The Nigerian art market is looking up, as it made total sales of N286.6million in 2013, a 21.8 percent increase, compared with the N232million sales in 2012, although experts say it was undermined by poor cash flow in the season.
This, analysts say is not a surprise, as interest in Nigerian contemporary art, which began to gain momentum a few years ago, was sustained in 2013.
“We are not surprised at the outcome in 2013,” says Nana Sonoiki of ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd, one of the foremost art auction houses in Lagos, “there was high expectation, so we were not surprised at the result at all.”
In the May 2013 edition of the Arthouse Contemporary Ltd auction, 82 percent of the lots were sold at N124, 982, 000, a 22.9 percent increase, compared to the 2012 figure of N101, 683, 600. At the annual auction organised by Terra Kulture in April 2013, 60 lots were sold at N47, 400, 000 which is also a 24.3 percent increase in sales, compared to the 2012 sales of N38, 125, 000.
The Nigerian auction market which is conducted three times a year, between April and December, usually witnesses two major houses putting lots out for sale.
At the May 2013 Arthouse Contemporary Ltd auction, an untitled woodwork by Ben Enwonwu was sold at the highest hammer price of N13.2 million, as against the estimated price of between N13 million and N15 million. In the second auction in November by Arthouse again, Ben Enwonwu’s 1957 work, Fulani Girl, was sold at hammer price of N17.05 million as against the estimated price of between N12million and N15 million. Also, at the auction organised by Terra Kulture and Mydrim Gallery in April 2013, Kolade Oshinowo’s ‘Royal Procession’ was the highest work sold at N3.9 million.
It is not a surprise that Enwonwu’s work took centre stage at local auction market in 2013 as his works were sold at higher prices at Bonhams’ sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art held in London in May2013.
Enwonwu’s work, a collection of seven wooden sculptures of figures holding newspapers which was commissioned by the UK Daily Mirror in 1961, was estimated to sell for £80,000 to £120,000 but tripled the high estimate to make £361,250. Another Enwonwu work, evocative oil on canvas of The Durbar of Eid el-Fitr, Kano, Nigeria, also broke the artist’s previous best by selling for £193,250. A bronze sculpture, Lot 118, also by Enwonwu, titled ‘Anyanwu’ and estimated to sell for £50,000-£80,000, made £133,350. This is a small-scale version of the famous work mounted on the façade of the National Museum in Onikan, Lagos, the current lot is one of Enwonwu’s most significant sculptures. The title ‘Anyanwu’ meaning eye of the sun invokes the Igbo practice of saluting the rising sun as a way to honour ChiUkwu, the Great Spirit.