Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Auction in Nigeria

How auction raised price of Nigerian art piece to 9million naira
By Ozolua Uhakheme

What opportunities are abound in auction?

For the marketing of Nigerian works of arts, there is the need to have a place where artworks can be freely sold and bought. Such a place over the time, will help in pricing and valuation of art pieces. It will also satisfy the needs of those who require the works of dead Nigerian art masters. In fact, younger generation collectors will love to have the works of old masters. It is only through such a forum that works can be bought or sold.

Without an established system of pricing and exchange, of standardisation, of establishing provinance and letting us have willing buyers or willing sellers meeting at the forum to exchange works of arts, then it will be very difficult for Nigerian works of arts to be marketable. This is because if there is lack of proper marketability of a product, it does not have value. And that is what Nigerian art has suffered until recently when we began to have arts auction. Also, the galleries are now having better marketability with the founding of the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN), a body set up to encourage and standardise the art market. So, on that basis, art auction in Nigeria is a very welcome development.

In real terms, how is auction a catalyst for art growth?

In every new system there is always a learning process. One must give kudos to the organisers of past auctions that have taken place. But still, there is need for better arts history research and the proof of providence. We are still at the infancy stage, so it will be very wrong for anybody to criticise because to pioneer any project takes a lot of sacrifices and we must therefore give kudos to those people who have been able to do it because it is not easy at all

What can Nigerian auction houses learn from the likes of Sotheby’s?

In terms of cataloging, we need to do much. Auction is something that is planned for a long time. For instance, between the time the brochure comes out and when the auction takes place is usually very long. There should be at least two months for distribution of catalogues, reserving of prices. And of course, using the telephone system for bidding has become a norm.

Also, video conferencing has been introduced but don’t forget that whatever we are doing here is limited in terms of the infrastructure that is available. So, we cannot but give kudos to those who are doing their best in the circumstance of poor infrastructural facilities and the low IT infrastructure in place in Nigeria.

After these initial outings, can we say auctions have really shored up the value of art?

Yes, I must say so. Before the auctions, the works of Bruce Onobrakpea were never offered N9.5 million. The works of Sina Yusuf were never found, also were works of Ben Enwonwu. Nobody offered Yusuf Grillo’s work for the price it was sold until the auction came up. So, it shows clearly that there was a big demand for some of the masters. It was like David Dale’s plate that was put in a reserve price of N1.2 million but was eventually sold for N2.1 million. That tells you that there was a big demand for the plate of David Dale.

There were stories of alleged price fixing scam in art auctions in the West. Is Nigeria safe from this?

We have not gotten to that stage yet. I know that a reserve price can be put on a work and if it doesn’t go, the work is returned. In fact, there were works that were offered at auction but nobody bidded for them and they were returned to the house. I don’t think that we have gotten to the level of scam that could have taken place in the West.

How was your first day at the Nigerian art auction?

I was very happy because it was something I have been looking forward to; an organised market for arts that will earn us the proper valuation of work of arts. Any serious collector will be very happy to observe the birth of arts auction in Nigeria, because that way you can go back and begin to value the little collection you have. It is easier for you to value and such auction makes you see the collections that are highly demanded and at the same time it makes you reposition your arts portfolio to suit those that are highly demanded.

Again, I was very happy, because it shows that the art industry in Nigeria is now becoming fully grown, with a view to contributing to the development of Nigeria and to raise foreign exchange. You can remember the late Peter Areh cooperated with Bonham to hold an art auction in England during which a work by Ben Enwonwu was sold for 6, 000 pounds. That has raised the bar and if you have a genuine Ben Enwonwu you can look out for the style, the form, the shape, and size, and you can begin to know that you now have something of value that the world would like to have.

Are there competent specialists that can evaluate art works in Nigeria? Personally, how will you ascertain the genuineness and price level of any art work?

Well, there are two ways: One, if the artist is living. Of course, there are two or three of us out there in the market that are either by virtue of training or experience capable of evaluating works of art. Seinde Odimayo is one of such experts who had training in evaluation at Sotheby’s or so. And for some of us who have been buying art for about 35 years we have enough experience to be able to value art. The art auction house that has hosted auction consecutively has data to be able to compare the value of any work vis-à-vis what has been auctioned. Before these auctions, collectors took advantage of artists in terms of the needs of the artists vis a vis their lack of exposure, little exhibition experience and so on. They take advantage of the desperation of the artists and thereby under-price the artists. With this kind of development going on with art auctioning, I think over time, it will be very easy for us to look into past brochures of art auctions and compare and contrast to get an average price at which a work of art should go for.

What are the roles of art historians in this emerging market?

The duties of art historian will include to determine if an art work is fake and to be able to position the work vis-à-vis the productive life of the artist. An art historian on Ben Enwonwu for instance, should know at what period Enwonwu did the Anyanwu, and what material he used and where he did them; and should have an idea of works done by Enwonwu. Don’t forget that the art historian also works with photographs and pictorial representation of works of arts that have been done. He also wants to trace the different developments of the artist and be able to position each work produced by the artists. Art historian is to serve as a counterfeit detector and valuation adviser to whoever is buying or selling.

But what will be the relationship between the collector, artists and auctioneers?

The artist will be a suitor and may want to gravitate towards the auctioneer because he will rather prefer to sell his works directly to the auctioneer than to collectors. I think the art auction house is a pride to the artist and the collector. The collector will like to buy works that he doesn’t have. He will rather want to ensure that the place is vibrant for his works and the auction house is a near-perfect market experience, which has large buyers and sellers. And of course, information is presumed readily given to everybody.

The auctioneer is like a bride that must be courted by the artist and the collector.

Will you want to give out some of your collections for auction?

Yes. I have taken part in three auctions. If I don’t take part in the auctions, the ability to find works in those auctioning process will be limited. I was the first to throw in Yusuf Grillo’s works for sale for Art House auction and Grillo’s work was priced for N5.5 million and everyone now began to look for Grillo’s work. At the second auction, I threw in Ben Osawe’s work of beads and it was priced very well. This last one I refused to throw anything because I believe that other people should contribute but I bought a David Dale plate for N2.3 million because I needed a David Dale plate. And of course, it was a hot bargaining process and because of that the work was over-priced.

What are the impacts of art auction on the Nigerian economy?

Don’t forget that we pay tax whether you buy or sell, and VAT is supposed to be remitted to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). It allows the conversion of fixed asset into liquid asset, which goes to increase the velocity of transaction in the economy. I think, foreign investors who love Nigerian art will come to the country, and they have started coming from India and Britain. They have been taking part in the auctions that have been organised by Arts House Contemporary Limited.

Foreigners are buying Nigerian arts, which means they are going to convert their pound sterling, or dollars to the naira to buy these works because the works are auctioned in naira. An auction is going to help improve valuation of the naira vis-à-vis other currencies. It will improve our balance of payment between our country and other countries, and it helps improve the net national income of Nigeria. It expands the range of goods and services that are available in Nigeria because if you put down the components of GDP of Nigeria. I doubt if art ever featured. And there will be a sub item called arts contributing to the GDP of Nigeria. So, it is very welcome.

What is the ideal frequency to hold art auction in a year?

I don’t think auction should be held more than twice a year. Don’t forget the buyers are of the same pool of people, who have limited purse and should not be saturated. People should look up to auction. Also, it gives artists enough time to produce good works because when you begin to make auction too regular, artists will begin to churn out junks, just to satisfy the commercial needs of the art auctions.

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