Thursday 10 May 2012

Auction as performance index for Nigerian art

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published
Tuesday, March 09, 2010)

 O UT of six art auctions held in the past two years, four
 have set what appears like benchmark in evaluation of contemporary Nigerian art.
 While each of ArtHouse Contemporary's four outings has
 clearly shown the difference between auction and art gallery
 values of art, the two held by Nimbus Art Centre and
 Nokterra hardly drew a line between the two valuations.

 At the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, a total sale
 of N69, 333, 000 (sixty nine million, three hundred and thirty three thousand Naira), including the buyers' premium, was
 recorded for 84 lots during the last of these auctions
 organized by the Lagos based auction house, ArtHouse
 Contemporary, last week. Under the hammer of United Kingdom
 (U.K.) based auctioneer, John Dabney, the sale, according to
 Adityta Chellaram of ArtHouse, "represents 87 per cent of
 all works for sale." This, he argued "marks a steady
 improvement over the sale in April 2009."

 And the prospect appeared to be getting higher as Aditya
 explained that, "43 Buyers purchased at the auction as some
 were first time buyers." Six out of the buyers, he disclosed
 were "telephone and absentee bidders from overseas." In the
 last two years, sales from each of the six auctions
 indicated that quality of the events and not just the works
 made a lot of difference: In April 2008, ArtHouse
 Contemporary unearthed the high value of Nigerian art with a
 surprise sale of about 86 lots at N76m and improved in
 November 2008 selling 84 lots at N93, 000,000; Nimbus Art
 Centre's auction, December 2008 sold 50 lots at N10m;
 ArtHouse Contemporary's April 2009 auction of 69 lots
 recorded N67m; last December, Nokterra auction had N7.2m on
 about 100 lots. For these auctions however, the caliber of
 artists whose works were on sales are mostly the same.

 For example, the highest sale recorded for one lot at
 Nokterra auction was N450, 000 on Bruce Onorapkeya's St.
 Paul (74 x 61cm., 1979 deep etching, plastograph). But at
 the third auction of ArtHouse held five months earlier, a
 similar piece - size and medium - of the same artist titled
 Aro Osomo (Father's Shrine, original plate, 85.4 x 60 cm.
 1977) was sold at N1, 650, 000. Although auction houses are
 not expected to have the same sales on given category of
 artists, the difference, however could either confirm the
 value in the context of results from ArtHouse auctions or
 unctuate such records; leading to confusion on the true
 value of a particular artist's work.

 Despite this disparity in evaluations, more auctions are
 welcome, painter and gallery operator, Biodun Omolayo
 argued. "The more auctions there are, the better for the
 artists and collectors as one auction house cannot
 accommodate everybody," he said.

 Apparently, ArtHouse is one group to watch in this new
 outlet of the nation's art. Interestingly, its last outing
 has fulfilled the Chief Executive Officer, Kavita
 Chelleram's promise that "every artist will be given an
 equal opportunity." This much emerged as the event showed
 that the younger artists were gradually catching up with the
 masters; two artists below 45 years old were among the top
 five. Nnenna Okore's Omalicha (clay and burlap, 40 x 80 in.,
 2009) at N2.8m and Chidi Kwubiri's Night of Paradise (oil on
 canvas 78.5 x 63 in., 2009) at N2.7m were second and third
 on the sales.

Top of the sale, Sold at at N4.2m SIMON OKEKE
111.8 cm. x 86.4 cm. (44 x 34 in.
> In fact, the first lot to hit seven digits at the auction
> was by pop artist, Diseye Tantua, mid 30s. Arguably, one of
> the most highly bid, the work titled Different Different
> Fever (acrylic on canvas, 60 x 18.75 in., 2009) a
> reminiscent of late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti,
> took off from N420, 000 asking price and ended at N1.7m. It
> was indeed a surprise sale as the hall went up in applause
 when the hammer finally fell.

 Top of the sales was Untitled (oil on board, 44 x 34 in.,
 1969) at N4.2m, by Simon Okeke (1937-1969); fourth,
 Intimacy, (oil on board 75.75 x 22 in., 1963) at N2.3m, by
 Erhabor Emokpae (1934 - 1984); fifth, Untitled, (wood, 58
 in., 1991), N2.4m by Ben Osawe. Figures for these lots are
 less the buyer's premium of 10 per cent.

 Speaking on the results of the auction, art teacher at
 Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, Jerry Buhari agreed
 that ArtHouse's last auction, like the previous ones held
 has put "the market value of our art in the right

 Sustaining that value, according to Nike Okundaye is
 through more auctions. She hinted that her organisation,
 Nike Art Centre is involved in an auction holding at the
 centre next month. Visual art, she argued "should take a cue
 from Nollywood by making our outlets, particularly the
 auction, an all inclusive; young and old artists."

 With as many as "500 works from artists, collectors and art
 dealers" for the last auction, Chellaram, shortly before the
 event, noted that it was a difficult task making the final
 180 selections.

 Two days ago, Aditya stressed that, "if the results and
 response of this sale are any indication, certainly the
 market is large enough for more auctions."

 Also expected in April is a joint venture between Terra
 Kulture and Nimbus 2000 to be known as Golden Jubilee Art
 Auction: Celebrating 2000 Years of Afrikan

 Creativity. Designed as part of activities to herald the
 50th independence anniversary of Nigeria, the organizers are
 optimistic that the auction will boost art market in the

 "With this auction, we hope to be the best art auction
 house in the country and widen the scope of the art market,"
 Managing Director of Terra Kulture, Bolanle Austen-Peters

 As the prospect increases, proliferation of auctions as
 outlets cannot be ruled out, hence a Nollywood of visual art
 in the making. Although proliferation of movie outlets and
 productions have boosted the popularity of Nollywood,
 ironically, it has also diminished the value of the movie
 industry, so soon: remuneration for practitioners in the
 movie industry is not commiserate with the over blown image
 of the industry. While auctions provide the atmosphere for
 the visual art sub-division of the culture sector to get the
 right value for art, there is a lesson to learn from the
 mistakes of Nollywood: organizers of auctions should be
 conscious of standards.

 The effect, positive or otherwise, is less on artists, but
 more the concerns of collectors, art dealers and auction
 houses, Olu Amoda argued. He explained that, "if for
 instance auction house B sells the work of a particular
 artist at a lower price compared to auction house A,
 collectors would rather go and buy at B." And because most
 of the works at auctions are usually from collectors and art
 dealers "the referendum is not on the artists, but auction
 houses, collectors and art dealers," Amoda stressed.

 However, the next few months - if the two expected auctions
 hold - would either confirm the current value of
 contemporary Nigerian art or challenge it.

Whatever the outcome of these auctions, artists cannot
 afford to be indifferent, can they?

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