Thursday 10 May 2012

Enwonwu's painting tops New York auction

By Tajudeen sowole
(First published on Tuesday, March 23, 2010)

FOR the second time in one year, Nigerian art has recorded highest sales at global markets for African art as the results of a just concluded auction of contemporary African art in New York, U.S. confirmed.

The result also showed a slight difference in evaluation between the local and global art market for contemporary Nigerian art.

According to the organizers of the auction, United Kingdom based Bonhams, a painting by late Ben Enwonwu titled Dancing Boy (34 13/16 x 23 13/16in.) was top of the 137 lots at $91, 500 against an asking price of $80, 000 to $120, 000. More interesting, four other works of the artist was among the top ten as two make the top three.

Also two works of Yusuf Grillo and one of Bruce Onobrakpeya made the top sales; total eight for Nigerian art in the top ten. Works of 78 artists from 14 countries such as Republic of Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mali, Kenya, Ethiopia, DR Congo were on sale and "met with great enthusiasm by both American and International buyers," the source from Bonham said.

Ben Enwonwu's Dancing Boys board on canvas 34 x 13 cm

Held at Bonhams' New York outlet, Madison Avenue Galleries, the event known as

Africa Now was the second edition by the auction house. In April 2009 at the maiden edition in London, Enwonwu's acrylic and water colour on card, 120 x 75 cm, (1957), lot 12, Negritude, was the highest at £66,000 followed by lot 55, El Anatsui's Sculpture 2 (Helicopter) at £30,000. At that event, Enwonwu towered above other artists from 11 countries of the continent as the asking price of £20, 000 to £30, 000 for Negritude beat the highly favoured South African artist, William Joseph Kentridge's Refuge in the Library, oil on canvas, (1985). Comparatively, Kentridge's work had the highest asking price of the auction at £100, 000 to £150, 000.

At the same period, in Lagos, Nigeria's top most auction house, ArtHouse Contemporary recorded Enwonwu's Purapakal, (1973) gouache, 53.4 x 76.2 cm, lot 46 as the highest sold at N4, 950, 000. This sale, however, was not far from the second highest sold, Nnenna Okore's Egwu Ukwu, (2009), mixed media, 76.2 x 198.1cm lot 72, which was sold at N3, 300, 000.

Giles Peppiatt, Bonhams' Director of African Art noted that the New York sales "proved a real success," and described it as "important landmark for the American art market."

Second on the top ten sale is Enwonwu's Africa Dances, Eve Noir, (40 x 30in.), $73, 200; third, Enwonwu, Fishermen (29 15/16 x 42 1/8in), $67, 100; fourth, Yusuf Grillo's Sabada (44 1/2 x 21 1/4in.) at $57, 950; fifth, Dancing Girl, (48 1/4 x 12 5/8in.), $51, 850; sixth, Bruce Onobrakpepa's Environmental Regeneration (60 1/4 x 77 3/16in.), unframed at $42, 700; seventh, Grillo's Harvest (37 3/8 x 24 5/8in.) at $30, 500; eight, Ghanaian sculptor, El Anatsui's Oandabo (70 7/8 x 23 5/8 x 13 3/4in.) $27, 450; ninth, Enwonwu's Portrait of Momodu, Kano 17 5/16 x 12 5/8in. at $23, 180; ten, South African, Karin Jaroszynska's Two Figures Over An Abyss (28 x 40 1/4in.) at $20, 130.

Ten days before the Bonhams event, ArtHouse Contemporary had recorded a total sale of N69, 333, 000 (including the buyers' premium) for 84 lots. Under the hammer of United Kingdom (U.K.) based auctioneer, John Dabney, the sale, represented 87 per cent of all works. Top five of the sale were: Untitled (oil on board, 44 x 34 in., 1969) at N4.2m, by Simon Okeke (1937-1969); Nnenna Okore's Omalicha (clay and burlap, 40 x 80 in., 2009) at N2.8m; Chidi Kwubiri's Night of Paradise (oil on canvas 78.5 x 63 in., 2009) at N2.7m; 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. The same auction house, in 2008, sold Onobrakpeya's panel work at N9.2m, perhaps, a world record sale for the artist till date.

Based on these records, the market value for Nigerian art, home and abroad, appeared consistent. For example, at $91, 500 (N13, 542, 000), Enwonwu's sale from Bonham is not too far from Onobrakpeya's 2008 sale of the panel, Greater Nigeria, N9.2m at ArtHouse Contemporary.

Enwonwu's Negritude, at £66,000 (N15, 510, 000 courtesy of Bonhams, in 2009 is still within this consistence.

The unfolding events in the local and foreign market for contemporary Nigerian art clearly showed that a benchmark has been set for which future art auctions in the country would have to meet, if possible, go higher. However, any auction that falls below this would be setting the growing prospect of the nation's art market several decades back.

Other Nigerian artists, living and departed whose works sold between $5, 000 to $15, 000 in during the New York sale are Aina Onabolu (1882-1963) Adam & Eve a 1954 work, 41 1/8 x 23 7/16in.; Muraina Oyelami's Mother and Child 30 1/2 x 21 7/8in (77.5 x 55.5cm); Rufus Ogundele (Nigerian, 1946-1996) Three figures 23 13/16 x 15 15/16in (60.5 x 40.5cm); Chief Jimoh Buraimoh (Nigerian, born 1943) Obatala & Eshu 35 5/8 x 24in (90.5 x 61cm); Prince Twins Seven-Seven (Nigerian, born 1944) Ghost dancer 18 1/8 x 35 13/16in (46 x 91cm); Simon Okeke (Nigerian, 1937-1969) Portrait of a woman in profile 6 7/8 x 4 7/16in (17.5 x 11.3cm) lot 18.

Also in that category are Jimoh Akolo (Nigerian, born 1934) Three children 60 1/4 x 36in (153 x 91.5cm); Ben Osawe (Nigerian, born 1931) Innocence 27 9/16in (70cm) high Sold for $10,980 inclusive of Buyer's Premium; Chief Zacheus Olowonubi Oloruntoba (Nigerian, born 1934) Figures 126 3/4 x 25 3/8in (322 x 64.5cm) image size unframed and unstretched Chief Gabriel Oni-Okpaku (Nigerian, 1938-1977) Waking up 59 13/16 x 48 1/16in (152 x 122cm) unframed; Erhabor Emokpae (Nigerian, 1934-1984) Life and death 45 1/4in (115 cm) high.

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