In Conversation with: Giles Peppiatt, Director of Modern and Contemporary African art at Bonhams

R:Ed: Please introduce yourself and your work to our audience.

My name is Giles Peppiatt, and I am Director of Modern and Contemporary African art at Bonhams. I started the sales at Bonhams about 15 years ago. And at the time, we were the first people to hold sales of modern contemporary African art on the international market. And it’s been an extraordinary ride.

R:Ed: What drew you to African art?

It was more the possibility and the potential of the area, and the market, more than any one individual artist. We started to notice that there was a stronger and greater interest from collectors in that region. When we first started the sales, the market was so undeveloped and there were no collectors that we knew of. It was literally throwing things in the air and seeing how they landed. Once we had held three or four sales we started realising which parts of the market were most popular. We started attracting different works, artists and galleries.

R:Ed: How has the African art market changed since you launched the contemporary African art department at Bonhams.

The market has changed beyond recognition in all sorts of ways. Firstly, Covid-19 has changed how we engage with collectors The current involvement is probably 60 or 70% online. In that regard the market has changed hugely – I think that’s probably something that affects the art market as a whole.
Tastes have also changed. When we first started, the market was very much a post war market. Today, people want contemporary works for contemporary lives. It is inevitable that it happens, and it impacts the demand also for young emerging African figurative artists.

R:Ed: Bonhams has an extensive footprint on the African continent. How does that give Bonhams an edge in the African art market?

Bonhams has  offices in Lagos, Cape Town and Johannesburg, and we’re hiring  representatives in Accra and Nairobi.
We’ve always had representation in Africa. The bidders from Africa, the collectors from Africa are terribly important, even on the supply side. Having offices and representatives in Africa is vital for us to keep in touch with what’s coming to the markets which emerging artists to focus on.

R:Ed: Do you have any advice for young artists or collectors hoping to engage with African art?

Certainly! Starting with young collectors, I would suggest you buy what you like. and try to buy the best you can afford. If you buy the best, or at the top end of your spending scale, you will be buying works that have the greatest chance of appreciating in value. The final piece of advice is buy with your eyes and your ears, don’t, don’t listen to what other people are telling you about how wonderful an artist – educate yourself and develop your own taste.
With regards to artists: get yourself a good gallery. I know artists dislike giving away 50% of any purchase price to the gallery, but it is worthwhile because they will act in your interests, and they understand the market.

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