By Tajudeen Sowole
What has been predicted as 'the highest priced Nigerian painting', a work by Ben Enwonwu did not reach expectation at the May 2016 edition of Africa Now auction organised by London, U.K-based auction house, Bonhams. Estimated to fetch up to N63 million, the painting slightly exceeded the asking price, but could not beat the artist’s earlier auction record.
Sold for £218,500, the painting titled Spirit of Ogolo led sales at the Bonhams' May Modern African auction as another Nigerian Yusuf Grillo, born 1934 and a Ghanaian master, El Anatsui, born 1944 added weight to the entire sales. With Mother of Twins sold for £146,500, Grillo confirmed his status as Nigeria's most-priced living artist just as Anatsui also strengthened the rising commercial value of his work when one of his panels titled Used Towel in 25 pieces sold for £176,500.
In 2012, a set of 'lost and found' seven wooden pieces by Enwonwu sold for £361,250 at a Bonhams auction.
Apart from making top of the sales record prices, Enwonwu and Grillo also added other impressive sales such as African Woman sold for £170,500. Drummers and Dancers, sold for £110,500, respectively.
Ahead of the London sales, Giles Peppiatt, Director of Modern African Art at Bonhams had told select preview guests in Lagos about the auction house's expectation. During the preview, Peppiatt disclosed other expected sales, particularly of Demas Nwoko. He noted that "only four paintings by the Zaria master, Nwoko have ever appeared for sale on the open market." Nwoko's Adam & Eve, which was estimated to fetch up to N12.5 million sold for £22,500. All sales at Bonhams included buyers’ premium.
Few weeks before the Bonhams London sales, Enwonwu and Grillo had led the sales at Arthouse Contemporary auction in Lagos. For Enwonwu, it was a 1990 painting titled Obitun Dancers sold for N46 million naira (hammer price) during the 16th edition of Arthouse Contemporary Limited auction at The Wheatbaker, Ikoyi. With that sale, Enwonwu, is still the highest priced Nigerian artist on the secondary art market. Prior to the May 2016 edition of Arthouse auction, he held Nigerian art auction record with sculpture titled Anyanwu, sold for over N28 million naira in 2012.
During the Lagos sales, Grillo, made his Nigerian record with a 1999/2002-dated painting, Threatened Innocence, which was sold for N16 million. Interestingly, both sales were achieved via telephone biddings on a night when there seemed to be more buyers aiming for premium prices.
Last year Bonhams’ Africa Now auction added what it termed Contemporary, leading to the division of the yearly event into Modern and Contemporary. sale – the first auction devoted entirely to interestingly, the debut edition of Contemporary in October last year unearthed new records. These included new world records for
Peju Alatise born 1975. Her work: High Horses triptych, sold for £31,250; Abdulaye Kanoute, (Malian, born 1953): Generation Biométrique no. sold for £31,250; Abdoulaye Aboudia,Ivorian, born 1983): Untitled (2014), sold for £12,500.