Friday 14 October 2011


Art sale: Again, Onobrakpeya beats own record

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published in April 2008)
THRICE, veteran artist, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya's works have recorded the highest art sales in Nigeria.
   At a just held art auction in Lagos, Onobrakpeya’s work, Greater Nigeria, was sold at N9.2 million. 
 Having set what was considered a record sale during the 1999 auction, Before the Hammer Falls, at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos when his painting, Palmwine Women was sold for N1.5m, the artist, later beat his own record at the gathering of the nation's biggest artists seven years after. It was an art exhibition titled Living Masters, organised by Mydrim Gallery with the support of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) and held at the Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, in 2006. Onobrakpeya's work, Four Altar, took the lead at N2m. The exhibition featured veteran painters, Yusuf Grillo, Abayomi Barber, Kolade Oshinowo, media gurus, El-Anatsui, David Dale, Isiaka Osunde, renowned carver, Bisi Fakeye, and frontline Osogbo school painter, Muraina Oyelami.
  On Monday, April 7, 2008, at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, Onobrakpeya, 76, again proved that his international repute as one of the world's renowned print makers is not contentious when he set another local art auction record.
Considered as the nation's first 'formal' art auction, the
Kavita Chellaram-led auction house Arthouse Contemporary Limited organised auction came two hundred and forty two years after the world’s first ever art auction was launched by Christie’s auction house in the U.K in 1766. 
BRUCE-ONOBRAKPEYA's Greater-Nigeria-Bronze-foil-and-Ivories-mounted-on-plywood (2007), N9.2m, record sale for Nigeria at a 2008 auction
   Dominated by expatriates in Lagos, the auction which had an impressive turnout of collectors with 97 lots had Onobrakpeya’s  Greater Nigeria, carted away by a bidder (names withheld). Beating the asking price of between N4.4 million and N5.5 million, the lot dated 2007, bronze foil and ivories mounted on wood of 82 by 174 inches, took off from a starting bid of N2.8 million. After about 10 minutes of bidding, perhaps the longest at the event, the last bidder finally got the work at N9.2 million.
  Humana, oil on board, 1993, by another veteran and one of the Living Masters, Yusuf Grillo, came second on the highest sales list at N5.5 million, after an opening bid of N4.2 million from an asking price of N5 million to N6 million.
  Onobrakpeya’s Nude and Protest, oil on canvas recorded the third highest sale at N4.2 million.
Humana, oil on board (1993)
  91 x 61 cm. by Yusuf Grillo

  While works by Ben Enwonwu and Ben Osawe went for N1.5 million and N1.7 million respectively, some of the younger generation artists’ works also recorded impressive sales. From the breed of younger artists was Rom Isichei whose acrylic on canvas work, How Come, went for N2. 4 million from a bidding price of N720, 000. Also,  Edosa Ogiugo’s Four-runner Stride, oil on canvas was sold at N1m.
Other younger artists whose works recorded impressive outing included Biodun Olaku, Duke Asidere and Kainebi Osahenye.
  Works of Dale, Uche Okeke, Jimoh Buraimoh, Muraina Oyelami, Nike Okundaye, Olu Amoda, Tola Wewe, Twin Seven Seven, were among the artists that made the historic auction.
Onobrakpeya's Greater Nigeria may not have recorded a mega sale within the global context, but the work stands the chance of being counted at auction or exhibition anywhere in the world. Segmented into five panels, the aesthetics of the four, two on each side of the central panel exuded quality expected of a master. It takes a Onobrakpeya to achieve the composite offered in the central panel with 28 cubic renditions and bolder motifs resting on the top to make classic statement in foil prints.
  The figure recorded for this sculptural piece was actually a landmark in the history of the nation's art sale. The bidder must have been very fortunate as the potential buried in the work could explode sooner than imagined, even beyond Nigeria.
  The current world auction record for an art piece by a living artist is Hanging Heart, a suspended three dimensional sculptural work by Jeff Koons which sold for $23.6m (£11.3m) in November 2007.
  Prospect like this is not lost to Onobrakpeya as well. The veteran was the only one at the auction whose works had the clause: "work to be signed after sold".
  Out of the five lots he had at the auction, the lead and the third bid had the clause while the other three, though signed, were from his personal collections and a private collector.

Abiodun Olaku's In the Spirit (2006, Oil on canvas
129 X 102 cm.) N1.6m

  Whatever this means, sources however disclosed that a percentage of between 10 to 15 on each work sold was the share of the auction house, ArtHouse  Contemporary. Few days after the event, Onobrakpeya, during a chat with this writer was however modest in his response to the value of these works and whatever the artists and the organisers get in return.
"It does not matter for now what the percentage sharing is. I know that whoever has a collection of Nigerian works now is sitting on gold. What counts now is the passion for collection which is growing."
  These potential noted by Onobrakpeya was earlier stated by the auctioneer, John Dabney who was invited from the U.K. to conduct the auction.  His words: "This is my first contact with African art. I have been to a number of art auctions around the world, though not as an art auctioneer. I am an auctioneer of other things with years of experience. It does not really matter whether the auction is furniture or art, it is the same process. I am, however, impressed with the quality of works I saw here tonight. The works I saw here today can compete with the ones I have seen around the world."
  For the auction company, a list of conditions were issued to the successful bidders, which they must meet after the sales.
  The auction company said : "In addition to the hammer price, the buyer agrees to pay Arthouse Contemporary the buyer’s premium (this becomes the ‘purchase price’), together with any applicable value added tax (VAT), sales or compensating use tax or equivalent tax in the place of sale.  The buyer’s premium is 10 per cent of the hammer price.  The VAT, subject to Nigerian law, is five per cent of the total purchase price."
    Auctions like this also offered an opportunity to feel the pulse of the Lagos collectors and perhaps get to know if anything has changed in their tastes.
  Between abstraction and representation was the choice of the collectors, even though its been observed that the former was less favoured. The auction, significantly, confirmed this much as works of representational sub-genre dominated the top five:  Greater Nigeria and Ehrabor Emokpae’s wood sculpture, The King and The Queen were the two abstracts while another Onobrakpeya, Nude, Grillo’s Hummana and Rom’s How Come completed the list of representational lots. And generally, representational pieces dominated the auction.
  The auction house should be commended for giving a level playing field for all artists. Works selected cut across class or status of artists. From veterans to younger and fresh university graduate artists, every one had the opportunity to express their worth. This has given an artist, a young graduate, Richardson Ovbiebo, an opportunity to be counted among those who made history.
  His metal sculpture, Rhythms of Life emerged as one of the most appreciated bids. From N50, 000 bidding price it was sold at N300, 000.
  Also not on the list of the mega bucks, but had impressive outing, was Kunle Adegorioye's painting Hairplaiting, which started from bidding price of N68, 000 and made N500, 000, recording the most appreciated bid of the auction. Still on surprises, Uche Okeke’s 1965 painting, Echi Eteka Akwa Ndeli was returned unsold. The lot had an asking price of  between N3 to N5m placed on it.
  Perhaps another opportunity is not far away as Chellaram said there is plan underway to have another auction in November this year. 
 Duke Asidere's The Women (oil on canvas, 153 X 132 cm 2001), N1.2m

  Collectors and artists at the auctions though differed sharply on whether to record ArtHouse auction or the Nimbus Gallery sales of 1999 as the first auction in the history of Nigeria. However, they all agreed that it was a good omen for the art sector.
  Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, a leading collector simply described the event as: "Fantastic, great experience and historical. First of its kind." Reminded that there was one in 1999, he argued that it was not "a formal auction".
  While Isichei agreed with Gbadamosi stating that the earlier event lacked the expertise to make it a formal auction, painter and gallery operator, Biodun Omolayo asked: "What made it informal? Well, that was the first auction, formal or not".
  Azu Nwagbogu, a member of the organisers of the 1999 event said: "Before the Hammer Fall had better audience attendance. So if we talked of being formal that stood a better chance to fit the definition."
While art historians would have to revisit the dictionary to come out what is formal or not and decide when was Nigeria’s first art auction, the bottom line is that, the nation’s art landscape is changing for the better.

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