Sunday 19 February 2017

How Affordable Exposed New Art Market Digits

By Tajudeen Sowole

When a third art auction, The Affordable, surfaced on the list of Arthouse Contemporary's sales last year, the aim was to promote art appreciation of below N500,000 price. But as U.K.-based auctioneer, John Dabney's hammer started falling on the lots at Kia Motor Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos, during The Affordable's second edition, the rising digits seemed unstoppable.
Child Labour 2, dated 2011 by late Ben Osaghae as the highest sold at Affordable auction
Given the success of the first edition, Arthouse has raised the digits for the 2017 Affordable to sales
of works estimated below N1,000,000 (one million naira). From a 1997 seated figure painting, Untitled by Tola Wewe sold for N1,150,000 to Hustle and Bustle, monochromatic painting dated 2012 by Alimi Adewale, for N1,207,500; Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Three Elephant; and the last of the 123 lots, Child Labour 2, dated 2011 by late Ben Osaghae, for N1,610,000, the second edition of Affordable auction exposed an expanding art market, even at a non-premium level.  

  And at N1, 610, 000 for Osaghae painting, Affordable 2017 - as the first auction since the artist’s death some weeks ago - seemed to have produced a record sale for the subtle minimalist. It is of note that Osaghae (1962 - 2017), had featured constantly at quite a number of Arthouse auctions since 2008.

  The sales also produced total sales with N40,526,000, a figure that represents 62% of the lots sold, according to results released by the auction house.

  A higher percentage of sale sometimes produce lower total lots sold, while a lower percentage could generate more total sales, so suggests a comparative analysis of the two editions. Does this suggest dynamics or unpredictability of the secondary art market? Surely, bookmakers and analysts of the Nigerian art market have some head-scratching to do on such results. “Last year the lots in the Affordable were up to half a million naira while this year the lots went up to a million naira,” the CEO of Arthouse Contemporary, Mrs. Kavita Chellaram clarified. “That will account for the lower percentage of lots sold but higher total sales.”

  Beyond the digits, the auction, perhaps like the maiden edition, gave younger generation of artists and collectors a new space to converge for broader art appreciation across generations and periods. Yes, pieces from the old masters - in miniatures - still found their way into the Affordable sales, but the estimated amount on such works had competitive pricing with the dominating younger masters and emerging artists.

  Whoever was interested in old pieces had quite a number of such to pick from even at miniature sizes, for all they were worth. For example, among the oldest pieces on display were Legon, Back To Back, a 1973 print of Ben Enwonwu; Milk Maid, 1986 by Jimoh Buraimoh; a wood, Untitled (1989) by Ndidi Dike; and dele jegede's Supplication oil on canvas (1991), among quite some attractive lots. And with an auction space filled with more young collectors, on a Saturday evening, moderate collection met future investment and aesthetic value at The Affordble auction.    

  With about 40 percent lots selling for above N500,000 each, the auction has lifted art market status of quite a number of young artists. However, the result has a double-edge sword: the primary art market may be under pressure of new evaluation for some of these artists who have been chasing higher values. 

  Beyond the value of digits, the CSR of Arthouse auctions over the years is worth mentioning; The Affordable auction 2017 was not an exception. Paintings such as Circle 001 by Dipo Doherty; Uchay Joel Chima's oil on board, The Villagers III; Sade Thompson's acrylic on canvas, Labyrinth; and a mixed media, Conflict Behind the Veil by Olumide Onadipe were sold as charity lots, with total sales of N700,000 for ArtHouse Foundation. "These charity lots will go directly in supporting the programmes of the Arthouse Foundation, including its residencies, workshops, talks and public events," the parent company, Arhouse contemporary stated ahead of the auction.

  The Arthouse Foundation's residency-based programme for artists, gives platform for participants to "expand their practice and experiment with new art forms and ideas."
   Among its platforms are Workshops, Public Programmes and Exhibitions. Past and current beneficiaries, include Victoria Udondian’s graduate study at Columbia University in New York, residencies for Uchay Joel Chima and Tayo Olayode at the Vermont Studio Center, and Chibuike Uzoma in Vienna, Austria.
  The trienniale auctions of Arthouse include each in May and November every year. The last auction in November, which was, expectedly, dominated by premium sales had El Anatsui's AHE, a 2016 wood panel sold for N18,400,00 million as the highest sale. The Ghanaian master, whose work has attained a high value on the international art market, was followed by his traditional rival, Enwonwu whose 1951 pencil and watercolour on paper, Crowd Scene sold for N14,950,00 million.

  "The eighteenth edition of the Arthouse Contemporary auction of Modern and Contemporary Art will take place on May 22, 2017 at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Lagos.

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