Monday 14 March 2016

How Affordable Debut Expanded African Art Market

By Tajudeen Sowole
A third art sale for the leading art auctioneer in Nigeria, Arthouse Contemporary seemed to have proven that, indeed, the fledgling Lagos art market is sustainable. The maiden edition of what the auction house describes as Affordable - held at Kia Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos - has produced a relatively impressive sale.

Kolade Oshinowo’s The Family, Oil On Board, 2009, 25 X 30.5cm (9(3/4) X 12)

According to the results of the auction, 72 percent of the lots were sold in the sales that featured lots from leading modern and contemporary artists.

In an exclusive chat last year, the CEO of Arthouse, Mrs Kavita Chellaram had disclosed plans for Affordable art auction. Arthouse has been organising bi-annual auctions of modern and contemporary art in May and November since 2008.

 Having come this far and established a reputation for premium art sales, an auction dedicated to low prices appeared like a descend down the graph that might not work out well, so some observers argued. But few days ago, after the auction, Mrs Chellaram expressed satisfaction with the results: "Yes I am." Apart from the figures recorded for the sales, she revealed that more than half of the buyers were new collectors, indicating fresh participants that have been inspired by the Affordable sale. "The most important was that 50 % of the buyers were new clients."

 Indeed, with a total of N31, 050, 000 million naira ($155,250) recorded during the auction, the increasing value in African art appreciation has been stressed. 

 How did Arthouse arrive at Affordable? Since 2008 when the auction house started a new phase in the Nigerian secondary art market, the premium and lower priced works of art have been thriving under the same hammer. But the behaviou of collectors, particularly in the November 2015 edition of the bi-annual auction, had the premium sales stressed the need to get a divorce from the middle and low prices. At N130, 611, 250 million naira recorded for just 65 per cent of lots sold, the November 2015 sent the signal of an expanding demand by collectors for more premium prices. Ironically, at 65 per cent lots sold, the auction recorded one of its lowest number of art sales since inception eight years ago.

The top sales that confirmed a growing value in the premium included Ben Enwonwu’s Untitled, oil on board, dated 1976, sold for N22,500,000 (USD$112,500); El Anatsui’s Tabula Rasa, a new wood panel work, for N12,375,000 (USD$61,876) and another Anatsui’s 2002 wood work Fragmented Thoughts II,  for N10,687,500 (USD$53,438).

 As the tag Affordable clearly explains, mega sales were not expected. But whoever expected that the auction would be exclusive for non-old masters and relatively known artists got it wrong.

For the debut edition of Affordable, each lot was priced at an estimate below NGN 500,000. The spirit behind the new auction, according Expert at Arthouse, Nana Sonoili, was to "showcase a broader scope of contemporary artists." She added hat it was also aimed at engaging emerging markets and the rise of a new collector base.

If the old masters - living and departed - had edge in dominating top of the sales in previous and general auctions, the Affordable appeared to have created a level playing field with prices pegged at below N500, 000 naira. This, perhaps, led to a new texture in top sales, which included Rom Isichei’s Rejuvenation (2011), an oil on board sold for NGN 1,322,500 ($6,613) competing with Ben Osawe’s Mask (1985), a gouache on paper, for NGN 920,000 ($4,600); and Kolade Oshinowo’s The Family (2009), an oil on board sold for NGN 782,000 ($3,910).

With the results of Affordable, Isichei. (b.1966) has confirmed his status as a bridge between the old masters and contemporary artists. Recall that his work titled  Re-Figuration Of The White Headband (2014 oil on canvas 190.5 x 122 cm. (75 x 48 in.), sold for N4, 950,000, at the November 2015 auction.  In fact, the sale was Isichei's Nigerian auction record.

The Affordable appears like an opportunity to expand the reach of contemporary artists in the secondary market. Perhaps the new auction enjoyed more consignments directly from artists?  "Yes," Chellaram confirmed. She however added that "we did have from the secondary market as well."

Also,  Sonoiki explained that another benefit of the Affordable was as an opportunity for many artists to show at auction "for the first time, including works by leading modern masters and Africa’s most prominent artists —- all scaled to a more affordable and accessible price point." She added that the auction was however made possible with the supports of Ecobank, Kia Motors and Luxeria.

 The Affordable art auction also included three charity lots in support of the Society of Nigerian Artists, which raised NGN 506,000 ($2,530) with all proceeds going directly to their fundraising campaign to expand their operations

With the feat of last November, the auction house boasted: "Arthouse's bi-annual auctions have cemented themselves as an integral platform for the development of the African art market."

Signs of a possible expansion of the Nigerian secondary art market started showing during the 14th edition of the bi-annual sales in May last year. Results of the auction showed how figures accrued from 116 lots reached over N124 million naira. It was the largest art sales for any art auction event in Nigeria as at May 2015.

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