Only 1 Female Ranks In Top 10 Highest-Selling Works By Nigerian Artists At Auction

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Written by Dana Sanchez

In the first-ever compilation of the top 200 highest-priced artworks sold at auction by Nigerian artists since 2008, only one female — Peju Alatise — made the top 10.

High-ticket art sales by females in Nigeria are overshadowed by names like Ghanaian-Nigerian sculptor El Anatsui, famed for his iconic bottle-top installations, and the late Igbo painter Ben Enwonwu, who died in 1994.

Work by Anatsui and Enwonwu consistently rank among the top 10 highest priced at every auction, according to the newly released Nigerian Art Market Report 2015.

The report, now in its second year, was sponsored by Nigeria’s Diamond Bank and published by the nonprofit Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts based on Victoria Island, Lagos.

Why are so few Nigerian women making the big sales? AFKInsider asked Tayo Fagbule, co-author of the Nigerian Art Market report, in an email interview.

Fagbule is a Nigerian economist and writer whose career has included working as director of the MBA program at Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University.

Hundreds of male and female artists graduate from art schools in Nigeria every year and not all go on to practice art full time, Fagbule said.

“Those who do have to contend with the time it takes for their works to discovered, exhibited, appreciated, bought and sold,” he said “But lately, the artists making headlines are women — Nengi Omuku, Ndidi Dike, Ndidi Emefiele, Nike Oskundaye, Peju Alatise.”

The Nigeria Art Market Report 2015 looks at the Nigeria art market based on publicly available data compiled from exhibitions in Nigeria, auction sales in Lagos and Bonhams’ Africa Now in London.

So who’s buying most of the Nigerian art?

There are three main categories of Nigerian art buyers, according to Jess Castellote, an author and independent art advisor for private and corporate collectors who co-authored the Nigerian Art Market Report with Fagbule.

These include established Nigerian collectors, established expatriate collectors and emerging collectors. Most of the individual buyers, whether they live in Nigeria or outside, belong to Nigeria’s growing number of high-net-worth individuals.

There are also private galleries buying Nigerian art, and institutions  like the Tate, which houses the U.K.’s national collection of British art and international modern and contemporary art; and the Smithsonian Institution in the U.S.

Value of art sold at auction in Nigeria declined 2 years in a row

The value of artworks sold at auction in Nigeria went down from $1.77 million in 2014 to $1.37 million in 2015 — an 18 percent decrease that was three times more than the decrease of 2014.

Fagbule said there were several reasons for this: Fewer auctions, reduced value and volume of works sold, and “Nigerians are overly precautious in election years,” he told AFKInsider. “Worries about the outcome of last year’s election kept collectors away.”

What does this mean globally for art buyers who are looking for great value?

“For buyers looking for new interesting works that are not too pricey, contemporary artworks from Nigeria (and Africa) offer great value,” Fagbule said.

He cited positive reports that confirm continued interest from the “African Perspectives” exhibition which wrapped up last week at the Armory Show in New York. The invitational section consisted of about 15 galleries representing artists from Africa and the African diaspora.

Beyond Armory Week events, New York City offers further opportunities to explore art of Africa and the diaspora at institutions dedicated full-time to showcasing artists of African descent, according to HuffingtonPost.

What makes an art market hot, and what will it take to blow the top off the Nigerian art market?

“Appreciation …. more exhibitions of artworks, more conversations about the works and more documentation of the works” will help blow the top off the Nigerian art market, Fagbule said. “And of course, more people who can afford the works. All of this is happening in Nigeria…Demand by people rich enough and willing to part with millions for what is considered the current or next big thing.”

How do Nigerian art prices compare with other African and Western markets?

Prices of works by established Nigerian artists compare favorably with those of other artists from the continent other than South Africa, but none fetch the prices recorded in the Western art markets, Fagbule told AFKInsider. “One of our goals is to trace the trajectory of works by artists from Nigeria, considering how a few years ago there was nothing but today there’s a talk of a new scramble for (art from) Africa.”

More highlights from the Nigeria Art Market Report

  • El Anatsui retains his spot as the artist with the highest turnover, after overtaking Ben Enwonwu in 2014. Four works of art by Anatsui generated $229,713 in 2015, double the $152,710 three of his artworks fetched in 2014.
  • In 2015 the average price of works by non-Nigerian artists at auctions held in Nigeria was 11 percent more than the average price for Nigerian artists, despite a 3 percent increase from the previous year.
  • Sales of artworks by Nigerian artists at Bonhams brought in $1,774,330 in 2015 — 23 percent more than the $1,373,198 generated by artworks by Nigerian and non-Nigerian artists at auctions in Lagos. The rise in Bonhams’ sales was partly due to auction of the art collection of Afren, an oil company with financial problems.
  • Over 108 exhibitions — 69 solo and 38 group shows — were organised in Nigeria in 2015, according to data compiled; 64 of these events were held in galleries.
  • In the first ever compilation of the top 200 highest-selling works by Nigerian artists at auction since 2008, Anatsui and Enwonwu account for 86 percent of the value and 53 percent of the volume. Both are the bellwethers of art Nigeria at auction. Their works consistently rank among the top 10 highest at every auction. Peju Alatise is not only the youngest but the only female artist in the top 10.
  • Artist Ablade Glover created a quarter of the 70 pieces by non-Nigerian artists that were auctioned in Lagos since 2013.