Interest in Nigerian arts and artefacts was sustained in 2012 despite the slow growth of the sector. The Nigerian art auction market, based in the country’s commercial city of Lagos, grossed N232 million in sales revenue in 2012 with the two major auction houses, Arthouse Contemporary Ltd and Terra Kulture, being centres of the activities.
According to the two art houses, most of the artworks were sold at hammer prices in their bi-annual auctions. The sales figure, according to art collectors, signposts sustained interest in the sector, despite occasional drops in sale, often accounted for by harsh economic conditions. Most curators who spoke to BusinessDay say the Nigerian arts market could be valued at several billions of naira when activities of private collectors and other art centres in Benin, Jos, Ife, Kano and Port Harcourt are taken into consideration.
The Nigerian auction market is conducted twice in a year between April and December, with the two major houses putting lots out for sale. In the month of May 2012 Arthouse Contemporary Ltd, sold 108 lots for N101.68 million, with Demas Nwoko’s ‘Praise Singer’ selling at the highest hammer price of N7.7 million as against the estimated price of between N8 million and N10 million. In the second auction in November, Arthouse sold work of arts valued at N91.34 million, with El Anatsui’s ‘Grandma’s Cloth Series VI’ painted in 1992 selling at N12.54 million, which makes it the most expensive artwork sold by Arthouse in the year, at a positive variance of N2.5 million over the estimated price of N10 million.
The 12 percent decrease in sales at the November auction, according to Kavita Chellaram, founder, ArtHouse Contemporary Limited, is attributed to unpredictability of the art market.
“Auctions can be unpredictable,” she explains. “For example although we sold slightly fewer works in the November 2012 auction, than we did in May of the same year, the reverse was the case in 2011. Overall, ArtHouse Contemporary sold 12 percent more works in 2012 than we did the year before, which is representative of the trend we are seeing in the African art market,” she said, adding that ArtHouse Contemporary has consistently sold over 70 percent of art works at auction, which is extremely encouraging, when compared to other leading auction houses around the world.
“We believe our success is largely due to the quality and variety of modern and contemporary artworks which are available and also the professional nature of our auctions.”
Terra Kulture on the other hand, sold 59 lots out of its 99 lots put out for sale in its April 2012 auction, of N38, 125, 000. This drop in sales, Bolanle Austen-Peters, managing director, Terra Kulture, attributes to slow economy in 2012. “As you are aware, we also sold more in 2011 than we did in 2012. This was due to various factors, the economy was slow in 2012 and we began to stabilise the industry too.”
In addition, she says competition in the auction process has resulted in realistic pricing and purchasing of works.
As with most auctions worldwide, the Nigerian auction market is a convergence of old and rare works that are only available in private collections. Hence tens of art works valued at millions of naira are usually sold. These are rare works of Nigerian masters like Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Ben Enwonwu and contemporary works from Sokari Douglas Camp, Peju Alatise and Olu Amoda. Most of these works are usually sourced from private collectors, who constitute the secondary markets.
Simi Ogunsanya, managing director and founder, Mydrim Gallery, who is also one of the organisers of the annual Terra Kulture arts auction, explains that auctioned art works are collected from difference sources. “Typically at auction, we are looking for rare old works,” she explains. “These are usually in the hands of collectors. We have a mix of sources, so artists constitute one of the sources of works for auctions.”
The shifting taste of clients has also been a driving force in the kind of works offered at auctions. Hence at the 2012 auctions, there was a mixture of contemporary and old works, giving collectors many options. This also shows how Nigerian art is changing, as more works are coming into the market for all to see. “Old collectors are looking for new things,” says Nana Sonoiki of ArtsHouse Contemporary Limited. “Now is the most exciting of times for Nigerian art. There’s a big buy coming for Nigerian works. There is so much attention for upcoming artists, hence we have seen a progress on the quality of their works, hence they are included in our auction.”
Therefore, Chellarams explains that yearly, the Artshouse Auction normally introduces new artists each year to allow for variety in the number of works auctioned. “We had 30 new artists in 2012,” says Chellarams. “Our interest is to continue to bring new artistes into our space. In 2011, we had about ten. We have more Nigerian works and at the moment we are getting the Nigerian market top show interest in what we have.”
In the past, photography was not common at art auctions, but this Chellarams says is fast changing as viewers’ taste is changing. “Photography has done well and it is doing well abroad. It is also doing well here in Nigeria. Hence we plan to have an auction on photography alone.
Be that as it may, for 2013 market projection, Austen Peters says the arts auction market is relatively new, hence giving a definite growth projection will be unrealistic. “We are defining the market and we need to wait a couple of years before we can give reliable forecasts.
But Chellarams has a positive outlook for the art market in 2013 as more corporate companies are showing interest in the art market. “Recently, several influential Nigerian corporate companies and Nigerian art foundations have been promoting African art internationally, which has increased its credibility, popularity and encouraged sales,” she explains.