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Nigerian art auction makes N1.186billion in eight years

…as Enwonwu, Grillo, Enatsui top list of artists in high demand internationally

Untitled work (1951) by Ben Enwonwu

Untitled work (1951) by Ben Enwonwu

FUNKE OSAE-BROWN

Local art auction market organised bi-annually by Arthouse Contemporary has made a total sale of N.186 billion in the eight years the auction has been in existence.

Nana Sonoiki, manager, Arthouse Contemporary told BusinessDay in an interview that a total of 1, 100 lots were sold within the eight years. Industry analyst said this figure shows a steady growth that the Nigeria art market has been experiencing in the last ten years.

“At every auction, the works of masters are always in demand hence they are always reoccurring every year. “All the masters works are all star sales,” said Sonoiki. “I think we have progressed and more quality works are coming out, both from the artists and private collectors. We have a standard and we cannot go below that standard. The older artists are always in high demand, that’s why they are reoccurring.”

According to her, auctions are always known as a market where rare piece of works are sold. Works on display at auctions are not the kind one sees in galleries, therefore the pricing is always competitive. “With auction, people want a special feeling with what they buy. People want a work that is rare, one that they can’t get anywhere or at any exhibition. It is time to begin to teach collectors to part with older works and get new ones. People don’t want to part with their millions and get works they can get at any gallery,” she explained further.

In addition she said the first work to make a record sale in at the local auction market was the first auction held in April 2008 where Bruce Onobrakpeya’s work titled ‘Greater Nigeria’ sold for $79, 000.

The market Nigerian visual art is not only growing locally but also internationally. Giles Peppiatt, the art specialist responsible for creating an international market for Contemporary African art, through Bonhams, an auction house based in London, who spoke recently at Alara Contemporary Design Store, Lagos, said Bonhams’ decision to start specialist African art sales in Europe paid off almost immediately with the first sale totaling £1.5 million as the auctions were grossing £10 million.

“People regularly ask how we have done this,” he said. “How is it that works by African artists which sold for figures around £10,000 ten years ago now go for hundreds of thousand pounds? We have set world records for all major artists in this field: Ben Enwonwu; Yusuf Grillo, El Anatsui, Kolade Oshinowo, Uche Okeke the list goes on and on.”

According to Peppiat the works of Nigerian artistes have led the way in this revolution with artists and prices that have dominated the results coming out of Africa. “Why is this? That question is one that I put recently to three successful Nigerian businessmen who were standing with me at a cocktail party on the roof of the new Zeitz museum of African contemporary art under construction in Cape Town,” he recalled.

Tror (1990) by El Enatsui

Tror (1990) by El Enatsui

He further explained that “what we continue to see is a new ‘Scramble for Africa’; no longer for land, gold or diamonds, but for art. The scramble I am talking about, is a rather different kind of tussle, one that is making art a viable occupation for artists across Africa, bringing hope to communities in many of its 54 nations. It is a new development taking the message of African ingenuity to the wider world – a rather different message the kind the world has grown used to hearing from Africa. It has been our very great privilege to play a small part in taking that message to the wider art market.”

Some of the record sales of Nigerian artistes in London include: Ben Enwonwu’s ‘The Mirror sculptures’ sold for £361,250 (N108.4 million) while El Anatsui’s ‘New World Map’ sold for £541,250 (N162.4 million). Yusuf Grillo’s ‘African woman with Gele’, Uche Okeke’s ‘Motherhood’ and Kolade Oshinowo’s ‘Sisters’ sold for £80,500 (N24.2 million), £51,650 (N15.5 million) £43,250 (N13 million) respectively.

In spite of its laudable growth, Sonoiki said a lot of factors are affecting the explosive growth of the Nigerian art market in the country. “Some of these factors are: the quality of works coming out of the country, the creativity of the artists has not improved greatly, and the poor state of the economy that has also affected consumers’ purchasing power. But largely, it has been a good growth.”

However, Sonoiki observed that in another eight years, there should be more transparency in terms of pricing. “In another eight years, I see the market become more transparent in terms of pricing. I see more creative works being produced and I see more people collecting Nigerian works more than ever before,” she added.