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Escaping COVID-19 shock, affordable art auction brings hope

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Even as the global art scene continues to suffer setbacks as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, the country opened its secondary art market season on a positive note. Big international art fairs, galleries and non-commercial spaces like museums, in most parts of the world, started announcing cancellations of events and shutting down from February.

Between March and May every year, art auctions hold in Lagos. For auction houses like Bonhams and Sotheby’s, based in Europe, Lagos provides platform for previews as part of their promotional strategies.

Home based auction houses like Arthouse Contemporary, Signature Beyond and TKMG have the advantage of both promotions and sales in Lagos.

Arthouse Contemporary’s season opened on March 7 ahead of others and its own premium sales in May/June. The auction narrowly escaped global stock crash and also took place ahead of the ‘no social, economic and religious gathering’ directives issued in the host city, Lagos. While Sogal’s scheduled date of April 26 has been postponed, and perhaps, waiting for changes in the Lagos State government’s containment measures, TKMG is yet to make any announcement.

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However, in the week of uncertainty across the world, Arthouse’s The Affordable Auction showed improved sales. The five-year-old Affordable Art Auction, which held inside Kia Showroom, Lagos, had a total of N35,762,500 ($99,340) sales. The auction featured 103 lots from emerging and established artists, in addition to five charity lots; the event recorded more than 50 per cent of total works on sale, according to an official figure from the auction house. The sale was higher than its previous records of N27,047,750 million from 97 lots, last year and N26, 668,000 million from 107 lots in 2019.

Brief breakdown of the sales, according to Arthouse, showed that the two top sales of the evening were Rom Isichei’s Boy with Purple Umbrella, a charcoal and pastel on paper dated 2019; and Segun Aiyesan’s Ewa, a mixed media on canvas, 2019, as both sold for N1,233,750.

Another Isichei’s piece titled, Delineation, a mixed media on paper from 2017, sold for N1,116,250, while Reuben Ugbine’s Athleticism, a wood sculpture dated 2019, sold for N1,086,875. Alex Nwokolo’s Red Canopy series, oil on textured canvas, dated 2020, sold for N1,028,125.

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CEO of Artbouse, Kavita Chellaram, during a chat, few days ago, explained that the impressive sales happened because “it was before Nigeria realized the impact of covid-19” and, also being an affordable auction made the difference. “I think if it (auction) had happened this week it would have been different,” she argued.

She was right; the Lagos State directive on limited number of congregating to 50 and 20 would have affected attendance at The Affordable auction.

With more postponement of art events in Lagos as the city gradually shuts down, the 2020 art auction season doesn’t look good despite the encouraging lead given by Arthouse Contemporary’s Affordable sale. However, the beneficiaries of a weakened Lagos art auction season, most likely, will be the commercial galleries. Reason: their sales, except in temporary art exhibitions, are not tied to formal events.

The Affordable Art Auction is designed to attract fresh collectors and always featured works of art estimated below N1 million.

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“This edition also featured charity lot by Oladele Awosoga, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, A.
Akande, Em Inwang and Agemo Francis, in support of the Arthouse Foundation, the non-profit artist residency programme in Lagos, raising a total of N750,000,” curator at Arthouse, Joseph Gergel, stated.

“The proceeds from these charity lots will go directly to supporting the programmes of the Arthouse Foundation, including its residencies, workshops, talks and public events.”

Supported Kia Motors, Absolut, 7UP and Guardian Arts, Affordable Art Auction strengthens Arthouse Contemporary’s hold as a premiere international auction house in West Africa, which specialises in modern and contemporary art from the sub-region.

The auction houses said the event, every year, and 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.

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