By Tajudeen Sowole
Art connoisseurs, brokers as well as their 'cousins', the dealers shouldn’t scratch heads in search of explanation for the results of the last auction in Lagos. At N130 million naira recorded for just 65 per cent of lots, the results of November 2015 edition of Arthouse Contemporary sales held at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, suggest that a third auction would be added to separate premium-rated works from the others.
At 65 per cent sales, what has been regarded as Nigeria's leading auction house, Arthouse Contemporary, recorded one of its lowest number of works sold since inception eight years ago. But followers of the Nigerian secondary art market should have nothing to worry about. In fact, while trying to find explanation to the new development, art market enthusiasts have something to cheer: the 65 per cent sales, ironically, recorded N130,611,250, a figure that is clearly the highest at any single auction in Nigeria.
Top sales of the evening included Ben Enwonwu’s Untitled, oil on board, dated 1976 that was sold for N22,500,000 (USD$112,500); El Anatsui’s Tabula Rasa, a new wood panel work, which sold for N12,375,000 (USD$61,876) and another Anatsui’s 2002 wood work Fragmented Thoughts II, sold for N10,687,500 (USD$53,438). Noting that the sales confirm a rising value of African art at home and the Diaspora, the auction house boasted, "Arthouse's bi-annual auctions have cemented themselves as an integral platform for the development of the African art market."
Joining the premium sales of big masters at the auction was Rom Isichei (b.1966) whose Re-Figuration Of The White Headband (2014 oil on canvas 190.5 x 122 cm. (75 x 48 in.), sold for N4, 950,000, giving the artist his Nigerian auction record. Isichei's new auction record confirms the artist's consistence in gradual rise on the Nigerian art market scene.
During the 14th edition of the bi-annual sales at the same venue, in May this year, figures accrued from 116 lots was put at over N124 million naira. It was the largest art sales for any art auction event in Nigeria as at May 2015.
With the texture of the November auction there were indications of increasing works in the premium range. For example, in May 2012 edition, a total sale – including the buyer’s premium – of N106 million ($132,000) was recorded for 97 out of 116 lots, representing 84%. Similarly, most of the previous and subsequent auctions usually took the same pattern of the higher the percentage of lots sold, the bigger the total figures. But the November 2015 sales reversed that trend, sending a signal of change in the Nigerian art market.
"The market is maturing," Mrs. Kavita Chellaram, CEO at Arthouse Contemporary noted during our chat, few days after the auction. "Blue chip is of high value and we had multiple buyers for the premium works."
She explained that investment and appreciation for A-class works are undoubtedly on the increase. Perhaps, in the closet editions there could be a third auction or separation of premium from lower sales works? Yes, most likely, she assured. "We are going to separate the smaller works from premium and have a sale of works up to N500, 000 naira upwards." In fact, she disclosed that the third auction will start from "next year February or March," with "Contemporary Auction, affordable Art of famous and contemporary artists."
Under the hammer of U.K-based auctioneer, John Dabney, Arthouse auctions have been holding twice a year since 2007. So far, sales worth over one and half billion naira for more than one thousand pieces in the past 14 editions have been recorded
AS much as non-catagorised pattern of auctions in Nigeria afforded new masters and up-and-coming artists opportunity to thrive under the same roof with old and established masters, very few young artists have made the best of the opportunity while it lasted. Apart from Isichei, Peju Alatise, Abiodun Olaku, Bunmi Babatunde, Chidi Kwubiri and Soukari Douglass Camp, most others who started well, creeping into the seven digits have dropped drastically in rating over the last few auctions.
For example, since Nnenna Okore's impressive feat as the second highest sold at Arthouse’s March 2009 sales with her Egwu Ukwu, (2009), mixed media, 76.2 x 198.1cm lot 72, which was sold at N3.3 million. Similar record has not been made by any of the younger artists. Even Okore, who was then described as ‘a new master’ to watch, appears to be sliding down the graph, so suggest sales of her works at recent auctions.
However, hope of premium sales for the non-predictable masters kept rising. During the Arthouse auction of November 2014, two Nigerian record sales, each for painter, Kolade Oshinowo and sculptor, Babatunde were achieved. The sales 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. For both artists, the sales represented their Nigerian record sales. New comers who made debut with the November 2015 sales included Timothy Adequate Fussy, Angela Issue, Oboes Anidi, Chipping Udoma, Jimmy Nwanne, Johnson Uwadinma, Cheri Samba, Georgia Beier and Toyin Loye.
On the resilience of the old masters - living and departed - Enwonwu appears to have the two worlds of an artist's thematic and conceptual strengths working for him. For example, his works in African dance themes, which eulogise energy in the wavy native moves keep sprouting high sales. This much the November 2015 sales stressed with Untitled, making it the highest sold lot.
For the charity lots, a total of N2,800,000 (USD$14,000) worth was raised from works by Isichei, Isaac Emokpae, Sade Thompson, Olu Ajayi and Gbenga Offo in "support of Arthouse Foundation, a non-profit residency-based programme that provides platform for artists to expand their practice and experiment with new art forms and ideas.
"The proceeds of the charity lots,” according to a statement "will go directly to support Arthouse Foundation’s acquisition of a permanent venue for its studio residencies."
A U.S.-based artist, Victor Ekpuk, who is currently having a four-month residency in Lagos, is Arthouse Foundation's first beneficiary of the residence programme.