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Selling With The Times

19 May 2013

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Anatsui

Last Monday’s ArtHouse auction turned out to be one of the most successful held by the auction house, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Much of the euphoria trailing last Monday’s ArtHouse auction boils down to its 81% sale.  Then, there is also the fact that the biannual event stomped into its 10th edition! All this chimed so well with its profile as Nigeria’s only credible international auction. After a string of successful outings – since its maiden edition in 2007 – it has earned its enviable pedestal as one of the most looked-forward-to visual arts events in Lagos.

Not even the gloomy economic prognoses of the outside world could stymie the firm resolve of the posse of the auction’s habitués. Besides, any avid collector’s passion defies the Malthusian logic. Then, there’s the hard-to-ignore DIY spirit of the local art scene, which keeps the creativity mills turning.

Like some of the previous editions, last Monday’s auction took off on an optimistic note. With two of the first five lots hitting above the million-naira mark, critics scented the aroma of its potential success. Its impressive sales figures were therefore expected.

Even so, few really expected the bestselling works to emerge from the ranks of the auction’s first-timers – both Nigerians and Ghanaians – like: Olumide Onadipe, Titus Agbara, Marcia Kure, Shola Fakeye, Babalola Lawson, Nana Nyan Acquah, Kate Badoe, Frank Asomani, Larry Otoo, Cheri Cherin, Gary Stevens, Chris Afuba, Mike Omoighe, Dan Ifon, Isaac Emokpae, Godfrey Okorodus, Norris Adoro, Mary Evans, Ndidi Emefiele, Ogbami Alenosi, Dennis Osakwe, Albert Ohams, Uche Peters, Ato Arinze and Obinna Makata.

Indeed – as the previous editions attest – the bestselling works seem to have remained the exclusive preserve of such “masters” as Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke and El Anatsui. To this tradition, last Monday’s auction remained faithful! A Ben Enwonwu and an El Anatsui shared the first position as the bestselling works at the hammer prices of N12 million each.

Few people in the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi were surprised at the performance of the winning works. The prices of the El Anatsui wooden panels seem to have nowhere else to go but upwards. The 120X312.3 cm saw-like work he titled “Lahn”, like a similar work by the same University of Nigeria, Nsukka-based art professor, was hung right behind the table from where the English-born auctioneer, John Dabney, held court. As for the Ben Enwonwu sculptures, they have consistently inched their way upwards from being among the also-rans to leading the pack.

Of course, there was no doubt about the fact that the two artists’ pedigree had everything to do with the eye-popping prices their works sold for. It explains why equally aesthetically engaging works like Nnenna Okore’s clay and twine conceptual offering, titled “Anyanwu” or Peju Alatishe’s mixed media on canvas “Nigerian Woman” could sell for far less hammer prices.

Interestingly, both Okore and Alatishe are among the artists whose works have found their comfort zone above the million-naira mark. There are others like Sokari Douglas-Camp, Rom Isichei, Kainebi Osaheneye and Chidi Kwubiri. These artists owe their impressive outings at the ArtHouse auctions to their pandering to the global zeitgeist. They owe their success story so far to a neat blend of talent and good fortune. To think that their not-so-lucky peers would be scratching their heads and wondering what they are not getting right.
Diaspora artists have joined the fray as hopeful participants. A good number of them have done well enough to sell above the million-naira mark. But one of the latest Diaspora-based entrants to the auction, Marcia Kure started on a modest note with her work, “The Renate Series: Ikwokirikwo” (2013) selling for the hammer prices, N500, 000.

That last Monday’s auction also turned out to be another “masters’ feast” proves that the artists’ pedigree is becoming a factor. Among the masters, the Ben Enwonwus shone with a lot of brilliance. Few oil on board paintings at the auction could have sold for a N7 million hammer price like the late artist’s landscape study “Storm at Umunede”. Even N4 million for another of his landscape studies – an oil on canvas painting, “Gbongan” – was more an acknowledgement of his renown than for his creativity. But who really knows with art? In matters of aesthetic appreciation, there can be no dispute. Even the collectors’ whims are even more logic-defying. For how does one explain eclectic collections flaunting the Ben Osawes, the Kolade Oshinowos, the Bruce Onobrakpeyas, the Erhabor Emokpaes and the Ablade Glovers alongside the more conceptual offerings of the younger generation artists?

Apparently, there seems to be something irresistible about the lurch towards the globalist trends.  With El Anatsui as the standard-bearer, the globalist-minded artists have so saturated the local art scene that they would be difficult to ignore even by the most “conservative” collectors.

Photography, which in the auctions’ previous editions seemed intent on inching its way into reckoning, failed to impress last Monday evening. It is obvious: the medium is yet to gain the anticipated acceptance from the collectors. For even “Lagos Lagoon” by the respected photographer, George Osodi, fell short of selling up to N1 million hammer price. At the auction’s last edition, a photograph of his (a c-print on aluminium) titled “Eyo” sold above N1 million naira.

Also not so impressive were the hammer prices of the lots in the auction’s charity segment. The segment, tagged “Seeing is Believing”, is the brainwave of the auction’s sponsor Standard Chartered.

Tags: Life and Style, Arts and Review, Featured

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