A Look At How Nigerian Contemporary Art And Prices Have Grown

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Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu's artwork entitled 'Tutu' - the African Mona Lisa -- was one of the works that captured the emergence of Nigeria's art market / Photo credit: AFP

Looking at how Nigerian art has performed in recent times, there was Tutu, the “African Mona Lisa” was sold last year for 1.5 million dollars. Next, a second portrait by Nigerian painter ‘Ben Enwonwu’ called Christine, was sold in mid-October, for 1.4 million dollars.

The two record sales of famous artworks by the late “father of African modernism”, portrays the emergence of Nigeria’s art market.

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Just a decade ago, leading African artists were largely absent from international auction activities, but now the continent is a major attraction in contemporary and modern art.

The referred artist Enwonwu who died in 1994, has had his star rising, showing the growing industry and value for artworks. Enwonwu two masterpieces were sold by two of London’s most prestigious auction establishments, Bonhams and Sotheby’s.

“Africa is one of the fastest-growing markets in the art world today, and Nigeria is equal on the top with South Africa,” Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at Bonhams, told AFP.

Nigerian artist Queen Nwaneri paints during the Art X event in Lagos

The fair which began three years ago has emerged as one of the premier art events on the continent, exhibiting the rich array of African modern and contemporary artworks.

The famous Tutu, “lost” for almost 40 years and spectacularly found in 2018, nearly by chance, in a London apartment, was the shocking attraction of the last edition, drawing a thousand of attendees.

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Nollywood’s actresses, traditional leaders, wealthy collectors, and artists trooped to the painting of the mysterious Yoruba princess. This has at the end of the year, made Nigeria’s economic-hub awash with glamor and arts.

Countless visitors continue to rush from one exhibition event to another, from ART X to the Lagos Biennale of contemporary art, Lagos fashion week and LagosPhoto, all of which take place between October and November.

Following the art are an increasing market and huge appetite amongst investors and collectors, which prompted the opening of new galleries like Art Twenty One.

The auction house ‘Art House Contemporary Limited’, whose turnover is better than its European peers, constantly exhibits the most notable artists in the region: Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, El Anatsui or Peju Alatise.

In 2019, about twenty galleries and more than 90 artists will be represented at ART X, with representatives from Tate Modern (London) and Smithsonian (Washington) coming for the event.

Guest can expect the creative audio installations by renowned artist, Emeka Ogboh, based between Berlin and Lagos, will grace the background of the anticipated fourth edition of the fair.

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Should the appetite for contemporary and modern African art continues to grow large, apart from outliers that exceed one million dollars, the majority of works are still sold at “reasonable” prices in comparison with the rest of the world: “between $10,000 and $60,000,” says Peppiat.

“Events like Art X are changing the game, it helps cities like Lagos to shine and attract many enthusiastic collectors. This is a very exciting moment,” he explains.

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