Friday, 14 March 2014

ART FOR PEACE’S SAKE



Two foundations – one Nigerian, the other Turkish – are collaborating for an ongoing touring exhibition that covers Ethiopia, Turkey and the US as reported by Okechukwu Uwaezuoke.
Man and Machine by Kelani Abass
A gaggle of artists is not an unusual sight here. This set was huddled around a glass-topped table at the roofed open-air meeting space between an office block and the stately residential building in the OYASAF Lagos Mainland-based premises. OYASAF (acronym for Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation) was co-hosting them this Monday morning (February 17) with two representatives of its Turkish collaborators, UFUK Dialogue Foundation. OYASAF and UFUK had agreed to collaborate and work together on a project, which involved annually featuring Nigerian visual arts in a touring exhibition to various parts of the world.
The inaugural edition of this project has already kicked off with an exhibition which opened yesterday and ends today at Addis Ababa before proceeding to Istanbul (Turkey), Chicago, Washington DC and New York (USA). 
Of course, these would not be this venue’s first stirrings of life. For OYASAF had, just before the end of January, hosted a lecture by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka-based Dr Ozioma Onuzulike. The lecture, which was a review of the art auctions, drew several members of the local art community to the OYASAF premises.
But this gathering was different. It was intended for a few people. Hugs, sometimes followed with backslaps and banters, announced new arrivals. Soon the initial intimate circle around the table extended to other tables. The OYASAF founder and chairman, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon –smartly-dressed in a jacket, shirtsleeve and a denim trouser – emerged from a back entrance to the residential building and announced the relocation to the L-shaped mini-conference centre at the fishpond-end of the premises.
This air-conditioned meeting room, the setting of several lively artistic cerebrations in the past, was just right for this gathering.  On a good day, it would have been capacity-filled. But because today’s gathering was an exclusive one, there were fewer people here and the ambience was convivial.
Dialogue 1 by Tolu Aliki
Basically, it was a meeting between the OYASAF team, the UFUK representatives (Oguzhan Dirican, the president, and Mehmet Sebabli), and the artists. Raqib Bashorun, unanimously endorsed by his colleagues, was the artists’ spokesman. There was a deal to be sealed and all the parties involved must be happy with it.
Sealing the deal meant crossing the “t’s” and dotting the “i’s”, after scrutinising the tripartite agreement on a large flat screen attached to the wall. No one should be short-changed by the deal. 

Fifteen works produced by 13 artists were billed to feature during the touring exhibition.  The one-year exhibition extends OYASAF’s goal of becoming a hub for Nigerian art as well as a point of contact for scholars, critics, artists and enthusiasts. The foundation, in its website, hopes to build a broad international audience for Nigerian art and direct the focus of international researchers, critics and curators towards art and artists in the country.
“What we are doing is what galleries do for profit,” Shyllon explained in an interview. “The only people who will make profit from this deal are the artists themselves. They are entitled to receive the sales proceeds if their works are sold.”
But for UFUK and OYASAF, this endeavour is seen as a way of strengthening Turkish-Nigerian ties through art. “The Nigerian artworks will be exhibited alongside works by artists from Turkey and from Sudan – both North and South.”
The touring exhibition’s theme, “Peace”, resonates with these troubled times, what with an overwhelming number of conflict zones in the world.  It also re-echoes UFUK’s principal goal, “which is to promote peace in the world and contribute to a peaceful coexistence of the adherents of different faiths, cultures, ethnicities and races.”
Founded in Nigeria in 2011, UFUK was establish to “foster interfaith and intercultural dialogue, stimulate thinking and exchange of opinions on supporting and fostering democracy and peace all over the world and to provide a common platform for education and information.”
Only 2-D works were selected by a screening committee constituted by the two foundations and the representatives of the artists. All the works chosen for this exhibition were already existing products of the artists. None was commissioned.
Prices for the works, including additional amounts as percentage margin, were agreed by the parties. UFUK takes the responsibility of caring for the works for the 12-month duration of the touring exhibition. “In the event than an Artist’s work is sold during exhibitions, the proceeds of such sales shall be paid into an account nominated by the artist less agreed UFUK percentage margins,” according to a clause in the agreement.
The Turkish foundation is however required to return an artwork, which remains unsold after the conclusion of the touring exhibition, “in safe and sound condition” within 90 days. Where the foundation fails to do this, it is compelled to pay the agreed sales price less the percentage margin accruable to it within 40 days. It is also expected to reimburse the artist “for not more than 20% of the original net agreed price” where any of the artwork is damaged.
One Specie Different Colours by Adeola Balogun

Meanwhile, UFUK takes responsibility for the proper handling, door to door insurance coverage, administrative costs, production of exhibition catalogues, transportation, packaging and framing all artworks chosen for the exhibition.
Featuring at the ongoing exhibition are mainly established artists drawn from different generations  likeVeronica Otigbo Ekpei, Tolu Aliki, Mufu Onifade, Raqib Bashorun, Toyin Omolowo, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce and Kelani Abass. These are complemented by a few upcoming ones like Ahmed Biodun Akinrinola, Soji Akinbo, Seyi Ajayi, Adeola Balogun, and Ariyo Oguntimehin.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

At OYASAF lecture, Nigerian art auctions on the spot

Participants shortly after the event

Stakeholders from the Nigerian visual arts gathered at the first OYASAF lecture of the year, held few hours ago, to brainstorm on the challenges of the rapid growing secondary art market as the guest lecturer Ozioma Onuzulike highlights the positive and grey areas of the local art auction scene.

Art Auctions in Nigeria: Ladders of Progress or Shots in the Artists’ Feet?
 
Ozioma Onuzulike
Department of Fine and Applied Arts,
University of Nigeria
Nsukka
 
In this lecture, I rely on a review of reports and debates on the history, structures and operations of art auctions in Nigeria to join the dialogue around their current impacts in the development of contemporary art in the country. I examine 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.
I, however, transcend the prevailing notions of progress by directly and indirectly examining a number of issues related to the following questions:  What structures are in place to create and sustain credible art auctions as against what can be described as ‘elitist sale-spots’ in Nigeria? What are the implications of the lack of rarity in much of the lots on offer? What is the place of art history and art criticism in the evaluation or appraisal of modern and contemporary art in Nigeria? Do we have a viable art historical and critical culture in Nigeria necessary for providing information to all players in both the primary and secondary art markets in the country? What is the future of our art auctions in the present absence of influential art historical and critical platforms?
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. It is hoped that my descriptions and analysis of key issues will provide ample basis for suggesting ways by which art auctions can truly become ladders of professional progress for Nigerian artists instead of constituting weapons with which they unwittingly shoot themselves in the foot.
II
I tend to think that there are no strange terms or variables in the title of this lecture. An auction is widely known to be “a process of buying and selling goods or services by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder”1. An art auction will then mean the process of selling art objects to the highest bidder, especially in an auction house2.
An auction house traditionally operates a secondary art market, as different from the primary art market. The “primary market represents first-time sales of a work of art [such as at exhibitions and galleries]; the secondary market represents resale [such as at art fares and auction houses]”3. Kyle Chayka has observed that “auction houses exist to help circulate the secondary market”4. In fact, “with the exception of Damien Hirst’s massive blow-out Beautiful Inside My Head Forever sale at Sotheby’s in September 2008, work on the block at auction houses doesn’t come straight out of artists’ studios”; it rather comes “from collections, from collectors and patrons who want to pass on their purchases, or maybe flip them for a little more cash”5.
I will thus be discussing issues relating to the structures and mechanisms of the secondary art market in Nigeria, with a focus on how art works are collected, valuated and sold by Nigerian auction houses. And because, through the invitational approach of Nigerian auction houses, many artists have been taking their works directly to them and are now increasingly relying on the promotional and valuation structures of the auction houses, I am interested in examining the circumstances in which such marketing and promotional channels advance the artists’ professional careers (in that case, metaphorically becoming ladders of progress) or disadvantage, inhibit or even kill their careers. The latter circumstance leads to what I refer to as the artists being shot, or rather shooting themselves, in the foot.
The subject of art auctions invariably draws our attention to the investment value of works of art. In other words, we are essentially dealing with art as commodity. I subscribe to the theoretical framework upon which Prince Chukwuka Samuel based his earlier study of the Lagos art market6. He fittingly relied on two key theoretical texts – Karl Max’s The Capital, which theorises the work of art as commodity, and Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Reproduction, which is a further commentary on The Capital. Based on the Marxist interpretation of a commodity as “in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human want of some sort or another”7, Samuel argues that since “the work of art is a product of human thought and labour made real in an objectified form” it could then be acceptable to say that “art is a commodity because it is a creation of the artist and meant for the aesthetic enjoyment of the art public”8
Some other commentators have enunciated the Marxist definition of art as commodity. One of them is Louis Proyect who wrote the influential text The Unrepentant Marxist: Art as Commodity in which he examines the beginning of the emergence of art as commodity. Proyect points to the mid-19th century as a period when “artists began to be freed from their feudal ties”9 and when the advent of “the bourgeois established an equal footing between artists and patrons”, ushering in “a transmutation … in the art market system”10.
An art market system, in the form of art auction, invariably endorses the Marxist view of art as commodity. While the history of art auctions in the West is a long one (dating back to the late 17th century), the history of its adaptation in Nigeria is barely a decade and a half old.
III
The young history of art auctions in Nigeria reveals its steady growth and appreciable impact in the visual art sector, locally and internationally. The Nimbus Art Gallery, run by Chike Nwagbogu, takes the pride of place as the organiser of the first art auction in Nigeria. Entitled “Before the Hammer Falls” and held in 1999, at the turn of the millennium, the auction was historically timed and the result was revolutionary in the history of art and art market in Nigeria. With the record sale of Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Palm Wine Women for N2 million, the auction brought art to the front pages of the newspapers.11 A total of N22 million was realised at the auction, a sum that was very significant in the Nigerian economic context at that time and brought art to the front pages of newspapers. 

Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Reflecting on the Nimbus pioneering auction, Christopher Vourlias writes that its success “was a clear indication that a local market for contemporary Nigerian art existed”12. In other words, Nimbus’ successful experiment opened up a revelation that apparently called attention to the field of art auctioneering in the Nigerian art market. Held at the MUSON Centre, which was about one of the most prestigious event centres at that time in Lagos, and attracting an array of dignitaries, the auction of 1999 truly set the pace in educating the Nigerian public on the investment value of the country’s modern and contemporary art and for the recognition of the artists’ professional worth.
For almost a decade later, the Nimbus auction initiative was not followed up until Kavita Chellaram introduced, in mid-2007, what has been described as the “premier art auction house in Nigeria today”13 called the Arthouse Contemporary Limited. Located in Lagos, the company, as it announces in its website, “is conceived as an international auction house with its greatest level of expertise resting in the Art of West Africa and its greatest effort focused on the parity of international recognition towards the talented artists who are from or are based there”. Arthouse holds that the “success of auctions focused on works from a specific region, as in the art of South Asia, China or Southeast Asia, is [its] benchmark” and that its goal is to key into such models, which “help [to] create awareness of the scope of that regionalized art, passionate interest in individual artists, and serve as a working database to be used for fair, market oriented valuations”. The company organised its first auction in April 2008.
In collaboration with the Terra Kulture Gallery, Nimbus Gallery was to come back again on the auction scene in December 2008 when the works exhibited to mark the Nigeria-hosted CHOGM conference were put on auction in Lagos. The Terra Kulture/Nimbus Gallery collaboration yielded another auction in Lagos in April 2010. It was entitled Golden Jubilee Art Auction: Celebrating 2000 Years of Afrika14. In May 2011, the Terra Kulture initiated the “Lagos Art Auction” (held in Lagos) and then in November 2011 the “Abuja Art Auction” (held in Abuja). The November 2011 “Abuja Art Auction” was the first art auction to be so organised in Nigeria’s political capital city and the beginning of a collaboration with Mydrim Gallery in what has become known as the “Terra Kulture/Mydrim Gallery Auction House”). By April 2012 and April 2013, the Terra Kulture/Mydrim Gallery Auction House held the annual “Lagos Art Auction”. Earlier in December 2009, the Tribes Art Gallery had organised its own auction15. This was followed in April 2010 with another by Nike Art Gallery16. Operating as both art galleries and auction houses, Terra Kulture, Mydrim, Tribes and Nike art galleries apparently followed in the 1999 step of the Nimbus Art Gallery. With another auction also coming from Didi Museum in 2013, it would appear that a proliferation of auctions in Nigeria is well underway.
I will rely mainly on the Arthouse auction results (and also on the auction results of the collaborations between Terra Kulture/Nimbus and Terra Kulture/Mydrim) for a close examination of price performances and for other analyses important to the subject of this lecture. This is because they appear to be the most prominent auction platforms. Data have also been made very easy to access through Arthouse Contemporary’s standard virtual presence which offers an impressive archive.
First, Arthouse Contemporary’s auction of April 2008 inaugurated the first of its series of auctions that, according to Christopher Vourlias, “quickly became de rigueur” events for a small but dedicated band of serious collectors”17 It saw Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Greater Nigeria (2007) selling for an impressive N10.120 Million. It also raked in a total of N74.845 Million (representing the hammer price plus premium). The Arthouse has organised eleven successful auctions so far between April 2008 and November 2013. Table 1 below shows what has been hailed within the Nigerian art world as Arthouse’s impressive outings.
 
Table 1: Arthouse Contemporary Auction Results Summary
 
Auction Date
Total Hammer Price
Plus  Premium
No. of Lots
Sold
Highest Priced Artists
1
7 April 2008
N74,845,000.00
89
Bruce Onobrakpeya [N10,120,000.00]
2
19 Nov. 2008
N85,182,000.00
84
Yusuf Grillo [N8,800,000.00]
3
6 April 2009
N66,737,000.00
69
Ben Enwonwu [N4,500,000.00]
4
1 March 2010
N67,320,500.00
82
Simon Okeke [N4,200,000.00]
5
22 Nov. 2010
N83,541,000.00
93
Demas Nwoko [N9,900,000.00]
6
9 May 2011
N79,109,000.00
82
Ben Enwonwu [8,800,000.00]
7
21 Nov. 2011
N114,447,000.00
86
Ben Enwonwu [N30,800,000.00]
8
7 May 2012
N98,563,500.00
95
Demas Nwoko [7,700,000.00]
9
26 Nov. 2012
N90,963,500.00
81
El Anatsui [N12,540,000.00]
10
13 May 2013
N126,818,500.00
102
El Anatsui [13,200,000.00]
11
18 Nov. 2013
N112,769,000.00
76
Ben Enwonwu [N17,050,000.00]
   Source: Arthouse Contemporary Limited, Lagos
 
Table2: Terra Kulture/Nimbus Gallery and Terra Kulture/Mydrim Auction Results Summary
 
Auction Date
Total Hammer Price
Without  Premium
No. of Lots
Sold
Highest Priced Artists
1
Dec. 2008
N10,230,000.00
50
Ben Osawe [N2,000,000.00]
2
April 2010
N29,000,000.00
72
El Anatsui [3,800,000.00]
3
May 2011
N51,700,000.00
56
Ben Enwonwu [N13,500,000.00]
4
Nov. 2011
N27,605,000.00
51
Bruce Onobrakpeya [4,000,000.00]
5
April 2012
N38,125,000.00
59
Ben Enwonwu [4,600,000.00]
6
April 2013
N47,400,000.00
60
Kolade Oshinowo [3,900,000.00]
        Source: TerraKulture Gallery, Lagos
 
 Analysis drawn from the data in Tables 1 and 2 above shows that Ben Enwonwu’s works are the highest priced so far. His works are apparently in very high demand and are, thereby, the most expensive.  At the Arthouse auctions, Enwonwu’s works have sold highest for four times, and twice at the Terra Kulture/Mydrim auctions. For example, at the November 2011 auction, his 1956 bronze sculpture Anyanwu sold for N30.8 Million and at the May 2011 Terra Kulture Gallery auction his untitled ink on paper piece was sold for N13.5 Million. Data available in the auction catalogues show that Enwonwu’s works have been featured in all the eleven Arthouse auctions and twice in six collaborative auctions by Terra Kulture. His works have sold above the N2 million mark twenty-six times in the Arthouse auctions. Similarly, as shown in both tables above, El Anatsui occupies an important place in the Lagos art market, selling thrice highest in April 2010, November 2012 and May 2013.
Also from available data, the works of Demas Nwoko, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ben Osawe, Simon Okeke and Kolade Oshinowo have become very important in the secondary art market. At the 2008 Arthouse auction, Onobrakpeya’s Greater Nigeria sold for N9.2 million.  There have also been regular artists in almost all the auctions, especially Erabhor Emokpae and Kolade Oshinowo. Arthouse results between 2008 and 2013 show that while Oshinowo has recorded four works selling above N2 Million, Emokpae has recorded five.
From about N22 million generated in the first art auction of 1999 to over N110 million in the most recent auction of November 2013, there has been exponential financial progress in the Nigerian secondary art market. At the Arthouse Contemporary, its eleven auctions under review have recorded a total of eighty-five works selling above N2 million. Although this is still a far cry from auction results recording in the West, it is an evidence of significant growth in the Nigerian context as a developing economy.
According to the accounts by Tobenna  Okwuosa, Prince Chukwuka Samuel and a number of other writers and commentators, there is a general excitement among many artists, art collectors, dealers and other stakeholders in the Nigerian visual art sector that art auctions have greatly activated the level of awareness among Nigerians regarding the commercial and investment value of art. According to Okwuosa “the general assessment by the players in the art industry is that the contemporary art market has never had it so good”. He writes that:
            Generally, the art auctions have given artworks more value, particularly those of younger generation of artists whose works have done well in the auctions such as Rom Isichei (Nigeria), Abiodun Olaku (Nigeria), Fidelis Odogwu (Nigeria), Diseye Tantua (Nigeria), Chidi Kwubiri (Germany), Duke Asidere (Nigeria), Ben Osaghae (Nigeria), Sam Ovraiti (Nigeria) and Nnenna Okore (USA)18.
Indeed, the younger generation of contemporary Nigerian artists have been favoured by the latest improvement in the price of works at the auctions. An examination of the results available at the Arthouse website shows that a number of them have moved up to the N2 Million mark and beyond. For example, Peju Alatise (born 1975) and Nnenna Okore (also born 1975) have had their works sold beyond N2 Million three times between 2009 and 2013. In May 2012, Alatise’s 2011 work in mixed media titled Ascension was sold at N4.4 Million, recording her work as the best priced among emerging artists. Following Alatise has been Nnenna Okore whose mixed media ceramic piece Egwu Ukwu sold for N3 Million at the April 2009 Arthouse auction.
Apart from the exciting prices being recorded at the auctions, Okwuosa has quoted Kavita Chellaram19 as informing us that new collectors have been built up in the country’s art market. Chellaram has also observed that the auctions “have 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”.20
Responding to Sylvester Ogbechie’s observation that “without formal auctions of this sort, it is impossible to determine the value of modern and contemporary art in the global marketplace when artists involved are not those contemporary African artists who live and work in the West whose work is often used to represent Africa in the global market”21, Prince Chukwuka Samuel writes that the Nigerian art auctions are “a clever way of bringing our modern and contemporary art into the global market…”22. In other words, the auctions have “boosted the Nigerian art market”23.
Nigerian art auctions have made salient impacts in other ways, including the provision of regular exhibition platforms and better professional visibility for the works of both old masters and emerging artists. Before series of auctions came underway, artists had complained of the exorbitant fees charged by galleries to show their works in their spaces. With the proliferation of auctions, many artists now enjoy free exhibition platforms and even higher returns above and over gallery exhibitions. Those who still find the need to work with galleries have gained more confidence in themselves. It has been suggested that their auction results, or those of their peers, are bound to embolden them to ask for an upward review of their deals with the gallery owners and art dealers24, although Nnenna Okore thinks that, “with the Nigerian economy in mind”, the prospects of the artists’ success in making galleries “rethink and give more value to work… is still a steep expectation”25.
Through the auctions, many artists are happy to reap from their studio toils. A number of them are of the opinion that the auction prices have helped to put official bench marks on their works. They are also happy that the auction catalogues have provided the much needed reference materials documenting or “gazetting” the value of their works. In other words, the catalogues have become formidable market tools for them and those who represent them, having become veritable endorsements on their practice.
 In a country without viable art historical and critical publishing, the auction catalogues, in spite of their lack of careful documentation26, have also doubtlessly provided invaluable records of modern and contemporary Nigerian works of art. Its numerous images of artists’ works are of standard print quality and are of important archival value. Occasional artists’ statements and the brief texts usually provided on selected artists and their works by artists, gallery directors, writers and art historians also raise the art historical and critical worth of the catalogues27.
Nigerian auctions have also provided alternative exhibitionary models. Before now, there had been heated debates on the politics of representation in terms of how “home-based players” are “benched” by our “coaches” or “technical advisers” in preference to the “professionals” or the Diaspora “players”. It has been argued that curators, including Nigerian international curators, have often relied on artists in the Diaspora to speak for or represent Nigerian contemporary art. When “local” artists are chosen, it has been observed, they are not drawn from the majority who service the taste and preferences of the local art collectors that are at the steering wheel of contemporary art “destinations” in Nigeria. Rather, they are the minority who dare to speak the international artistic language or those that have been accused of pandering to Western artistic currents. There has been a consistent yearning in Nigeria for the promotion of works which “truly” reflect what is on ground in the country, not presentations of false pictures of the state of Nigeria’s contemporary art to Western audiences. It would then appear that the auctions are now coming to the “rescue” by presenting “the way we are” to both local and global audiences. With Arthouse’ strong virtual presence, the works of many contemporary Nigerian artists are becoming more visible “as they are” and many artists are generally content with what they are doing in spite of criticism that much of the art is repetitive and stagnant, showing no real signs of progress.
IV
I now turn to an examination of the key critical debates and dialogues surrounding the problematic sides of the Nigerian art market in general and the art auctions in particular. Although there have been concerns raised on the lack of proper documentation of their works by Nigerian artists as well as lack of enabling laws in Nigeria that ensures that artists reap from their works when resold in the secondary market28, I begin with Jacob Jari’s OYASAF lecture on “The Price of Art and its implication on Art Practice in Nigeria”, which tends to summarise the larger concerns raised on the subject of art pricing or valuation in Nigeria.
Jari argues that “there appears to be no logic in why a certain artist’s work attracts a huge price against another artist’s work which sells for almost nothing”29. To illustrate his point, he uses the example of the sale, at an auction house in 2012, of the paintings by two reputable modern Nigerian artists of the same training and similar professional background - Jimo Akolo’s Untiled and Demas Nwoko’s Praise Singer. While Akolo’s painting sold for only N700 Thousand , Nwoko’s sold for a staggering N7 Million. “By the way both artists are still alive”, argues Jari. “So, what parameters were used?” he asks.
Narrating his own personal experience as an artist, Jari writes:
Arthouse has also auctioned a few of my works but I have never made it to any significant figure with the auction house. In comparison, I have seen much younger artists with shorter and, excuse the immodesty, less impressive CVs than I raking in twice, thrice and quadruple my figures. Some of the works I have sold recently include, Brighton at the Mojo Gallery in Dubai in 2011 for $10,000 and Untitled, a very small piece at the Bonham auction in London in 2012 for £3,000. Compare these to The Hunt auctioned at the Arthouse in 2012 for N800,000 and another Untitled at another Arthouse auction earlier this year for N500,00030.
Jacob Jari’s concerns regarding the valuation of his works at the Arthouse (as against the works of other less accomplished artists) revolves around the same key question: “So, what parameters were used?” – Professional background and experience? Age of artist? Length of successful practice? Quality of work? Comparative sales record? From my personal assessment of Jari and the valuation of his worth overseas, he measures up to/with these parameters. So, what parameters were used by Arthouse?
I think it is very important to examine some of the factors (for there are, indeed, a lot of other variables) that may have been responsible for the very significant disparity between the valuation of Jacob Jari’s works at home in Nigeria and those of other artists below his career level. By submitting his works to Nigerian auction houses, might an artist like Jari be shooting himself in the foot, considering the fact that the valuation of his works in Nigeria might jeopardise the valuation of his works internationally. This example illustrates the second part of my subtitle for this lecture.
During my research for this paper, I found that the issue of the pedigree of valuers or art appraisers who work for the Nigerian auction houses have remained a troubling question on the lips of many artists and art administrators. Many do not think that the valuations are transparent and credible. There are concerns raised over favouritism for certain artists “well connected” to powerful collectors who are influential players within the auction circles, and perhaps strong valuers for some auction houses.
There is also the question of lack of rarity in much of the works being put on auction. Many emerging artists have become too regular at the auctions, almost turning the auction arena into a primary market. 
Tajudeen Sowole has reported on the dialogues that surrounded the valuation and consignment of “un-rare” works at the Nigerian auctions. Commenting on the November 2008 auction of the Arthouse Contemporary, Peter Areh (the late Director of Pendulum Gallery, Lekki, Lagos) held the following critical view that is important to our further discussion. According to Areh:
The results are not the true reflection of what the artists actually worth. How can you explain that El Anatsui is worth less than Rom Isichei, for example? Anatsui's last sale abroad was worth about N70 million. I think the bidders who bought works at the [Arthouse] auction were not informed about what to buy. The way I understand auction is that, artists that are not common command higher prices than those you can get easily at galleries. In future, collectors would rather go to galleries shortly before an auction to get some artists and pay far less than coming to an auction31.
Sowole has observed that “traditionally, the norms, over the ages would have works go through the galleries to gain popularity and energy to attract collection at auctions” but that tradition has been broken especially by Damien Hirst’s historic auction sale of very recent works32. Sowole further observes that “aside the fact that art auction is just taking off in Nigeria, artists in this part of the world and their counterparts overseas appeared (sic) to be asking for more of the art booties from dealers and galleries alike. So, the commonality here is the new face, which art auction is likely to take in the West and Africa, as demonstrated by Hirst's adventure in London and Chellaram-led Arthouse Contemporary in Lagos”33. Sowole even attempts to suggest Puju Alatise, whose fresh works command very high prices in the Nigerian auctions, as an aspiring Damien Hirst of Nigeria. But I tend to think that contemporary artists like Hirst are already well established and deeply entrenched in the mainstream Euro-American art markets through not just mere media hypes or the desperate props of art dealers and collectors but through the tools and channels of art criticism and art history, which are still underdeveloped in Nigeria.
Offering her thoughts on the subject of the participation of young Nigerian artists in the auctions, Nnenna Okore thinks that “while Nigerian auctions offer many Nigerian artists, especially upcoming [ones], a great platform to be seen, heard and collected … they also put these same artists at an economic disadvantage given that their pricing may be too exorbitant for the average Nigerian collector or gallery, or [also disadvantage them] when their works … fail to sell repeatedly at the auctions”. She also makes the important point that:
what the auctions end up doing is raise the value of artworks, giving emerging artists a false sense of accomplishment, such that they can only thrive among auction dealers or wealthy collectors. Many galleries would struggle to sell the same highly priced auction pieces to the average Nigerian buyer. Moreover, unseasoned artists who participate in auctions may find it very difficult to sell works at upscale galleries who don't believe their works … command as much conceptual or technical depth34.
Okore’s concerns relate to the fears I express about the artists disadvantaging themselves by allowing the auctions to frame their sense of professional accomplishments. With  the  measure of artists’ worth currently dictated only by the collectors’ purse, the auction results can be deceptive in the sense that it can make or mar the careers of emerging artists who may be tempted to weigh their successes or failures on that false scale.
Perhaps the other very important critical point to discuss is that of forgeries. In an earlier public presentation, Jacob Jari had again brought the issue of forgery to the front burners. Speaking on “Art, an Entrepreneurial Enterprise: Lessons from Three Encounters” at the Society of Nigerian Artists conference in Calabar (December 2012), Jari told a detailed story of the circumstances surrounding the repeated forgeries and consignments of the paintings of late Nigerian experimental painter Gani Odutokun at the Arthouse. One of the works in question was Gani Odutokun’s Dialogue with Mona Lisa, which has been noted as “probably the most iconic painting Gani ever created”35. The picture that emerges from Jari’s detailed description and analysis of the incidents, especially regarding the forgery, alleged authentication and consignment of Odutokun’s Dialogue with Mona Lisa at the Arthouse36 is in three basic folds. First, there was armchair research on the part of the auction house that attributed the work’s provenance to the late artist’s estate, a provenance that was very easy to ascertain or verify. Secondly, the auction house acted unprofessionally by accepting an authentication certificate from a certain artist and art administrator based in Lagos who should not have been the most reliable “expert”, considering the existence of important Zaria-based art historians and critics who had worked closely with Odutokun in his life time and who are involved in the management of the late artist’s estate. Thirdly, a prominent gallerist and President of the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN), who is reported to have consigned the painting to the auction house, simply exploited the professional loopholes evident in the structures of the auction house in question by turning in a blemished authentication certificate for a work valued at N2.5 million – N3 million37.
V
What do the issues so far raised reveal to us about the structure of art auctions and auction houses in Nigeria? What kinds of professional or unprofessional inputs have built the kind of structures that have so far shaped art auctioneering in the country? What are the implications of such structures to the future development of Nigerian art in a competitive global space? I attempt to examine these questions in the light professional standards and global best practices.
To begin with, my research findings show that the working structures at the major auction houses in Nigeria are similar. At Arthouse and Terra Kulture/Mydrim, for example, a team of selectors decide the works to be put on offer for each edition of the auction. When consignments are received, the jury examines them and vote, where necessary, for those that meet the jury’s criteria. Asked about what their criteria are, an Arthouse “specialist” listed “aesthetics”, “quality and age of work”, “artist’s profile” and “quality of materials used”; a major operator at Terra Kulture/Mydrim listed “how special or rare”, “style”, “colour (aesthetics)” and “theme”.38
While the Terra Kulture/ Mydrim Gallery Auction House explicitly lists rarity as a criterion, I observe that their judges are limited to choosing from works already consigned to the auction house by artists, galleries and art collectors. As such, it can be argued that they have no way of discerning how “rare” or “how special” consigned works are in relation to the artists’ entire body of work. So, I find no significant difference or any difference at all, to my mind, in the operational procedures for work-selection and valuation in both auction houses.
It is apparent that both auction houses do not devote time and resources to scouting for rare works by living artists who are still in active production and, especially, those by emerging talents. The artists’ rare pieces can be more easily discerned through a deep knowledge of their entire body of works, a knowledge that comes from field researches as against invitational consignment of works at the door steps of the auction houses. This is especially the case where many of the works have neither “lived” long enough  to pass through the scrutiny of art criticism nor been weighed in the balance of art history, so as to find their level in the stream of modern and contemporary Nigerian art development.
 I have also found that at the auction houses, the identities of those who select works for their auctions are a closely guarded secret. This raises question around the lack of 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. The identities of the valuers who work with or for the auction houses are also not published but shielded from public knowledge. This lack of transparency falls short of standard practice.
At this juncture, one is bound to ask: What credentials should persons working as specialists for the art departments of auction houses posses? Should the identities of specialists and valuers be hidden? These questions are questions that can become questions only in a country like Nigeria. At Bonhams, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and other established auction houses, including new entrants such as the Auction Room, for example, the identities (including photographs, e-mail addresses, telephone contacts and bio-data) of their specialists and valuers are posted on their websites for public information. Details of the professional qualifications and work experience of these specialists are advertised in a manner that builds public confidence on the operations of the auction houses. In fact, at the Bonhams and Auction Room websites, for example, schedules are available for face-to-face valuation of the works of artists, art dealers, or collectors. Knowing the valuers and their qualifications help to build confidence and sustainability and to dispense doubts in auction business.  A few examples of the professional credentials and pedigree of specialists across major and minor auction houses in Europe and America, from where we have imported the art auction idea, might prove quite insightful.
Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s’ specialist for Contemporary Art (Sotheby’s Europe) is a First Class Bachelor’s degree graduate of Art History from St Andrews in Scotland and also has a Master’s degree in Contemporary Art from the University of California at Berkeley, USA. Anthony Grant, Cheynee’s colleague at Sotheby’s, in the Contemporary art Department (New York) holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Painting and Art History of the Rhode Island School of Design and had previously worked for many years as a gallery Director for PaceWildenstein gallery and later of his own gallery, the Anthony Grant Inc.
At the Christie’s, Rene Lahn (a specialist in Post-War and Contemporary Art Department) is a graduate of History of Art and Business Management and also holds a Masters in Fine Art Management and Creative Curating from Goldsmiths College. Lahn had previously worked at several art galleries as director.
At the Auction Room, the specialist for Contemporary and Modern African Art is Ed Cross who has a degree in History of Art from Cambridge University and has been a gallery director and curator for many years with a specialty in contemporary African art. Ed’s profile at the Auction Room website indicates that he spent “over twenty years in East Africa working in Fine Art and publishing including eight years working as a sculptor in Kenya, before returning to the U.K. in 2009”.
Simon Cooper is advertised as the valuer for Auction Room London39. His educational and professional qualifications are openly advertised in the Auction Room website. Like many other specialist valuers, Cooper holds a degree in Fine Art, belongs to a professional association of valuers and has had a long working experience in the field. Auction Room also encourages its clients to attend their scheduled valuation days.
At Bonhams, the specialist for South African Art and for African Art, Hannah O’Leary, has an MA degree in the History of art from the University of Glasgow. She has also worked for many years at auction houses in Ireland and Australia. She later specialised in South African art.
From the foregoing survey, one finds that there is a balance between studio and theory in the credentials of those who work as specialists in standard auction houses. In other words, art historical expertise and studio knowledge are basic qualifications, added to field experience in the primary and secondary art markets. My research, however, shows that Nigerian auction houses do not have in-house specialists in the professional sense of “specialists”40. Rather, I find that gallery owners, Chief Executive Officers of auction houses and prominent art collectors are the major gate-keepers of the selection and evaluation of works for the auctions, and none of them holds the kind of standard qualifications that distinguishes art specialists in comparable auction houses outside Nigeria. While they are unarguably experienced in the field, considering long years of collecting and selling art works, such experience still does not turn them into specialists in line with standard practice. This may have contributed to Jacob Jari’s predicament!
The picture that emerges from the foregoing analysis is that operators of our art auction houses are gamblers. Artists who submit to them may be lucky to find the auctions becoming ladders of career progress; others may be unlucky to find the auctions becoming veiled weapons with which they unwittingly shoot themselves in the foot. 
VI
I now finally turn to the imperatives of art criticism and art history in the development of the Nigerian art market and to examine the current situation in the art auction sphere where there is an apparent lack of critical information and art historical data (as evident in the auction catalogues) on many emerging artists and even on most established ones.
Art history and art criticism definitely play an important role in the art market. Terry Barrett41  has told the story of how when John Coplans was editing the influential Artforum in the 1970s “he was told that when he put an artwork on the cover of the magazine, the gallery representing the artist would get a stream of phone calls inquiring about purchasing the piece”. This is because the specialist judgement of influential art critics and historians often shape the taste of collectors and build their confidence in taking the risk to invest in such artists. According to Barrett, and it is true, “art critics play a role in the art market by increasing attention about certain art and increasing the value of that art”42. But this is possible only where there is a respectable, and credible, critical culture.
In the 1950s, America had only a few journals devoted to art criticism but they are many today at both regional, national and international levels. These include New Art Examiner; Artweek; Art Paper; Dialogue, Artnews, Art Magazine, Art in America, Artforum and Parachute. There are also Flash Art, The International Review of African American Art and Art International43. American academic journals include Art Journal and Exposure: The Journal of the Society for Photography Education. Those devoted to definite art forms include High Performance, which publishes materials on performance art, and Afterimage, which focuses on film, photography and video44. It has been equally observed that while “many academic journals publish criticism of art and reviews of books about art”, art criticism is also “included regularly in daily newspapers in big and small cities and in magazines with national circulations such as Vanity Fair and Connoisseur, as well as Time and Newsweek45.
Considering the above revelation, how does Nigeria fare? In the 1950s to the 1970s, the Nigeria Magazine and even Black Orpheus provided influential platforms for critical reviews and essays on Nigerian modern and contemporary art. A dominant voice before the late 1960s was Ulli Beier. By the late 1960s, Nigeria Magazine had specifically created a review section where comments and reviews on art exhibitions were published, especially by some fellow artists who laid the groundwork for the phenomenon of artists-as-art-critics (or what Yemisi Shyllon describes as the “writer-critic pattern”46) in Nigeria. The critical tone was authoritative, sure and very influential.