By Japhet Alakam
THE emergence of the secondary art market otherwise known as art auction in Nigeria has generated a lot of debate among stakeholders in the industry. While many see it as a welcome development that has somehow changed the fortunes of many artists, some still see it as another conduit pipe for sapping the labour of the artists.
This was the topic that brought together major stakeholders from the Nigerian visual arts to brainstorm on the challenges of the rapid growing secondary art market. The lecture which was the first OYASAF lecture of the year was put together by Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation, OYASAF, in line with its mission of promoting art in the country.
Mission of promoting art
The well attended lecture held in Lagos was delivered by Prof. Ozioma Onuzulike, Ceramic, Art History and Art Criticism lecturer of University of Nigeria Nsukka.
In the lecture tagged, “Art Auctions in Nigeria: Ladders of Progress or Shots in the Artists’ Feet?” the ceramic lecturer took a critical look at the locally-organised auctions, challenging among other things the prevailing notions of progress.
Ozioma who told the audience that,“My goal is to provoke healthy debates and productive dialogues around the presence or absence of credible and sustainable art auctioneering structures in the country in a manner that helps us to critically review their low and high points.” actually lived to his words as the lecture generated a lot of debate at the end.
Relying on a review of reports and debates on the history, structures and operations of art auctions in Nigeria, the lecturer examined the current euphoria surrounding the generally held point of view that Nigerian art auctions have provided ladders of professional and economic progress in the country’s visual art sector by raising the level of art appreciation/awareness in the country and energising the local and international art markets in a phenomenal manner.
He told the audience that a preview of past art auctions reveals that Nigeria art auctions have made silent progress and there has been a steady growth and appreciable impact in the visual art sector, locally and internationally. Apart from the exciting prices being recorded at the auctions, it has also brought greater interest and attention to Nigerian contemporary art locally and internationally which in turn led to the organisation of African art auctions in New York in 2010 by Bonhams and Phillips auction houses.
But on the other side, he however raised some topical issues that hinges on structures that are in place to create and sustain credible art auctions as against what can be described as ‘elitist sale-spots’ in Nigeria? Such issues include, lack of documentation by artists, dearth of art historians and professional valuers for art auction houses, art forgeries or fakers, lack of transparency transparency and confidence on the part of the auction houses on the professional specialization and pedigree, as well as interests, of those who decide the fate of artists there, among others. Pointing out that the absence of such falls short of standard practice.
The audience while reacting to the lecture though agreed on some of the issues raised but noted that given the relative newness of art auctions in the local art scene, the key-players in the business deserve commendation and not condemnation. They were of the view that most of the criticisms is based on the fact that art auction is relatively new in Nigeria so there is need for patience as it will definitely improve.
On the issue of documentation, Ademola Azeez agreed with the lecture and said that the reason is because the attention of professionals is focused mostly on production and as long as that is concerned other areas will suffer.
Kavitta Chellarams, founder of Arthouse Contemporary Limited, organisers of most of the auctions in Nigeria who saw some of the criticisms as a result of the fact that art auction is relatively new in Nigeria, however said that forgery is everywhere and that even old and reputable auction homes in the west are not exempted.
Kridz Ikwuemezie of Fine and Applied Arts of UNN said that there are enough art critics and historians in the country. Oliver Enwonwu, SNA president said that there has always been cases in the society and that the body does not condone forgery but that efforts to put an end to it is always frustrated by the Nigerian law enforcement agencies. While Filani Kunle, on his part warned against turning art into a commodity.
For the elated OYASAF founder, Yemisi Shyllon, “it was indeed an intellectual discussion, a critique of what has been happening in the art auction. So it is left for all to go home and work on it.”