Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s A La Warhol was the sleeper hit of Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary African Art Sale on March 28.
The lot sold for £200,000 ($281,266) at the London auction, a major increase on its £70,000 ($98,443) estimate.
Crosby is a Nigerian artist who lives and works in Los Angeles. Her work explores the intersection of her heritage and her adopted land. This oil on canvas is inspired by the work of Andy Warhol, drawing its structure from his iconic doctored portraits of notable people.
However, rather than bright, hyper-kinetic colours, Crosby uses the warm earthy tones favoured by African artisans for millennia. There’s a depth to the portraits that’s the antithesis of Warhol, who focused solely on surface (as he put it himself: “I am a deeply superficial person”).
Crosby produced this work during her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia circa 2005-2006.
Crosby is one of the most acclaimed young artists in the US. She was the recipient of a McArthur Genius grant in 2017. Her 2012 painting The Beatyful Ones realised an artist record $3.1m last year, a figure that makes her one of the most valuable painters of her generation.
Buyers are acutely aware of her rising star status, hence the huge sums paid for her work at auction.
Meanwhile Ben Enwonwu’s Africa Dances sold for £187,500 ($263,531), more than five times its £30,000 ($42,165) valuation.
Enwonwu (1917-1994) was a hugely influential figure in African contemporary art. He’s increasingly popular among international collectors.
The sale follows the £1.2m ($1.6m) artist record set for Enwonwu’s masterpiece Tutu in London in February.