VISUAL ARTS

A Senior Advocate Nigeria and a Spanish-born art industry leading light enlightens the art public on the subtleties of collecting art with their recently-published book. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

VISUAL ARTS

Really, there’s no dispute in matters of taste. For how indeed does one legislate something so unavoidably personal and subjective? Or, even rationalise the myriads of reasons that motivate art collection, including how it is done?

Enter Fabian Ajogwu and Jess Castellote. The duo – while acknowledging aficionados’ entitlement to their whims –  seeks to educate art collectors with a new book, Collecting Art: A Handbook.“Whatever their reasons for acquiring artworks, whether enjoyment, vanity, investment or a mixture of all, for many collectors, art is among the most valuable assets they own,” goes their postulation in the book’s Introduction. “Learning how to appreciate them, to manage and care for them is of capital importance.”

Collecting Art is one book that deftly weaves anecdotes into a rich tapestry of the wherefore and the how-so of art collection along with its legal framework and nuances, among other things.  Indeed, count the anecdotal references among its great strengths. Add to the latter, its eight chapters – including one that offers a glossary of terms for the enlightenment of collectors – which make an enlightening, exhilarating read.

But does the documentation-challenged Nigerian art scene really need this book? Of course, both authors would naturally think so. “There are some ways of acquiring works that are better than others,” Castellote argues. “A collection that is documented and a collection that is not documented.  A collection that is properly stored better than a collection that is not properly stored…”

For Ajogwu, it’s also about helping people, who collect for different reasons, understand the difference between the practice and the business of the art. “It is indeed a full industry that has a role for so many to play,” he says.

Among the issues raised – including copyright, moral rights, fair use and resale rights, among others – he insists there on the need to encourage people to collect art. “It is better to collect qualitatively than quantitatively.”

Thus, the authors beam the spotlight on an industry that can still throw out plenty of grit. What with the hidden talents out there waiting to be unearthed. And, of course, there are lots of empowerment and deepening in the process, which ultimately translates to the growth of the industry. 

As credible voices in the industry, the authors draw on their lustrous antecedents. Take Ajogwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, for instance. His interest in art collection is more than a fleeting one, even when he insists on calling himself a “conscript” rather than a collector. Besides, his degrees in law from the University of Nigeria,  the University of Lagos and the University of Aberdeen as well as his studies  at the Said Business School of Oxford University and the Lagos Business School – where he is currently a professor of corporate governance – coalesce to stand him in good stead to handle both the legal and business parts of the book. This author of several authoritative law books, who has been an honorary counsel to the State of Israel and the Republic of South Africa in Nigeria, is also a member of the Council of Legal Education (Nigerian Law School) and a fellow of the AIFA Reading Society.

As for the Spaniard Castellote, his untiring behind-the-scene enabling projects in the art scene have become almost legendary. Besides holding separate masters degrees in architecture and art history, he is the director of the Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts (FCMVA). This is in addition to functioning as an independent art advisor on art matters to private and corporate bodies. Previously, he had edited a book on Nigerian art in a private collection, co-authored a book monograph on the late Ben Osaghae and co-edited a book on Kolade Oshinowo.

Both authors’ long-term commitment to the industry have rewarded them with an uncommon insight into the nuances of art collection. They argue that owning works alone does not make one a collector. Indeed, hard to ignore is the spectre of incoherence flitting around many gallery collections in Lagos or the eclectic impersonality of works adorning many homes and offices. “Great collections are put together with varying degrees of meticulousness and expertise by people who are almost always passionate about art,” they explain. “Passion and commitment are necessary requirements for a coherent collection to emerge, but they are not the only conditions. The serious collector also needs to be discerning; to be able to differentiate the great, from the good, from the mediocre, from the bad.”

This much-needed discernment comes from an educated appreciation of the art works and artists. Besides saving the collector from the booby traps of fraudsters and mediocre artists, it also lifts the veil  from the different stages of recognition an artist undergoes during the span of his or her career. The recognition of these stages – peer recognition, critical recognition, patronage by art dealers and public acclaim – prepares the soil for a conscious acquisition of art works.

That buying art is a serious business is an uncontested fact. It is not surprising, therefore, that the authors devote an entire chapter of this book on the subject. The reader traipses through the maze of the artists’ studios, dealers and galleries, art auctions and art fairs, etc., before getting initiated into the legal framework of art collection.

It is not uncommon in a growing art industry like Nigeria’s to encounter collectors who are blissfully ill-informed about issues bordering on copyright, moral rights and artists’ resale rights as well as on the troubling reality of art fraud. On a more reassuring note, the book offers the industry’s stakeholders “the necessary requirements” for “a legally water-tight transaction and a generally better art transaction”. This is despite the relative infancy of the art scene.

In any case, so much about the book is predicated on the optimistic notion that the Nigerian art scene is firmly on an upward trajectory. This uncontested assumption makes it safe to anticipate a future period of blossoming. In preparation for this golden age of creative explosion, such industry stakeholders as artists, collectors, critics,  scholars and gallery owners, among others, would do well to avail themselves of this well-written invaluable book.