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An Evening With Artists and Art Collectors

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…. Art colloquium explores ways to promote art appreciation and art collection, as aesthetic and economic acquisitions

By Philip Nwosu, Awka Times Guest Reporter, Chinedu Offodile and Chudi Okoye

It was an enchanting and convivial evening in refined and rarefied company.

It was a classy and entirely salubrious affair, with sublime discussions and uplifting concerns far removed from the grind of hard-knock existence in Nigeria.

The locution was cultivated, and the location spoke volumes too: An up-market venue somewhere in swanky Ikoyi, the storied neighborhood with leafy pavements considered the most affluent in Lagos, Nigeria.

The attendees themselves were a unique cast: Mostly art cognoscenti and art hunter-gatherers drawn from the upper reaches of academia, business, politics and the professions.

They had gathered together, this evening of 17 February 2020, with a focused mission: To discuss the ramifications – the aesthetics, strategies and economics and the integral challenges – of art collection in Nigeria.

The event was organized by the Society for Art Collection (SARTCOL), a recently created art foundation based in Lagos. The art colloquium featured a keynote address tagged Exploring a New and Informed Approach to Art Collection which was presented by Professor Chike Aniakor, artist, scholar and renowned art historian. The event also featured highly engaged panel and audience discussions on the prospects for, and impediments to, art collection in Nigeria.

The discussants noted that art collection and even art appreciation, whilst developing, are not well-established in Nigeria, in part due to the poorly established infrastructure for the sourcing, appraisal, promotion and commercialization of art. They observed that most outlets for the promotion of art in Nigeria, such as museums, are government-owned, and as such are badly managed.

Dr. Okey Anueyiagu (centre) with panel members at the event (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

The panel members noted that there has long been in Nigeria a vibrant tradition of private art collection, established by aficionados in the early post-colonial period; later it was nurtured by notable collectors like the late Chief Torch O. Taire, Sammy Olagbaju, John Edokpolo, Chief Emmanuel Olisambu and Rasheed Gbadamosi; and it is still carried on today by contemporary private art collectors.

Furthermore, discussants acknowledged that some foreign cultural missions like Alliance Française and Goethe Institut do try their best to promote Nigerian art. They also recognized Nigeria’s rising profile in the world of contemporary art, with growing demand for Nigerian (and broader African) art in Europe and the U.S. which has in turn driven a notable increase in the number of local galleries and auction houses.

The panel also observed that entities like the Lagos-based Centre for Contemporary Art (founded by the late Bisi Silva) have helped to develop the tools for critical appreciation of art in Nigeria and beyond.

But panelists generally agreed that art collection in Nigeria, whilst emergent, is rudimentary by global standards, driven mainly by aesthetic motivation and to some extent religio-cultural representation, as distinct from economic motivations such as investment, wealth creation and asset preservation. A 2017 Nigerian Art Market Report prepared by Jess Castellote, one of the panelists and Director, Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art who is on the Governing Council of SARTCOL, put the value of artworks by Nigerian artists sold at African art auctions at a measly $5.5m versus a global market topping $63bn ($67bn as of 2018).

Discussants said that in Nigeria art is still collected primarily for aesthetic delight, not so much as a store of value or as tradeable commodity. They also noted that the ecosystem for art curation, evaluation and promotion is still at early development phase in the Nigerian environ. Panelists noted that this situation is unfortunate given the artistic pedigree, the huge pool of artistic talent and the stupendous palette of artistic material available in the country.

It was the need to redress this situation, to foster a self-reinforcing ecosystem for art development, collection and promotion, to revive enthusiasm for art collection and even to inspire the curriculum for art education, that led to the establishment of the Society for Art Collection in June 2019.

Dr. Okey Anueyiagu, the Awka native, entrepreneur, philanthropist and president of the Society for Art Collection foundation, flagged off the Ikoyi colloquium February 7th with thought-provoking remarks on art and art collection in Nigeria. In his welcome address, Anueyiagu tried to compare art and science and pointed out how closely related they are. He explained that science feeds the mind whereas art feeds the soul. Anueyiagu quoted John Keating (played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, 1989) who said that “medicine, law, business, and engineering, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Dr. Okey Anueyiagu addressing the audience at the event (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

Dr. Anueyiagu said that the essence of the gathering in Ikoyi was to forge a better link between artists and buyers of art, and to guide young artists to develop and create works that will help the economy grow, especially since some talented Nigerian artists create artwork that can sell internationally.

He said that the title of the lecture (Exploring A New And Informed Approach To Art Collection) and the choice of speaker (Professor Chike Aniakor) lent credence to the importance and significance of the colloquium. “Our vision,” Dr. Anueyiagu said, “is to serve as a veritable platform for educating artists and art collectors on the intricacies of art collection.

“Our quest is to stimulate discussion within the art space on the provenance and rights of artists and patrons of the art, believing that art is a cultural, social and economic experience. Our Society is fully invested in how to utilize our knowledge and experience to contribute to the sustenance of art as a strong partner in National Development.”

Continuing, Dr. Anueyiagu said that “over the years, Nigeria and other African countries have experienced a huge influx into the art scenes,” and he stated that “the complexities of these explosions have been the imperative that prompted the establishment of the Society for Art Collection.”

Dr. Anueyiagu said that aside from convening colloquiums such as the one organized this week in Ikoyi, his Society would be “deploying tools that will assist artists and art collectors to fully understand the dynamics and intricacies involved in art collection in order to foster the growth of art in [Africa].”

As he put it, “the recent prevalent monetization of African art makes it important that a vehicle to ensure systematic and organized ways of transacting the business of art be deployed. For this, we are addressing, in addition to the aesthetics, the value proposition and the monetary attributes of art collection.”

The Society for Art Collection says that it is committed to providing a platform for the exchange of ideas amongst art collectors whilst promoting an appreciation for the arts. The Society says “through systematic, knowledgeable and organized means, [we] will provide a how-to guide for the novice as well as established collectors, art enthusiasts, journalists and critics, dealers and gallery owners, investors and scholars, on how to navigate the exclusive path of art collection.”

According to the Society, there are many ways of collecting art and there are many reasons for doing it. Whatever the reason for acquiring artworks, whether enjoyment, vanity, investment, or a mixture of all, for many collectors, art is among the most valuable assets they own, the Society says, noting therefore that it is of critical importance to learn how to appreciate, manage and care for art collections. The Society for Art Collection said that it aims to create a platform to foster growing interest in collecting art, paying particular attention to critique, value, and preservation.

Rear-Admiral Aikhomu, Dr. Anueyiagu, Prof. Aniakor and Mrs Ifeyinwa Momah at the event (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

Mr Audu Dankaro (extreme left), Prof. Fabian Ajogwu, SAN (centre) with Aikhomu, Anueyiagu and Mrs Momah (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

Rear-Admiral Aikhomu and Dr. Anueyiagu with Kolade Oshinowo at the event (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

The colloquium in Ikoyi was attended by many dignitaries including the Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, who spoke to Awka Times at the event. He talked passionately about Benin artworks and how they have been worthy representatives of the state across the world. He said that art is integral to the existence of the Edo people and that Benin artworks are scattered around the world. Governor Obaseki referred for instance to the Ivory Leopard in the British Museum as one of the great works of Benin art.

He added that the government and people of Edo State “have tried to sit down to [explore ways to] optimize the wealth that our forebears created.” He said that the Benin dialogue group was already thinking of bringing back the over 4,000 pieces of art of Benin origin that were taken out after the Benin massacre of 1897.

Edo State Gov. Obaseki addressing the audience (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

“We are currently working with major museums in Europe to think through the concept of a museum in Benin that will accommodate some of the works that would be returned,” he intimated.

He said however that while it would be impossible for the state to repatriate all Benin works found in the diaspora, the government plans to ensure that these works are suitably identified and tagged with Benin provenance for the benefit of future generations.

The guest speaker, Professor Chike Aniakor, dwelt on the key issues of art collection. He said that artworks are products of changes in historical conditions and that art collection is as old as the history of man.

Prof. Aniakor delivering his keynote presentation (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

Professor Aniakor listed key factors that collectors should consider when collecting the works, including the identity of the artist, the media, technique, forms, function, meaning and aesthetic quality.

He concluded by saying that investing in art is like investing in stocks, and that collectors – just like stock investors – should aim for a balanced portfolio to mitigate risk.

Panelists such as Jess Castellote, Toju Alero Ladipo, Ifeyinwa Momah and Ibrahim Dikko all spoke in support of the promotion of art collection to encourage new entrants.

Panelists (L-R): Ifeyinwa Momah, Ibrahim Dikko, Okey Anueyiagu, Jess Castellote and Toju Alero Ladipo  (Photo credit: SARTCOL)

The Ikoyi convocation was enlivened with the presence of notable artists like Kolade Oshinowo and art enthusiasts like Rear-Admiral Joe Aikhomu, Professor Fabian Ajogwu, Adedotun Sulaiman, Ananya Laul Nero Asibeluea, Ngozi Edozien, and SARTCOL Creative Director, Obinna Okerekeocha.

Rounding off the evening, Dr. Anueyiagu said that his Society intends to “teach Nigerians that it is not only politics that we should live on, we should live on love” as depicted through the metaphysics and the aesthetics of art.

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