With a Stunning Debut, +234 Art Fair Promotes Emerging Talents 

With a Stunning Debut, +234 Art Fair Promotes Emerging Talents 

A recently launched art fair in Lagos seems intent to on giving its precursors a run for their money. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Adash of extra creative zest to the already effervescent Lagos contemporary art scene is not only essential but invigorating. Indeed, despite the recent surge of art events in the littoral commercial capital city, the +234 Art Fair—as the most recent and inspiring addition to the yearly visual arts calendar—stands out as a beacon in the annual artistic landscape, amid the after-tones of recent art fiestas, thus embodying the concept of “the more, the merrier.” The fair deflects potential censure for hopping on the bandwagon, which tauntingly trails it like a phantom. And with a unique selling point that bears all the hallmarks of sustainability, it also dispels fears of potentially saturating the art scene with a promise of enriching rather than overwhelming it. In any case, the continually evolving art community can only benefit from this injection of new perspectives and the fostering of artistic dialogue.

Still, this meticulously orchestrated art event, which officially opened to the public on March 22 and ends today (March 31), transcends the notion of the mere proliferation of art fairs. Granted that it hopes to enrich the local cultural tapestry, it sets its sights on championing budding artists while nurturing partnerships with established ones. It also breathes vitality into the art economy by fostering collaborations and boosting art patronage. As for its core mission of connecting artists and collectors, it not only elevates Nigeria’s contemporary art scene but also cultivates a vibrant local artistic network that resonates on both national and global stages.

However, organising an art event of this magnitude, particularly one that might have been conceived to surpass its forerunners, could not have been an easy task. It must have taken a great deal of preparation in advance. Kudos, therefore, to Soto Gallery, its principal sponsor, Ecobank, and all the other sponsors and partners—among many others, the Federal Ministry of Culture, Leadway Insurance, and Africa Finance Corporation—for what turned out to be an incredibly successful, one-of-a-kind visual extravaganza.

Then, there is also the fact that it is being held in a purpose-built 3,800-square-metre state-of-the-art venue at the Ecobank Pan-African Centre, which adjoins the Ecobank creek-front headquarters building on Victoria Island. This venue boasts not only a large exhibition space capable of showing 1000 art works—a reason it prides itself on offering “the largest art exhibition Nigeria has seen”—but also a restaurant, a VIP lounge, a seminar room, a waterfront view, and 300 parking spaces.

Rallying under the theme Nigeria: A New Heritage, +234 Art Fair offers a visual smorgasbord of artworks that explore historical themes related to Nigeria, whether real or imagined. The exhibition, orchestrated by a team of six curators, each assigned specific roles, offers a diverse range of perspectives. Among these curators are Eyimofe Ideh, overseeing fine art curation; Tracian Meikle, managing programmes; Ugochukwu Emebiriodo, handling LagosPhoto photography; and Arinola Olowoporoku, leading the sculpture exhibits. With their distinct expertise, the curators aim to offer a thought-provoking and immersive experience at the fair.

Understandably, being innovative and unique carries a burden of expectations along with it. Therefore, it is not hard to figure out why having a personality with the calibre of Florence Lynch as the keynote speaker on Saturday, March 23, mattered a lot, as it would have done a lot to assuage the high expectations of many. Talking about Lynch, she is a New York-based art dealer and a senior director at the art gallery Marc Straus. With over 20 years of art world experience, she has worked as an independent curator, critic, and lecturer. She was, among other things, a Director of Sales and Public Relations at Elizabeth Dee, New York. She also co-owned LYNCH THAM, a contemporary a’t gallery formerly on New York’s Lower East Side, which was established in 2013, and founded Florence Lynch Gallery, a contemporary art gallery of international standing previously located in New York’s Chelsea gallery district. 

Subsequent days of the +234 Art Fair, following the exclusive VIP soirée on Thursday, March 21—an event during which a vibrant band played timeless melodies and a silent auction took place—seemed to be bursting at the seams with a medley of activities. Daily attendees were able to participate in enriching workshops, insightful masterclasses, and stimulating panel discussions, ensuring that the energetic atmosphere maintained its momentum beyond the grand opening. The varied activities and engagements kept the spirit of creativity alive throughout the post-opening days, making each day a vibrant and intellectually stimulating experience for all involved.

Then, close up on the exhibition. It lived up to its billing as a platform for a vibrant mix of emerging artists sourced from the rich reservoir of talent within the country, which ought to have impressed potential buyers. It also helps that the exhibited works are categorised into distinct sections, such as fine art, sculptures, photography, and digital art, so that attendees can effortlessly navigate and explore their interests. While some paintings’ vacuously eclectic nature might raise eyebrows about thematic coherence, the majority of visual masterpieces on display at the art fair present a compelling and enriching experience, highlighting the wonderful diversity of artistic expression in contemporary times.

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