioned contemporary art car, a nod to her ability to embody “speed, space, creating and imagining space,” as described by Guggenheim Abu Dhabi director Stephanie Rosenthal, a selection jury member. This recognition places her among a league of legendary artists who’ve left an indelible mark on the automotive canvas, according to The Art Newspaper.

The BMW art car challenge has in the past involved the biggest names in the global art world, all the way from Roy Lichtenstein to John Baldessari, among other big names.

Mehretu isn’t alone in this transformative wave.

According to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a “surge in demand for African art” in the contemporary art market, driven by artists like El Anatsui and Ben Enwonwu, reflects a growing global appreciation for the region and a promising financial opportunity for up-and-coming artists.

According to The Art Market, one of the largest art market information websites, auctioneers like Piasa, Artcurial, Bonhams and Sotheby’s are “constantly looking for works by African artists to supply their generalist sales of contemporary art.”

The Art Market further reveals that in 2022, for instance, a record number of works by African artists – 2700 pieces – were sold in various auctions. This is almost twice as much as those sold before the pandemic. These generated US$63 million in 2022, a significant increase from 2021, where auction sales of art generated US$47 million.

The African contemporary art market is expected to experience significant growth in 2023 and beyond, according to the Museum of Modern Art, fueled by the emergence of new technologies such as AI and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

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Useful link:,the%20aftermath%20of%20Hurricane%20Katrina.

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