Founded in 2007, Arthouse Contemporary is an international auction house that specialises in modern and contemporary art from West Africa. Art, like wine, is an acquired taste and the longer you spend collecting or appreciating art, the more value you place on them. Arthouse has played a major role in exposing many talents, both young and old globally. So much so that in marking their 10th year in the business, they raised a whooping n233,062,500 million in sales from their twentieth edition of Arthouse auction of Modern and Contemporary Art which held at the Kia Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos, nigeria.
Arthouse featured various works of legendary artists’ master works alongside younger artists whose contemporary works are just as famous. Kavita Chellarams, the owner of this gallery, is one of nigeria’s most notable curators. A lot of artists credit her as the most prominent promoter of their works. Having lived in nigeria as a member of one of nigeria’s strongest dynasties, Kavita has raised the bar with African art and brought it to the forefront globally. She has also raised insurmountable awareness of the creativity within our shores.
What would you say have been the biggest successes of Arthouse Contemporary Limited till date?
we have made people aware that there is a viable art market in west africa, getting it recognized and known. now, museums internationally want to have the master artists from nigeria for their collections. galleries are looking for nigerian artists. our goals have been to focus on transparency of pricing, creating a vibrant secondary market, documentation and as a platform to showcase nigerian art. This is for the nigerian community as well as the international community. we have also been pioneers at finding artists and putting their works in auction and exposing them to international stage and collectors.
There have been many milestones in the ten years of arthouse Contemporary. we have set record-breaking prices for many master artists including Ben enwonwu, Bruce onobakpeya and yusuf grillo, among others. I was also very proud of the retrospective exhibition we organized of legendary artist yusuf grillo, his first solo exhibition in over 30 years. he made stained glass works of his iconic paintings, and they were a raging success.
What have been the biggest challenges over the last ten years and how have you overcome them?
There have been many challenges because the art market had very little infrastructure when we started, without proper standards for pricing or a way for collectors to know the value of artworks. we set out to overcome this by creating a transparent platform, and we publish the results online for everyone to see. That way, our auctions and our catalogues become a resource for collectors and institutions who are interested in investing in nigerian art. we have had to manage the art prices amidst a double recession, and we have still managed to grow.
What have been the more exciting lots you’ve had in recent years and tell us how discovery of the work, sale comes about?
In our early auctions, during the middle of the global economic crisis in 2008, we set a record for Bruce onobrakpeya, and there was an exciting bidding war in the room. when other art markets globally were suffering, we were on the rise. we also had Ben enwonwu’s anyanwu in 2011, we achieved double the price as Bonhams had achieved for another enwonwu work the year before. we also achieve great prices for artists such as simon okeke, yusuf grillo, Uche okeke, Bruce onobrakpeya, the Zaria rebels that are now fetching record prices. we are planning a Zaria rebels at the moment, which I am really looking forward to. In each auction, we have an open call for entries, and we also scout collectors and artworks ourselves. The most exciting lots for me are the master works that resurface after many years. To see a Ben enwonwu that hasn’t been on the market or in public view for decades is very exciting, and the public has so much appreciation for it now.
What Arthouse accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am proud that arthouse has given artists a solid platform to showcase and sell their art as many of the biggest names in contemporary art in nigeria started by showing with arthouse. It is great to see the progression of their careers, and to see how arthouse could act as a stepping stone for a vibrant career. I am also very proud of the arthouse Foundation, our non-profit initiative that organizes a year around residency program in lagos. we have artists come for three month sessions with workshops, artist talks and a final exhibition. we have had nigerian artists and international artists come through, and we have also partnered with international institutions such as the Matadero Museum and the goethe Institut in Berlin. I am also proud to have participated in the Milken Institute in
We hear a lot of talk about plans for bigger art initiatives, and this is very exciting. It would be great to revitalize the National Museum, and to continue the successes of international ventures like the Nigerian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
We see that there is a gap between prices for African artists and their counterparts in other parts of the world. As artists gain more exposure, hopefully this will change. It is also important for us here locally to champion our natural treasures. There are many master artists who are up in years and need to be appreciated for their long and celebratory careers.
los angeles, as well as international platforms with art14 london and art X lagos.
to a layman, how would you describe the direct value of a auction house to the contemporary art market?
auction houses are important because they give collectors the assurance that they will be able to sell their art purchases at a later date. If art is an investment, then it needs a platform that is able to make a return on your investment. It is also important for the valuation of art, for the transparency of price, and for documentation.
What do you predict will be the trends in the Nigerian art industry in the next few years?
we hear a lot of talk about plans for bigger art initiatives, and this is very exciting. It would be great to revitalize the national Museum, and to continue the successes of international ventures like the nigerian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It is also exciting to see new galleries and art spaces opening up, and I am sure we will only see more.
From 10 years ago till today, what evidence have you seen in the Nigerian contemporary art space that can be leveraged on for the next ten?
In ten years, the contemporary art space has grown tremendously. This can only signal that we are moving in the right direction. locally, collectors are starting to appreciate the value of investing in their culture. Internationally, the world is looking to art communities like lagos as the future to have a more inclusive global conversation.
Do you agree that Nigerian, and by extension, African artists’ work is priced inferiorly compared to their counterparts abroad in comparison to whom they are just as talented and accomplished?
we see that there is a gap between prices for african artists and their counterparts in other parts of the world. as artists gain more exposure, hopefully this will change. It is also important for us here locally to champion our natural treasures. There are many master artists who are up in years and need to be appreciated for their long and celebratory careers.
What is your auction house’s role in making a shift regarding this?
we try to give visibility both the older generation of artists as well as the upcoming generation. By focusing on both sectors of the arts community, we can begin to appreciate nigerian (and african art), and by extension, its value as an investment will grow. we have also brought in nigerian artists in the diaspora to our auctions, to introduce them to the nigerian market.