The Fervour this Time

18 Nov 2012

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Riding on the crest of optimism, a celebrated bi-annual art auction returns to a busy Lagos art scene. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
On Monday, November 26, a multi-racial crowd would gather before a dark-suited, English-born auctioneer. The place: an upper-floor conference room of the Wheatbaker Hotel in the upmarket Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos. The event: the ArtHouse Contemporary Limited’s auction of modern and contemporary art.

With a total of 111 lots on offer, the auction will be preceded by preview exhibitions on Saturday, November 24 and Sunday, November 26 at the same venue.

Now on its ninth edition, this bi-annual ritual has wormed its way into reckoning in both local and international art circles. Its first edition – held on April 7, 2008 at the Civic Centre in Victoria Island – blazed the trail for the subsequent editions with its net total sale worth N68.83 million. Also with Bruce Onobrakpeya’s mixed media panel, titled “Greater Nigeria” going for the highest hammer price of N9.2 million, great expectations began to swirl around the event.

The second edition, held on November 19 that same year, did slightly better with its net sales of N77, 715, 000. This was even when the highest sold work, Yusuf Grillo’s oil on board painting “Blue Moon” went for the hammer price of N8.8 million. The total net sales of the auction’s third on April 6, 2009 nosedived to a more modest N53, 893, 896 probably because the global recession monster was baring its fangs.  As though in corroboration, no other auction could hold that year. The net sales picked up a little with a heart-warming N64, 920,880.

The subsequent editions have continued to buoy the hopes of stakeholders, even hitting as much as a total sale of N106, 132, 000, which includes the buyers’ premium, at the last edition.  This translates to the sale of 97 out of the 116 Lots on offer.

As has become de rigueur in the much looked-forward-to event, a cavalcade of first-timers will be expected to raise the stakes at this forthcoming edition. Works by Adebesin Adedamola, Alimi Adewale, Abiola Akintola, Benedict Olorunnisomo, Billy Omabegho, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Chike Obeagu, Dotun Adegbite, John Nosireme-Thomas, Lanre Ayoade, Lucy Azubuike, Osagie Aimufia, Raqib Bashorun, Segun Ayesan, Tolu Aliki, Uche Okpa-Iroha and Wande George would surely elicit the interest of the buyers.

But then, why is it so important to include new names in every edition? Why indeed does anyone want to change a winning team? This is consistent with the auction house’s broader vision, its director Mrs Kavita Chellaram had explained during an earlier media briefing. The outfit had been founded in 2007 as a platform for the sale of fine Nigerian and West African art. The event’s format guarantees greater transparency of not only pricing of the art works and wider exposure of these works to a broad and global audience.

It helps that the auctioneer, John Dabney, has continued to keep the fire of optimism ablaze after each edition. Dabney, a psychology graduate, is no neophyte in the global art circuit. Hence his opinions about each of the auction’s editions are taken seriously. If he had sounded a tad too generous in his assessment of the third edition, it is probably because he is not unaware of the potentials of African art in the international market.

Now a benchmark for other auctions, the ArtHouse auctions enjoy the confidence of both the revered masters of the local contemporary art scene and the upcoming ones. Both locally and foreign-based artists are falling over themselves to ensure that their works make every new edition.

Regardless of this jostling for inclusion, there are artists who seem to have found favour in the eyes of the auction house’s selection team. Among these artists are Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Kolade Oshinowo, Rom Isichei, Kainebi Osahenye, Ben Osaghae and David Dale.

Meanwhile, one of the artists whose work was turned down for one of the editions alleged favouritism in the selection process. He even went further to wonder how the work of a certain artist could be preferred to his own. But, surely, he could not have been expecting an answer from the auction house! His reaction only proved the event’s acceptance as a beacon of hope in the local art scene.

Yet, there are concerns in some quarters that art works, whose quality and provenance ought to have guaranteed slots in the auctions, seem ignored. Among these works are works sculptural pieces, which collectors would fall over themselves to acquire.

But the ArtHouse seems to have shifted its radar away from the more conservative art forms to works that seem more experimental and modern in taste. Besides the obviously unconventional works like Nnenna Okore’s “Akwa Ocha”, a 2009 clay and burlap contraption and Kainebi Osahenye’s intriguing 2012 mixed media on board “Eye. Love. Coke”, there is Rom Isichei’s “Convergence” a 2012 photo collage and Yetunde Ayeni Baba-Eko’s “Osun Goddess”, a 2012 photographic print on dibond, which pander more to globalist trends than to commercial whims.

Just as was the case in some of the previous edition, a charity segment has been included in this forthcoming auction. Proceeds of the sale from lot 63 to 66 would go to the Ayodele Jegede Foundation to help in the projects conceived to immortalise him and perpetuate his memory. The late Ayodele, born on September 17, 1982, passed away on December 23, 2011. Besides efforts to immortalise him at his alma mater, Indiana University, Bloomington (USA), Ben Bosah has in collaboration with the Dele Jegede Family initiated the Ayodele Jegede Essay Contest in Nigeria.

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