Announcing Duende Art Projects – a new kind of art gallery by Bruno Claessens

I’m proud to announce my new venture: Duende Art Projects. My brand new gallery’s ambition is to inspire people and enrich their lives by sharing a profound passion for the art of the African continent. My purpose is to strengthen Africa’s visibility and significance within the global and diverse art world through a strong digital presence and frequent curated exhibitions on unique locations.

Duende is a Spanish word that is difficult to translate; it is a concept related to flamenco, referring to a magical moment of inspiration and genius. It is the heightened state of emotion when encountering a moving work of art, a sudden experience that can’t be captured, a moment of goosebumps. While Spanish in origin, the word has an African ring to it too – indeed it is a universal concept, and indicative for the gallery’s ambitions. Duende Art Projects goes beyond labels and reveals the art’s multiplicity of layers.

The gallery wants to open up the western-dominated perspective in the art world, and offers a well-rounded and fresh take on African art, both classical and contemporary. Establishing strategic collaborations with other galleries and institutions worldwide, it wishes to create opportunities to support and promote art and artists from the African continent. The gallery strives to advance the careers of the artists it exhibits and strengthen their international exposure.

Our mission is to connect people – the curious and interested, aspiring and seasoned collectors, connoisseurs, emerging and renowned artists, art advisors, curators and writers – with art from the African continent and its diaspora. We facilitate easy access through compellingly curated exhibitions – offline and online, in Antwerp and on location. We offer a bespoke and discrete art advisory service that covers all aspects of building and managing a collection. The online platform provides insightful educational content and wishes to be a home for ideas, news and stories. While this website will remain online, future blogs with be posted on the Duende website, which you can find

Be sure to regularly visit the instagram page for more news.

My first exhibition THREADS is scheduled for October 1st until November 14th 2021, and will be held in the 14th century Zwartzusters monastery in the historic city centre of Antwerp.

For its inaugural exhibition THREADS, Duende Art Projects presents an empowering juxtaposition of both classical and contemporary art from the African continent. Rarely exhibited together, and generally considered to be different collecting categories, Duende Art Projects brings both old and new work from the African continent together in the unique setting of a 14th century monastery in the historic centre of Antwerp.

THREADS will gather  a group of masterpieces, both old and new, with a shared sensibility and a powerful message. One of the anchors of the exhibition will be an important and monumental tapestry by El Anatsui. In his “Man’s Cloth II” from 2006, El Anatsui effectively created a contemporary work of art inspired by traditional royal Kente cloths from Ghana, connecting the individual and collective threads of the African continent while referencing its history, consumption and globalisation.

A work of art often begins with a stray thread; the artist pulls, and waits to see what will happen when he explores a certain idea. An artist dares to go beyond the known, challenges the idea over and over again, until one string succeeds in becoming a patchwork of threads bound together into a masterpiece. Artworks are collisions of ideas. Multiple threads may be floating in the artist’s consciousness, and, in just a single moment, these ideas collide and form a work of art. Artists weave together seemingly disparate but related threads into rich works of art with a multitude of layers loaded with meaning and symbolism. Some of these threads might be easily identifiable and explicit, while others are not so obvious, they might be invisible to the naked eye, yet they unconsciously nest themselves under one’s skin. These invisible threads could be the strongest ties, but the hardest to grasp.

Unraveling the threads of a work of art can be a challenging undertaking, especially when the creator remains anonymous, as is the case with most classical African art. Ritually, objects served a specific purpose and functioned within a well-defined context. As conveyed by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’, looking at the single elements is critical to get an understanding of a system as a whole. As such, classical African art could be a key to unlocking a better understanding of the contemporary art landscape.

Besides El Anatsui, THREADS will include works by Abdoulaye Konaté, Kimathi Mafafo, Tuli Mekondjo, Sizwe Sibisi and Saidou Dicko, as well as a museum-quality group of Fante asofo flags, a stunning ensemble of egungun dance costumes and an exceptional 16th century Kongo trumpet.

Auctions Contemporary News Opinions

“Noutchy in New York City” – Aboudia gets a dedicated online sale at Christie’s NY

The news stayed a bit under the radar during this global pandemic, but something rather extraordinary happened in the art market earlier this month : the acclaimed Ivorian artist Abdoulaye Diarrassouba (1983), better known under his moniker Aboudia, was given a dedicated online sale at Christie’s New York of paintings and works on paper created by the artist over the past year – you can learn more about this sale here. The auction was accompanied by a solo exhibition of the works on sale in Christie’s Rockefeller Center galleries from 4 to 8 March (as illustrated above).

Not only was it exceptional for an auction house to consign works directly from an artist, the 22 works in the sale all were sold, and the auction made a total of $ 1,066,875 (!), with most works on canvas selling for 10 times the low estimate. Admittedly, the estimates were deliberately kept low – their market value being substantially higher – yet with the six bigger paintings all selling above $100K, all previous price records for the artist were pulverised. In the art industry, that sort of thing should make you famous overnight – yet I have not found many articles about these astonishing results?! For market insiders, this success wasn’t a real surprise, as on October 22th, 2020, the artist’s Le Petit Chien Rouge  (2018), which was expected to sell at Sotheby’s for just $23,400, instead was hammered down for $98,400.

Aboudia (1983) – La renaissance du Christ (2020) – 147.6 x 149.9 cm. Estimate $12-15K, sold for $187,500. Image courtesy of Christie’s

Based in both Abidjan and Brooklyn, Aboudia’s work is informed by both Western and African art movements, referencing styles from avant-garde movements such as abstract expressionism to the street art and murals of Abidjan. His paintings consist of layered child-like figures, and often incorporate clippings from newspapers, magazines, or books to contextualise the work. Combining text with raw images, Aboudia has often been compared to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and one can only admit the works do have a comparable energy to them. Depending to who you are talking with, this comparison has worked both against the artist as to his advantage. Personally, I think one is degrading Aboudia’s own unique voice by using the Basquiat reference in sale pitches of his work. The artist himself claims a multitude of both Western and African influences, and the art dealer Jack Bell has recounted how during his initial visits to the Tate Modern, Aboudia was impressed by the large formats used by Jackson Pollock and the loose gestures of Cy Twombly. Anyhow, I think it should be avoided to view his work solely through a western art historical perspective.

Aboudia originally gained international attention in 2011 for his depictions of the Ivorian war and its child soldiers – and that series by some is still considered to be his best work. The artist’s motivation to create art mainly comes from telling stories about the unfavourable conditions and city life of his country, especially for children. You might enjoy to learn he has also been adding photos of classical African masks and statues in his works – for example, spot the Dan masks and Igbo masks in the painting above. Aboudia has stated that these elements of ‘his ancestral history’ nourish him as much as a the raw contemporaneity of city life in Abidjan.

In response to market demand, Aboudia has become a very prolific and productive artist, and has been exhibited by Jack Bell Gallery, Galerie Cécile FakhouryEthan Cohen Gallery, and Saatchi Gallery, among others. The fact that both Jean Pigozzi and Charles Saatchi, two discerning collectors of African art, acquired works from him has counted as an early market validation, and ambitious dealers (and now also auction houses) have been most active to build on to his success. In 2017, Christophe Person (now at Artcurial), for example also held a selling exhibition of Aboudia’s work at the French auction house Piasa. Surely, the Christie’s auction, held in anything but favourable circumstances, also rode the waves of the huge current interest in artworks created by millennial African artists.



Happy 2021!

Courtesy of Softlytaxidermy.

2020 surely was a year to remember for all of us. It was challenging to try to process all the changes in our lives, to say the least. Especially the readers with young kids will understand what I am talking about. On a personal level, my exit at Christie’s surely was an unforeseen 180° turnaround in my life. Although I’m happy the year is over, I feel grateful for the space it also gave to rethink my future. The lockdown surely presented an opportunity for reflection. As the saying goes.. never waste a good crisis. There is still so much work to do in the exciting world of African Art, and my mission as one of its passioned advocates is far from over.. more on that later this year.

For now, let me wish you a healthy and prosperous 2021!

Many thanks for all the continued interest and support.

Best wishes,



Culinary journeys inspired by an African mask

Feuilles à feuilles of beef, manioc and sweet potatoes by Mory Sacko. Image courtesy of Chris Saunders.

To promote their last African Art sale in Paris, the team of Sotheby’s Paris came up with the innovative idea to invite the hot French chef Mory Sacko to create a dish inspired by one of the objects in their auction – a first, I believe.

The chef selected the above Dogon mask from Mali. Inspired by the raw and sculptural quality of the mask as well as the lightness of the object itself, Sacko created a dish that relied on ingredients native to the African continent, a Feuilles à Feuilles of beef, manioc and sweet potatoes. The dish was composed of slices of manioc and sweet potato that have been lacquered over coal, and dehydrated slices of lightly seared beef and cream sauce of white and black voatsiperifery, and penja pepper from Madagascar and Africa. It is ok if your mouth is watering by now.

The idea for this creation was inspired by the mask – raw and yet sculptural – hence the use of ingredients from Africa (with the exception of the beef), the same provenance as the mask. These ingredients were used in their most natural form while preserving the same impression of lightness that one feels when holding the mask.

You can read the full story of this collaboration here. And, next time you are in Paris don’t forget to reserve a table at Sacko’s new restaurant MoSuke, a place inspired by his passion for both Japanese and African cultures.

And let me hereby also wish you ‘bon appetit’ during the hopefully mesmerising dinners in the company of your loved ones in these special times.. happy holidays!

Mory Sacko. Image courtesy of Chris Saunders.

Nothing is permanent but change

The last 4,5 years of my life and passion in one picture. Please note that I am no longer with Christie’s due to a restructuring of the department. I am most grateful for the exciting journey and proud of the achievements of our world-class team. After a 20 years hiatus, we succeeded in becoming market leader in our field again, establishing many new record prices along the way, and fortifying the place of African and Oceanic Art within the global art market. I’ll be continuing my mission to promote the Art so close to our hearts after the summer break, so be sure to watch this space!

Do not hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any service, and, as always, remember “ars longa, vita brevis” !

Yours truly,

Auctions News

Auction alert: Christie’s, Paris, 29 June 2020 – 3pm

Originally scheduled for April 8th, I would like to remind you our African, Oceanic and Northern American Art auction will take place in Paris next Monday June 29th at 3pm.

Our sale include works of art from the famed collection of James and Marilynn Alsdorf, such as a newly discovered Akan terracotta head from a known hand illustrated above. The Oceanic section is highlighted by a gope board and agipa hook, both collected by Thomas Schultze-Westrum in Papua New Guinea. The African art section includes works from an important European private collection, such as the major Urhobo statue from Nigeria gracing the cover of the catalog. From a private Belgian collection, an important Songye kifwebe masks will be offered at auction, as well as a rare Songye power figure with a slightly turned head.

You can explore the sale here.

As the lockdown measures in Paris have been eased, this will be a regular live auction with a sale preview (but without a cocktail).   I hope to welcome you to our offices Avenue Matignon on:

Friday 26 June, 10am – 6pm
Saturday 27 June, 10am – 6pm
Sunday 28 June, 2pm – 6pm
and Monday 29 June, 10am – 3pm.

As ever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance. We’ll happily send you videos and installation pictures as we understand that for many of you it is still impossible to travel to Paris. However, I’ll happily walk you through the exhibition with a video call if desired.

Auctions News

Catalog online: Christie’s, PARIS AVANT-GARDE, 17 October 2019

On October 17th, the African art department of Christie’s Paris is teaming up with their colleagues at the Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art departments for the fourth edition of the highly successful sale concept PARIS AVANT-GARDE. Taking place at the art market’s most dynamic week in France, this sale will for the first time include African art besides and exceptional selection of carefully selected and fresh to the market paintings and sculptures.

Among the artists who had a special relationship to the French capital, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, André Breton, Max Ernst, Fernand Léger along with Nicolas de Staël, Pierre Soulages, Hans Arp, Jean Dubuffet and Zao Wou-Ki, all will be present with works in this curated sale. As for the African art, we’re proud to present one of the best seated Baule statues known, collected by Roger Bédiat and previously in the collection of Myron Kunin, and an exquisite Baule mask once in the collection of Helena Rubinstein – to which the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac will dedicate an exhibition in November. You can download a pdf with the African art selection HERE or visit the sale’s page on our website here.

The sale takes place in Paris on October 17th at 7pm and the viewing days are:

12 Oct, 10am – 6pm
13 Oct, 2pm – 6pm
14 Oct, 10am – 6pm
15 Oct, 10am – 6pm
16 Oct, 10am – 6pm
17 Oct, 10am – 4pm

As you can see in the catalog the selection is truly exceptional, and we’re very proud to be the first auction house ever to mix paintings of this quality with top-level African art in a single sale. As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance. Hope to see you there. As for the catalog for our main sale on October 30th, it should be online in the coming days, you’ll be the first to know so stay tuned.



Auctions News

Save the date(s): Christie’s fall sales of African, Oceanic and North-American Art

Dear reader, I hope you had a relaxing Summer and are energized for an exciting fall season at Christie’s Paris. Please be kind to mark the following dates in your agenda:

– on 11, 12, 13, 14 & 16 September you are invited at Christie’s Paris for an exclusive first view of the highlights of our fall sales
– on 13 September we are hosting a conference about the influence of North West Coast Art on the Surrealists by Marie Mauzé, followed by a champagne reception (let me know if you want to get an invitation!)
– on 17 October we’re proud to be part of the prestigious PARIS AVANT-GARDE sale, which will include several African masterworks (among which a rediscovered Baule mask formerly in the Helena Rubinstein collection)
– the preview of the PARIS AVANT-GARDE sale takes place on 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 & 17 October
– last, but not least, on 30 October we have our main fall sale SPLENDORS, with the preview taking place on 24, 25, 26, 28 and 29 October

SPLENDORS features an exceptional private collection of North West Coast art from British Colombia, among which the Tsimshian spirit mask illustrated above. This unique group of about twenty works took the collector 30 years to assemble and brings together masterpieces from the Haida, Tlingit and neighboring peoples. All objects were meticulously selected and can be considered to be among the best of their kind. A collection of a kind that only appears on the market once every decade and we are very proud to bring it to the market. SPLENDORS as well features an exquisite selection of African and Oceanic art from a princely collection. Build by a gentleman with an incredible eye for quality, it features another twenty objects, among which several of the great icons of their type. Additionally, we’ll be presenting a select group of fresh-to-the market discoveries, including several objects formerly in the collection of Pierre Matisse. We’re currently finishing the catalog and hope to have it ready by mid-September. As always, yours truly has his hands full, but I look forwarding to welcoming you in Paris. Just drop me a line, if none of the above dates would fit in your schedule and we’ll work out a private viewing.


Auctions News

Auction alert: Christie’s, Art of Africa – Masterworks, New York, May 14, 2019

I’m pleased to announce our Art of Africa – Masterworks sale, which will take place on May 14, 2019 at Christie’s New York. The auction is an exceptional sale featuring nine masterworks of African Art and will coincide with Christie’s 20th Century Week sales. Once more, a meticulously curated sale with only very special objects. You can find more information about them HERE.

Pièce du résistance of this catalog obviously is the Songye Kifwebe mask, the most beautiful and important example of its type remaining in private hands. Through the sculptor’s use of powerful proportion and the waves of graphic lines, the mask creates an optical illusion that can be perceived as hypnotic. The Kifwebe type of mask remains one of the most iconic in all African artistry and has inspired and compelled artist of the 20th century and appears prominently in the works of Alexander Calder and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Therefor, it’s only obvious we’re bringing it to the market at the time of our major modern and contemporary art sales. Extensive research further revealed this mask was already exhibited in Brussels as early in 1933, in the first African art exhibition with works coming from a single private collection, that of Jeanne Walschot, Belgium’s Nancy Cunard and the first ever female African art dealer. Read more about this masterpiece here. Other highlights of the sale include a Picassoesque Grebo/Kru mask from Liberia, an extremely rare black Punu mask and an enigmatic Chokwe costume. Please come preview the sale at the Rockefeller Center on:

7 May, 10am – 5pm
8 May, 10am – 5pm
9 May, 10am – 5pm
10 May, 10am – 5pm
11 May, 10am – 5pm (with a guided tour and champagne at 3:30pm!)
12 May, 1pm – 5pm
13 May, 10am – 5pm

The sale is on 14 May at 6:30pm. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance. Hope to see you in New York !

Auctions News

Catalog online: Christie’s, African, Oceanic and North American Art, Paris, 10 April 2019

I’m very proud to announce the catalog of our April 10th auction in Paris is now available online HERE. I hope it explains the radio silence on these pages these last few months. Indeed, in 2018 Christie’s for the second year in a row was the market leader for African and Oceanic art! Hence I did not have much time to blog. Our forthcoming sale features a strong selection of Oceanic art, coinciding with the exhibition Oceania at the Musée du Quai Branly after its first stop at the Royal Academy in London earlier this year. In response to this momentum we have chosen to respond with a tightly curated group of Oceanic masterpieces. The crown jewel of this group is an iconic moai kavakava statue from Rapa Nui. Formerly in the legendary James Hooper collection, is was last seen at auction exactly 40 years ago at Christie’s London, and it is broadly considered as being one of the most classical of its type. The Oceanic section further includes the Sepik collection of an anonymous Dutch collector, amassed over a period of 30 years and showing the genius of Sepik sculptors through a broad range of first-class objects. Additionaly, from various important private collections, we have brought together a strong group of works from New Ireland (including two Uli’s, on which a monograph will appear later this year) and several top pieces from the Maori. The sale starts with an exciting group of Alaskan treasures from the collection of the French painter Antoine Tzapoff. The African section features a section dedicated to the trailblazing French dealer Maine Durieu, who left us too soon 3 years ago. A group of 12 objects from one of her loyal clients celebrates this much missed taste-maker. Last but not least, and a personal favorite, is the below Kongo couple, collected by Edmund Dartevelle in 1936, among many others exciting works fresh to the market. I sincerely hope you’ll find these 121 objects worthy of your attention and would love to welcome you in Paris during our preview days starting on April 5th. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance..