Art auction experience low sales making only N135million in 2019 according to the total sales figure released by Arthouse Contemporary Auction house based on the sales at its The Affordable Art Auction and Modern and Contemporary Art auction held in Lagos, Nigeria.
The figure is a record low from the previous year’s sales figure. In 2018, it made a record sales of N233,062,500 million at its anniversary auction, and N26.7million at the Affordable auction totalling N259, 762, 500million. Globally, after a record year in 2017 and 2018, African auction sales have started to slow.
In January 2019, the ArtTactic Outlook 2019 report again predicted that the African Modern and Contemporary art market would be one of the fastest-growing art markets, with 47% of experts surveyed believing the African art market would experience higher sales in 2019.
However, the forecasts did not come through as expected, with international African sales in the first half of 2019 by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Philips, Bonhams, Piasa, Strauss and ArtHouse Nigeria generating a total of $25.3 million, 11.3% lower than the first half of 2018.
Kavita Chellarams, CEO, Arthouse Contemporary Ltd said in view of the slow sales in the art sector, it began the Affordable Art Auction four years ago to encourage young collectors and also expand the net for sales to “to engage new collectors with all works of art estimated below N1 million while the November auctions, features artworks from masters.”
The 2019 Affordable Art Auction which featured 97 lots from emerging and established artists, saw new artists making top sales. The two top sales of the evening were Rom Ischei’s Strength of Purpose I and II, two oil on boards that sold for N1,150,000 and N1,116,250. Pita Ohiwerei’s No Woman No Cry, oil on canvas for 1999, sold for N1,057,500.
Also, Bunmbi Batatunde’s bronze sculpture, Possibilities, sold for N1,034,000, while Twins Seven Seven’s The Great Fisherman, a mixed media on board from 2001, came under the hammer at N998,750.
However, the Modern and Contemporary Art Auction held on November 25, 2019, which is for the masters and accomplished collectors, featured 91 lots of leading masterworks from the modern period alongside cutting-edge contemporary art from the region’s most celebrated artists, the auction brought in a total of NGN 107,524,250 ($298,678) during the evening’s sale.
The top sale of the evening was Uzo Egonu’s Portrait of a Northern Man, oil on canvas from 1964 that sold for NGN 9,400,000 ($26,111). Ablade Glover’s Blue Profile, oil on canvas from 2016, sold for NGN 7,285,000 ($20,236). Oil on canvas by Peju Alatise, titled Respite, sold for NGN 6,462,500 ($17,951). Lemi Ghariokwu’s Fela-Rhapsody set a new auction record for NGN 6,110,000 ($16,972).
In addition, the charity lots in support of the Arthouse Foundation, the non-profit artist residency programme raised NGN 1,280,000 ($3,556) and NGN 1,280,000 from Modern and Contemporary Art and Affordable Auction respectively.
For most international auctions, Ben Enwonwu’s works dominated. At one of Boham’s 2019 art auctions, Enwowu’s elegant bronze sculpture of an Igbo goddess Anyanwu sold for £187.563 (Estimated $100 – 150 000) while the supple and graceful painting of a woman wearing a headscarf titled Negritude was the second bestselling work at $137.563 (Estimated £40 – 60).
Enwowu’s The Fruit Seller was the fourth-best at $125.063 (Estimated £100 – 150). Interest in his work has never been higher and is understandably driving the prices of his lesser works, some of which start at just over £5000.
Auctioneer, Giles Peppiatt, Head of African Modern and Contemporary Art at Bonhams, who has been instrumental in positioning Bonhams as a leader in the sale of contemporary African art in the UK organised the auction houses’ first sale in 2009. He describes the current state of the market as “extremely fair and very strong.”
The strong performance by the works of Enwonwu did not come as a surprise, not least to Peppiatt, who says the value of Enwonwu’s works will only keep rising: “I mean you have to look at what they were fetching 10 years ago, you could have bought an Enyawu for as little as £2000.”
Finally, according to the latest Art Basel and USB Global report, contemporary art sales at auctions amounted to $29.1 billion in 2018. The market is expected to grow in the coming years.
In this growing niche of the art market, the aggregate sale of £4,002,750 at Sotheby’s 4th Modern and contemporary African art auction is a remarkable achievement, up by 43% from their inaugural African Art auction in May 2017.
Analysts were optimistic for a better market at the start of 2020 with sales figure from the first quarter sales from Arthouse standing at N36 million. However, COVID-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works as unemployment figure rises and spending power drops.