Sunday 19 August 2018

'Ten years of robust art auction market deserves stronger ethics, values'

Bolanle Austen-Peters, partner at TKMG Auction house; Sandra Mbanefo Obiago of SMO Contemporary; and Sinmidele Adesanya, co-partner during TKMG Auction preview in Lagos...recently

Despite exposing huge potentials in art of African descents, ten years of Nigeria's secondary market still has quite some loose ends to connect.

In May 2008, the unprecedented happened when a set of panel titled 'Greater Nigeria' by Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya recorded highest wolf of N9.2 million Naira, hammer price, at Arthouse's maiden art auction. The night's sales, held at Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos recorded a total of less than N100m naira. 

Fast forward to 2018, just two works by Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994) made as much total sales recorded for nearly 100 lots sold by the same Arthouse ten years ago. Excerpts from the results of the June 2018 auction reads: From 105 lots on sales, a total of N233,062,500 million naira was recorded. In fact, Enwonwu’s 'Anyanwu', a bronze sculpture (circa 1975), sold for N59,800,000 just as another work by the same artist, titled 'Negritude', a watercolour on paper from 1990, sold for N46,000,000.

In economics and commercial index, the Nigerian secondary art market has not done badly in its ten years. In fact, the auction houses have increased to three as TKMG and Sogal have joined the big digits art market.

While most of the ten years period have been impressive - in commercial value - there were days of low performances. For example, in 2015, a survey called Nigeria Art Market Report, published by Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts (FCMVA) valued the country’s secondary art market. “The value of artworks sold at auction in Nigeria declined for the second consecutive year from $1.77 million in 2014 to $1.37 million in 2015,” the report explained.

Basically, art auction, which defines the secondary market, is more of commercial than critical appreciation of creative contents produced by the artists. It is therefore crucial to add the worth of the country's entire art market, yearly, in tracking the ten years performance of the auctions.
 Observers have estimated that close to 30 percent of Nigeria's entire art market of yearly N500 million Naira come from the auction houses. However, over 20 per cent of Nigeria’s art market value may be coming from the two Arthouse’s yearly auctions alone. In the last ten years, Arthouse has sold over two billion naira worth of art, auctioning 1,750 lots, a statement from the auctioneer disclosed.

Beyond the digits, there are concerns about ethics and values. In a country with such a young art auction market, the debate about criteria for selection of artworks is always divided between artists and other stakeholders. Also, the issue of who values what keeps recurring just as the auction houses appear to base their judgements on clients' and collectors' behaviours.

 "No doubt, the auctions have added value to both art and artists in Nigeria, while opening up new ideas and debates about art in these parts", Prof Krydz Ikwuemesi of Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka noted. He however pointed out the need to avoid recycling of same artists. "Those in charge must find ways of injecting new names into the auctions from time to time".

 Ikwuemesi insisted in the need to seek new frontiers, "if the auctions must remain exciting happenings that people can look forward to". On the relevance of Nigeria's secondary art market  as index in rating the value of the  country's art, the art historian argued that "more and more, the auctions should be positioned to become a major defining factor in the art field here as in other places".

 Duke Asidere, one of Nigeria's top contemporary artists also agreed that "the auction houses have opened up the art market". Asidere whose painting was among the sales at the maiden edition of Arthouse auction in 2008 however would like to see an improvement in the selecton of lots.  "The selection has to be more objective".

Asidere echoed increasing concerns about how the rich and long provenance essence of art auction is being eroded by auction houses. "The works must have some history; art that must have been exhibited and not those produced a few weeks to auction event".

 Undoubtedly, the art auction houses in Nigeria also engage experts in selections of world. But Asidere would like to see an improvement in the inputs of such "researchers and curatorial expertise".  
Bruce Onobrakpeya's 'Greater Nigeria' (Foil and Ivories, mounted on plywood, water 2007), and sold for N9.2m, Nigerian record, at 2008 auction.

Valuing art is one of the most contentious aspects of the Nigerian secondary market. Asidere advised on the consistence of valuing art within the context of global market. Worth of the same art should not vary from one geographical location to another, he argued. "The prices must match prices artists have gotten for their works in other countries". To energies the Nigerian art market, he insisted that artists should not reserve their best works for foreign market alone. "Artists should put in their strongest and most engaging pieces".

While quite a lot of people rely on art auction as to rate the worth of an artist or art,
Jess Casttelote, co-author of 'Collecting Art: A Handbook', disagreed. "Though, I think auctions are not always the best indicators of artistic value, they are useful and play increasingly important role". He explained that as prices are made public, they are "also advantageous for the operation of the art market".
After Mrs Kavita Chellaram-led Arthouse Contemporary made history as West Africa's premier auction house in 2008, the secondary art market space opened up. TKMG, a joint auction house by Terra Kukture and Mydrim Gallery led by Mrs Bolanle Austen-Peters and Mrs Sinmidele Adesanya came next. And in the last three years, Sogal Auction, from Rahman Akar-led Signature Beyond Gallery has been consistent.
 -Tajudeen Sowole.


  1. Good write up, Nimbus organised the first art auction.

  2. Beautiful...I don't mind getting more of this updates.. Informative.

  3. Beautiful... I don't mind getting more of this updates.. Informative..