Hopes were high at Arthouse’s May 5 sale that Ben Enwonwu’s 2-year old record of N30,800,000 ($192,500) for the highest sold work in Nigeria would fall. One of three El Anatsui’s works at the auctions, Commercial Avenue, 2014, wood, aluminum and house paint, 212×278 cm, was estimated between N33, 000,000-36,000,000 ($206,250-225,000). However, Commercial Avenue could only raise a bid of N21,000,000 to return unsold. Another panel by the artist, Untitled, 1991, wood, 148×149 cm, valued between N17, 000,000-20,000,000, ($106,250-125,000) also returned unsold on the evening. Widely held opinions have attributed the reasons for the unsold lots to an overestimation in prices.
Of the 111 lots featuring the work of masters and emerging artists, the highlight of the evening was Anatsui’s Nsukka Shrine, clay, 57×44.5 cm, which sold for N 8,580,000 ($53,625) and previously valued between N7, 000,000 – 9,000,000,000 ($43,750-56,250). At second place was Enwonwu’s Felling Trees, 1943, wood plaque 32×105 cm, N7,700,000 ($48,125) with its pre-sales estimate between N7,000,000-9,000,000 ($43,750-56,250).
The May 5 auctions achieved a total of N39,288,000 ($530,785) in sales, a 57% reduction from its presale estimate of N200,000,000 ($1,250,000). Last November’s sales by the auction house realized N106,859,000 ($667,883) with Enwonwu’s Fulani Girl, 1957, polyester resin, 78 cm and The Drummer, polyester resin, 89 cm, topping a total of 117 lots at N17,050,000 ($106,563) and N14,300,000 ($89,375) respectively. Interestingly, the sales from both works account for 80% of the total sum achieved from the May 5 auctions.
Terra Kulture and Mydrim Gallery Auction house fared poorer in its April 11 art auction, which offered 90 lots. The highest earning lots of the evening were Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Dance in the Bush, 1998, deep etching on board, 112.5×288.75 cm at N3,650,000 ($22,447) and El Anatsui’s Untitled, 1987, wood, 100×180 cm at N3,050,000 ($18,757). The overall figure achieved from sales was N38,510,000 ($236,839), representing 64% of total lots.
An analysis of the results of both auction houses reveal that the old masters continue to record the higher percentile at the auctions in Nigeria and internationally. A preview of Bonhams’ May 21 Africa Now sale features 22 works by celebrated Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu, the highest number for the single sale by the auction house.