The 21 ” century has witnessed a new focus on African art on t he international scene.This does not negate any prior interest shown in t hat area, since t here exists sufficient evidence establishing earlier activities of (Western) plundering,acquisition and archaeological investigations of African art, from ancient through traditional, modern and contemporary periods to expand its scope of study. The new direction is unique in conjuring channels such as auctions and exhibit ions for the display; dissemination and consumption of the visual arts in Nigeria.
Until recently, Nigeria has been excluded from the analysis of the global art market because of a non-existent secondary art market and a poorly structured primary market Galleries were established and shut down within a few years, while most of the surviving ones w ere seldom professionally managed and did not actively promote t he career of t he artists. The gallery system, for insance, operated below acceptable standards as artists were dealt with on a sales-and commission basis, and were not tied to exclusive contracts.
Consequently, similar works by the same artist s were found in several galleries within the same geographical location at varying pr ices. This situation promoted unhealthy competition which stifled businesses for the galleries. A s a way out, t hey resorted t o placing outrageous prices on works while paying the artists relatively little. In addition, prices for works were unreliable as they were arbitrarily fixed; no consideration was given to previous sales of similar work by the same artist, nor was t here any parameter for valuing a work of art.
However, the continued lack of professionalism in the industry in Nigeria is gradually making way for a better structured emerging secondary market. This progress is inevitable, as institution s of higher learning continue to graduate more visual art students, resulting in an explosion of exhibitions, galleries, museums and auction houses.
As art emerges as a major alternative investment globally, Nigeria joins the fray wit h its growing secondary art market.
Since the first art auction in Nigeria, Before the Hammer Falls, organised by Nimbus Gallery in December, 1 999 at the MUSON Centre in Lagos, where NI .7million ($ 10 ,600) was recorded for The Palm Wine Drinkards, a 1965 painting by Bruce Onobrakpeya. Since then, more auction houses have appeared on the scene, achieving significant growth and recording more impressive sales.
Arthouse Contemporary founded in 2007 by an Indian, Kavita Chellaram, has staged 9 imp ressive auction sales, and holds the all-time record of N30.8 million ($192,500) for any artwork sold in Niger ia for a smaller version of Ben Enwonwu ‘s iconic Anyanwu. Kavita claims she established Arthouse Contemporary to create “transparency in pricing Nigerian art”, a dream realised in her early auction career in India. The success of the Indian experiment made it a model for Nigeria, t o rejuvenate it s secondary market, with Arthouse assuming market leadership,
Terra Kulture Auction House, found ed by a lawyer Bolanle Austen -Peters in 2009, is a subsidiary of Terra Kulture, a private initiative established in 2004 to promote the richness and diversity of Nigerian visual art and culture. It also boasts of a regular gallery; where artists are exhibited and their works consigned for sale. Terra Kulture successfully set-up it s first auction in 2009 to commemorate the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. A year later, it collaborated wit h Nimbus Gallery for an expectedly broader impact. After staging a first solo auction in 2011, Terra Kulture again partnered with Mydrim Gallery on an auction in Abuja.
Several analysts and enthusiasts forecast poor sales. However; the auction recorded a princely sum of N 27,605,000 ($ 172, 134) in sales (from a selection of Nigerian and Ghanaian artists) representing an over 65% success rate to silence critics.A collaboration between these 2 galleries followed in April 2012 and christened, the Lagos Art Auction, which recorded over 57% in sales against the background of harsh economic realities necessitated by a hike in price of automobile fuel. This was further compounded by the delayed national budgetary allocations,which triggered the high cost of goods and services with limited purchasing cash in circulation. Nike Art Gallery and Tribes Art Gallery are both known to have also organised auctions in Lagos.
In allowing bidding in a public environment,the auction system has created a formal process for establishing t he economic value of Nigerian art. Certain tendencies are however, discernible in the sales of works by established artists, generally referred to as ‘old masters’.
The term, old master refers to an artist that is advanced in age and practice. The artist’s bio logical age (no less than 59, as studies have revealed in Nigeria, taking certain periods into consideration) and recognition gained over extensive years o f practice, define him as established. Those in t his category are also referred to simply as masters. While the ’emergent artist’ speaks of the younger generation-artist, who has not practised too long and so may not possess the recognition which age bestows on a career. Here, t he expression is not used to suggest t hat a particular emergent artist may not have attained relative recognition, but that he is part of a more recent era and lacks a certain appeal and value which time endows his work.
An analysis of result s reveals that the old masters have recorded about 70% of the highest prices in Nigeria in the past 4 years. However; a compilation of the highest works sold at each auction in the past 4 years shows the old masters maintaining a 100% record over the emergent ones.