Last week, on Art as an Alternative Investment, we took a look at the top ten sales of Nigerian art. The 2014 edition of Africa Now, organized by Bonhams, an international auction house, featured 120 lots from established names including Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, El Anatsui, and Bruce Onobrakpeya. The most valuable sale was a 1976 oil painting Princes of Mali by Ben Enwonwu at £92,500.
As new records are set for Nigerian and African art on the international market, it is imperative to examine the indices that determine the value of an artwork; authenticity, quality, rarity, condition, provenance and value. These factors must be considered all at once in order to make an informed decision when purchasing a work, They may be broadly categorized into three.
The laws of supply and demand are generally applicable to the sales of art. Rarity tends to enhance value. Works by prolific artists tend to be less valued than those of artists who produced less. Likewise, works by deceased artists are generally more sought after. The rarity of a given work is also determined by how many similar examples exist. For example, a painting is usually worth more than a print or a lithograph while a surplus of artworks by a particular artist tends to cause a reduction in market price. However, if collectors suddenly become active as a result of a change in perceptions or their material circumstances, the market price tends to rise. Therefore, the value of art fluctuates depending on how keen collectors are and how much they are willing to pay for a piece.
The quality of a given work, its aesthetic merits, its significance within a larger context of artistic history and within the specific context of an artist’s oeuvre, contribute to its overall value.
The period in which a work was created is another factor in determining its price. Appraisers generally value works completed early in an artist’s career higher than those completed later, as early works tend to be more unpredictable, daring and passionate, owing to the artist’s desire to establish a strong reputation.
Works of art that typify an artist’s aesthetic are also appraised higher than those uncharacteristic of his oeuvre. Enwonwu’s most expensive work sold to date, the Daily Mirror figures are fine examples of his aesthetic and are representative of his wellknown elongated, lithe forms, as well as geometric shapes borrowed from classical African sculpture.
Other factors include the size of a work and medium of execution. Generally, larger works of art are valued higher because of the degree of difficulty involved. Sculptures in wood, bronze, metal or stone are also considered more valuable than paintings. Traditional paint media like oil is valued higher than acrylic and watercolor, which in turn are usually worth more than prints or lithographs.
The condition and the provenance of an artwork impact a given work’s value. For example, a painting that is ripped, water-damaged, discoloured, or extensively repaired may be significantly reduced in value. Works of art formerly owned by famous people usually command high prices, while established provenance like certificates of sale, exhibition and publication history help resolve questions of authenticity, art-historical importance and enhance value.
Artists who are well-known and enjoy a rich history of collection mostly command more value than artists who are unknown. Several reasons can be adduced; education, years of practice, recognition including prizes and awards, professional affiliations, publications, and exhibitions in significant galleries and museums.
In conclusion, collections formed with passion and intelligence stand the test of time, both aesthetically and monetarily.In building a collection that has huge investment potential, one must keep in mind its high liquidity factor, or marketability − the relative ease to sell all or part of the collection quickly and thus convert its value into cash