CEL­E­BRAT­ING ART

THISDAY Style - - COVER -

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.

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