Ethiopian artist Julie Mehretu breaks African Art Auction Record with $10.7 Million Sale

Ethiopian Artist Julie Mehretu

Renowned Ethiopian-born artist Julie Mehretu has once again made history in the art world by breaking the record for the highest sale price of any work by an African-born artist at auction. The abstract painting titled “Walkers With the Dawn and Morning” fetched an impressive $10.7 million at Sotheby’s in New York on Wednesday.

Mehretu, 52, who moved to the United States with her family in 1977, painted the masterpiece as part of an exhibition responding to the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in 2005. The piece, featuring ink and acrylic on canvas, draws its name from a 1920s Langston Hughes poem and combines various elements of Mehretu’s unique artistic style.

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Julie Mehretu, Walkers With the Dawn and Morning, 2008. COURTESY SOTHEBY’S

The auction for “Walkers With the Dawn and Morning” saw two bidders fiercely competing, gradually driving the price higher until it reached $9.5 million. After factoring in fees, the final cost soared to the record-breaking sum of $10.7 million.

This recent achievement marks Mehretu’s second consecutive record-breaking sale, following last month’s $9.3 million record for another of her works. The artist’s growing influence is indicative of the increasing interest in contemporary African art, particularly abstract works.

Hannah O’Leary, head of Sotheby’s modern and contemporary African art department, commented on the evolving art market, stating, “We are moving beyond that initial phase to something more discerning”.

In addition to her auction successes, Mehretu was recently selected to create BMW’s next Art Car, adding another exciting dimension to her already illustrious career. Her artwork will be featured on a BMW car participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race next year.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1970, Mehretu moved to the U.S. in 1977 and has since emerged as a prominent figure in contemporary African art. Her record-breaking sales underline the growing interest in abstract works within the genre.

The painting, created in response to the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in 2005, is a testament to Mehretu’s unique approach. Combining architectural drawing, vibrant vectors, and calligraphic sweeps, the artwork showcases Mehretu’s distinctive mark-making style, contributing to her reputation as a trailblazer in the art world.

Mehretu’s journey from her Ethiopian roots to becoming a leading figure in contemporary African art is marked by her innovative approach to abstraction. Drawing inspiration from graffiti, city maps, and comic book graphics, she creates explosive and intricate pieces that resonate with art enthusiasts worldwide.

As Mehretu’s influence continues to grow, her contributions to contemporary African art remain invaluable, solidifying her as a key figure in the ongoing evolution of the genre.

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