Sunday, 11 January 2015

In 2014, 'low patronage', rich art shows dominate


By Tajudeen Sowole
Unlike the previous year that brought in quite a number of new art outlets and high commercial value, 2014 was not exactly as exciting. However, the last 12 months, which was regarded as commercially inactive for visual arts, recorded a few remarkable events in the area of content generation.

Early in the year, Goethe Institut, Lagos, peeped into futuristic cities with a photography and design exhibition titled Post-Oil City: The History of the City’s Future as the show alerted city planners about widening urban and shrinking traditional sources of energy. Presented in photography, drawing, digital imaging and video, the exhibition, which the organisers described as a tour event, coincidentally made its Nigerian stopover in Lagos where the government was confronting the complexity of replacing antiquated infrastructures for the prospects of a megacity.

Sculpture, Yemoja by Abayomi Barber
In March, the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, celebrated 70th birthday of Ghanaian artist, El Anatsui, who was described at the same event as a "Nigerian master born in Ghana." The event had a special art exhibition titled Playing with Chance.

If awards were to be given for the best art shows of 2014, a group exhibition titled Masters Series, organised by Red Door Gallery, would have picked the top prize. It was a gathering of select works by renowned artists from the collection of National Gallery of Art (NGA). From Abayomi Barber's sculptural impression of Yoruba water goddess, Yemoja, mounted at the immediate entrance of Red Door, to the cubism paintings by Yusuf Grillo, pencil portraits of legendary theatre artist, Duro Ladipo and Picasso by Theresa Lucy Akinwale as well as Ladi Kwali's mastery of pottery among other works of 27 masters on display, the gathering assured that all was not exactly lost despite Nigeria's unexplained lack of a national gallery of art space.

Joining Red Door's Masters Series in the list of potential award winning art exhibitions of the year was Being and Becoming, a solo by Odun Orimolade, which showed for over three months at Art Twenty One, Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. It was a show that attempted probity of western and African scientific beliefs, on man's state of mind. And as space was an issue on the Lagos art's scene, Orimolade's exhibition confirmed that content need space to blossom in contemporary practice.

In July the 80-days celebration of Prof Wole Soyinka's 80th birthday had the visual arts providing a wide depth into the career of the Nobel Laureate as a gathering of artists titled Calibrating Kongi at 80: The Art Exhibition explained. Held at the top floor of J.P. Clark Centre, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Akoka, the group art exhibition, in curatorial context, could make contents for a Wole Soyinka Museum in the future.

The works, which included medium of painting, mixed media, design and sculpture, placed Soyinka as a legend whose influence on society has become a treasure to humanity across generations and cultures. A well-researched exhibition by the curator, Prof Peju Layiwola, the works on display consisted, largely, of Soyinka-related art pieces in memorabilia that were as old as some of his books and plays or essays. Even, recently produced art pieces such as posters that represent some of his staged plays strengthened the museum content prospect of the exhibition.

What should have been a collective celebration ended in controversy when a Briton, Mark Walker returned two cultural objects of Benin, Edo State origin to the royal family in Nigeria. The controversial event questioned the absence of international relation required to carry out such mission in contemporary period. Ahead of Walker’s visit with the two objects, the Benin royal house National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) had disagreement over where the artefacts should be received or who to hand them over to. Though the palace won the receiver or place of receiving the objects as Walker handed the objects to the palace at a celebration that had the Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in attendance, the NCMM was "officially missing."

SEPTEMBER had history revisited and recorded again when a group art exhibition titled New Order was held at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.  With the works of Olu Ajayi, Sam Ovraiti, Toni Okujeni and Pita Ohiwerei, the artists of New Order attempted to use the exhibition in ushering in a new phase for Nigerian art. Three of the artists, Ajayi, Ovraiti and Okujeni belong to those that were christened "Colourists" in the 1980s for adding a new texture of colour to Lagos art scene. Ohiwerei and other artists of like-mind later joined the trend.

From the movie industry end of the arts and culture sector came the premiere of Kunle Afoloyan’s film October 1, which had objects of great museum values as the flavours that spiced the event. More importantly, the sources of the objects have exposed inadequacy of government’s inability to preserve historical materials. Organised by Terra Kulture in collaboration with Golden Effects, the premiere, which held three days ahead of Nigeria's 54th Independence, featured art exhibition that was really significant for the mood of the anniversary celebration.

From the entrance of the Expo Centre, Eko Hotel and Suites lobby - venue of the premiere - to the hall beside the cinema space, props used in the movie were on display, exhaling a museum ambience into the air as audience trickled in. As it took about one and half hours behind the scheduled time for the gate of the cinema doors to open, the props in the art exhibition section of October 1 premiere really engaged eagerly waiting first public audience of the film.

Still in October, new entrant, Sogal Art auction house made its debut at Porsche Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, and had what observers described as modest sales. The new auction house was from the family of one of Nigeria’s leading art galleries, an Ikoyi, Lagos-based Signature Beyond.

From the Calibrating Kongi at 80 art exhibition at University of Lagos.

With two Nigerian record sales, each for painter, Kolade Oshinowo and sculptor, Bunmi Babatunde at the November 2014 auction of Arthouse Contemporary, held at The Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, the number of top selling masters in the secondary art market was on the increase. Since art auctions became regular features in Nigerian art calendar six years ago, artists whose works made the top of the five sales were always predictable. But Stilt Dancers (oil on canvas, 160 x 90cm, 1981) by Oshinowo b.1948 sold for N6m and a sculpture, Possibilities (Bronze, 157 X 176.5 cm, 2013) from Babatunde's gymnastic series sold for N3, 740, 000, brought two additional names to join the list of masters in the top sales. Oshinowo and Babatunde's sales are the artists' auction records in Nigeria. For Babatunde, his world auction record remains Possibilities, (ebony wood, 255 x 16.5 x 42cm, 2014) sold for (£31,250) at the last Bonhams Africa Now auction, London.  Until the Arthouse’s November 2014 auction, a painting titled Two Sisters by Oshinowo was sold for £43,000 at the 2013 Bonham's auction.

For elevating arts and culture to serious business venture in Nigeria, Terra Kulture got rains of applause and great commendations from admirers who filled a Convention Centre hall at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos during its 10th anniversary.  With Terra Kulture art gallery, a new phase of art management and marketing surfaced on Nigeria’s creative landscape in the last one decade. Recall, for example, that Terra Kulture, in partnership with the then Tayo Aderinokun-led GTB, in 2007 created a forum known as Arts and Business Foundation (ABF).

Among the past four or more editions of the African Artists Foundation (AAF) and Nigeria Breweries (NB)-organised art competition, the 2014 edition, held in November, arguably, had the richest contents. However, the three winners announced did not appear like a true reflection of the entire rich contents. A wall and floor assemblage collage Lines, Patches and Pathos by Erasmus Onyishi was announced the first prize winner inside the Civic Centre hall, Victoria Island, Lagos. The Prof El Anatsui-led jury further picked two other winners: a game house-like titled The Peoples Algorithm and the Butterfly Effect by Modupe Fadugba for Outstanding Concept and The T Eye by Paul Mbah as Outstanding Production.

Asserting its lead as Abuja’s popular art gallery, Thought Pyramid elevated its activities to the status of Art Centre, with a group art exhibition titled New Conversation as well as a new edifice, which was unveiled in November. According to Jeff Ajueshi, Creative Director at Thought Pyramid Art Gallery, the centre, which is located at Wuse II Abuja, has been designed to include a large art exhibition space, cafĂ© and restaurant for those who wish to relax in an art space.

In December, the second coming of Abiodun Olaku-led group of artists in the exhibition, Distinction-2, held at Terra Kylture confirmed the richness of the 2014 art space. Bunmi Babatunde,  Edosa Oguigo, Alex Nwokolo, Duke Asidere, Reuben Ugben, Segun Adejumo and Fidelis Odogwu are the other artists of Distinction-2 whose works were featured. 

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