Arthouse Contemporary Auction Preview

Two unique Ben Enwonwu sculptures lead the Arthouse Contemporary sale of modern and contemporary African art this November in Lagos, which focuses on quality lots with exceptional works by Aina Onabolu, Abayomi Barber, Nnenna Okore, Ludovic Fadairo, Sokari Douglas Camp, and George Osodi.

A small resin version of the famous masterpiece, The Drummer by celebrated African modernist Ben Enwonwu MBE is one of two highlights of Arthouse Contemporary’s November auction holding on November 18, 2013 in Lagos.
The larger model of this work completed in 1978, in bronze sits on the façade of the Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) headquarters in Lagos. Its success is hinged largely on Enwonwu’s mastery in fusing naturalistic elements with the geometric forms and shapes of classical African sculpture. The graceful figure beats on a large drum, one of the oldest recorded means of communication in Africa, used in traditional society to gather dwellers and flag off events.

The other work also in resin, is an elegant bust, Fulani Girl, executed in 1957 of a beautiful northern- Nigerian woman and is considered one of Enwonwu’s most accomplished works. Here, he skillfully imbues his sitter with a regal and dignified presence. The finely chiseled features and slender neck are vaguely reminiscent of another of the artist’s best-known works, Tutu (1973). Both works idealize the values inherent in blackness as the artist employed them in advocacy of Negritude, a literary and political movement developed in the 1960 by a group that included the future Senegalese President, Leopold Sedar Senghor, in rejection of colonial intellectual and political hegemony and domination.

The offer of Enwonwu’s works is coming on the heels of his success in the May 22 sale at Bonhams, where his 7 figures commissioned by the Daily Mirror fetched £361, 250 (inclusive of buyer’s premium). The result smashed the artist’s previous world auction record and points to the growing success and popularity of modern African art on the international market.

Other regular names in this year’s November sale include celebrated artist, El Anatsui, Abayomi Barber, Nnenna Okore, Sokari Douglas Camp, Okpu Eze, Demas Nwoko, and George Osodi. Making a debut in the auction sales are Ghanaian painter Kofi Setordji and Ludovic Fadairo from the Republic of Benin. Both are major figures in the narratives of contemporary painting in Africa. Interestingly, the lots represent a broad spectrum of artists and reflect Arthouse’s increasing thrust towards including work by artists across the continent.

Fadairo’s Dialogue, 2012 executed in natural pigments and acrylic on carton, depicts a couple sharing intimacy. His oeuvre encompasses painting, installation, collage, sculpture and work in mixed media. He seeks to understand the media he employs, which range from the traditional to the highly unorthodox including chalks, natural pigments and locally woven fabric. He often incorporates found materials, which are in themselves a work of time and history, and have their place in daily life.

Largely regarded as the earliest pioneer Nigerian artist, Aina Onabolu is represented by Portrait of Sisi Nurse, 1922, 64 x 41cm, oil on canvas, estimated between N10,000,000 – 12,000,000 ($61,200 – 73,500). This is an accomplished painting that reflects the finest traditions of Western portraiture. Working in Lagos, Onabolu painted some of the most influential politicians of the time, several of the surviving portraits commissioned by friends of his guardian, Dr J.K. Randle.

Abayomi Barber is an influential painter and sculptor and is famous for his surrealist landscapes. His merging of the pre-colonial African Ife and European artistic traditions led to the emergence of the Abayomi Barber School, a significant movement in the historical narratives of modern art in Nigeria. His painting Farmer’s Dream, 1998, oil on canvas, 114.3 X 81.5cm, estimated between N2,000,000 – 2,500,000 ($12,250 – 15,310), presented in the auction is a fine example of his broad oeuvre.

Textures, forms and colours of organic materials such as clay and wax, or discarded materials like newspaper, paper bags, recycled cardboard boxes and rope, inspire Nnenna Okore’s installations, which engage the cultures of consumption and recycling in Nigeria. Discovering reusable value in these found objects, she enriches her work with several layers of meaning through the repetitive, laborious and unconventional processes of weaving, sewing, rolling, twisting and dyeing. Okore is represented by a single work in the auction Molten II, 2013, cloth, resin, plaster and acrylic,117 x175.5 x 7.5cm and estimated between N1,700,000 – 1,900,000 ($104,100 – 117,000).

The sale, held at the Wheatbaker in Ikoyi, is one of two auctions annually and offers an opportunity for both seasoned and beginning collectors to pick up unique pieces by well-known Nigerian and African artists. With an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, Arthouse Contemporary’s November sale of modern and contemporary African art will include less lots than a typical one, but at least 7 of which, should sell for well into the seven-figure range. The sale is expected to exceed N124, 398,500 ($ 777, 490) achieved at last May’s sales.

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