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African Art… In Season Of Auction

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Mixed media, New World Map by El Anatsui

Mixed media, New World Map by El Anatsui

The month of May this year is a season of auctions for African art, particularly in Nigeria. Three auction houses, Lagos-based Arthouse Contemporary and TKMG as well as London-based, Bonhams have been strengthening their holds on the emerging African art market in the past few weeks, towards mega buck sales in May.

The first of the sales was TKMG, which continued its focus on promoting young artists alongside the old masters. A joint venture of Terra Kulture and Mydrim Gallery, TKMG, on Friday, May 1 – despite the challenge in transportation across Lagos caused by fuel scarcity – held its fifth uction at Terra Kulture in Victoria Island. Lagos

Yesterday, Arthouse Contemporary started its previews towards the scheduled sales, holding tomorrow at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos. The premiere auction house in Nigeria goes into tomorrow’s sales with high hopes, having sold an estimated 1.1 billion naira worth of sales for one thousand and one hundred art pieces since 2008.

At the Bonhams end, it’s about setting world records, some of which include Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, El Anatsui, Kolade Oshinowo, Bunmi Babatunde and Uche Okeke. For examples, such sales recorded Enwonwu, The Mirror sculptures, old for £361,250; Anatsui, New World Map, sold for £541,250; and Stern, Arab Priest

Although Bonhams hold its sales Africa Now in London – except one edition in New York, 2009 – the auction house, few weeks ago opened its preview in Lagos, at Alara Contemorary, Victoria Island, Lagos. Fifth in the editions of Africa Now, the auction still maintains its London outlet, holding the first of two sales on May 20. For the first time since 2008, Bonhams’ Africa Now will hold twice in a year as the second sales is scheduled for October, also in London.

For Arthouse, its May auction features works of the usual old masters such as Ben Enwonwu, El Antasui, Ablade Glover, Akinkola Lasekan, Ben Osawe, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Lamidi Fakeye, Okpu Eze, Susan Wegner, Gani Odutokun, Yusuf Grillo, Abayomi Barber, Kolade Oshinowo, and Amon Kotei. And with 116 lots total, new entrants of contemporary artists include Justus Akeredolu, Paul Onditi, Charles Okereke, Ato Malinda Soji Adeshina, Jacqueline Souwari, Charly D’Almeida, Stanley Dudu, Samuel Tete Katcha, and Mario Kizito Kasule.

Sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank, Veuve Clicquot, and Mouton Cadet, the Arthouse auction continues its tradition of supporting charity projects, as it include four lots from Nike Okundaye, Modupe Fadugba, Tola Wewe, and Victor Ehikhamenor, “in support of Standard Chartered Bank’s Seeing is Believing, a charity which works to tackle avoidable blindness.”

Nana Sonoiki, a sale expert at Arthouse, recalled that since 2007, when the auction house was founded, it has focused on modern and contemporary art from West Africa. “With auctions held twice a year in Lagos, Nigeria, Arthouse Contemporary aims to create awareness of the scope of contemporary art in the region, encourage international recognition towards its talented artists, and strengthen the economy of its art market.” She added that “as West Africa’s premier auction house, Arthouse Contemporary has sold over 1,100 pieces of art worth nearly eight million dollars over the past seven years.”

Noting that contemporary African art is becoming one of the fastest growing global art markets, Sonoiki assured of the quality of the 14th edition of Arthouse sales. “This edition of the auction will feature both master works from the modern period and cutting-edge contemporary art from the region’s most celebrated artists.”

During the last Arthouse auction in November 2014, two Nigerian record sales, each for painter, Kolade Oshinowo and sculptor, Bunmi Babatunde were achieved. They included 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 million naira.

During a preview at Alara Contemporary, Giles Peppiatt, Director of Modern African Art at Bonhams was excited by the increasing values of African art in recent times, He boasted about the role of Bonhams in the new development. “For me personally, the two results that stand out are the sale, for £3.1m, of the oil by Irma Stern entitled Arab Priest, a world record for any African painting and then Ben Enwonwu’s, ‘The Mirror sculptures’ which sold for over £360,000,” Peppiatt stated in her presentation tagged Nigeria At The Centre Of A New Scramble For Africa. “What we have seen and continue to see is a new “Scramble for Africa”, not for land or gold or diamonds this time, but for art. The scramble I am talking about, the one centered on art, is a rather different kind of tussle and one that is making art a viable occupation for artists across Africa.”

He described the new face of African art as “revolution” that has been bringing prospect “to communities in many of the 54 countries” in Africa. However, Peppiatt noted the role of Nigeria in the art market renaissance. “Nigeria has led the way in this revolution with artists and prices that have dominated the results coming out of Africa.”

The preview at Alara Contemporary also provided an opportunity to clear the air on the controversy over which of the two auction houses – Arthouse Contemporary or Bonhams – inspired the other in specialised auction sales of African art. Peppiat stated: “About eight years ago, a client consigned to us some paintings by Ben Enwonwu, whose work had not been offered for sale much in London and an artist I knew by repute only. One of these was a small and modest work that then sold for almost £20,000, a world record for the artist at the time.

“You might say it was a light bulb moment! It was following this auction that it was decided that it would be worthwhile holding a specialist auction devoted entirely to Modern & Contemporary African Art.

“That decision paid off almost immediately with a first auction that captured the attention of the international art market. In the following years, volumes and values rocketed and as we promoted this art, the art market responded strongly and soon the auctions were grossing well over £1 million and we were creating many new world records.”

Three years ago, a gathering on African art market had asked participants: Art As an Alternative Investment? The forum, which was organised by Ben Enwonwu Foundation (BEF), featured as discussants Amb. Arthur Mbanefo; top art collector, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon; initiator of The Arts Collector Series, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago; lawyer and notable collector, Femi Akinsanya; and a Chartered Accountant, Folusho Phillips.

In his presentation, Peppiatt submitted that art could be a good investment, but cautioned that, “good judgement and fortune are both needed in equal measure.”

Arguing that Art should not be “solely regarded as an investment,” he cited examples of works sold at record prices across the world, but which were bought for enjoyment derived from the aesthetics and not necessarily for investment.

Peppiatt stated: “For the long term, art can be the best investment that a collector or individual can make.  If astutely bought, correctly maintained and properly sold, the returns will easily outstrip any other asset class.”

Shortly before Arthouse Contemporary had its 10th edition of auctions two years ago, Mrs Kavita Chellaram shared her journey in art appreciation passion, which led to the auction house’s maiden sales in 2008. She recalled her dissatisfaction with the status of Nigerian art market over the decades.


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