At the peak of Lagos art season last month, the atmosphere was spiced with the most crucial, and perhaps, the essence of making art – collecting. It was a gathering, which had as theme ‘The Art of Collecting: The Intersection Between Design, Architecture and Art.’
Organised by Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, in partnership with African Culture and Design Festival (ACDF), the event provided a window through which art appreciation in Nigeria could be analysed. It indeed confirmed that Wheabaker’s branding, as a boutique hotel with art events as its poster-face, had been well articulated. This much was echoed when Director of Wheatbaker, Mosun Ogunbanjo, in her opening speech, boasted that “we have always seen art as an integral part of our corporate DNA,” a strategy she revealed allows guests “to find solace and inspiration from what is displayed on our walls.”
There was no doubt that Wheatbaker had enough credentials to flaunt, as regards art appreciation. With over 20 art exhibitions across two generations of Nigerian aArtists in six years, there is indeed enough energy to drive such a gathering and share some of its collection with both local and international audience.
“Our art collection is the soul and pulse of the Wheatbaker,” Ogunbanjo, an architect said.While the hotel’s collection of 30 pieces were on display, the core of the event focused art collecting within the Nigerian context. Curator at Wheatbaker, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, stated this much when she told the gathering, “Instead of showing just art, we chose to have discussion over collecting to encourage private and corporate groups.”
The panelists included Femi Akinsanya, a collector of traditional African arts, Jess Castellote, art critic and architect, and Prof. Ebun Clark, a former member of Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos. The panel was moderated by Papa Omotayo, also an architect and founder of Whitespace Creative Agency. The evening provided a moment to celebrate collectors, as the panellists were in agreement on the importance of collecting to the survival of art.
Akinsanya, whose collections are largely of museum quality, for example, noted that collectors motivate those who create art, saying, “that’s the value of collecting.”Between collecting for passion and investment, the relativity has always generated debate, even in developed art climes. Clark, also a collector, shared her “idea of collecting,” which she said has always been based on “buy something you like and not for investment.” Collecting art, she added, has “emotional attachment.”
Obiago couldn’t disagree, saying “emotional attachment is part of the value of art.”As much as collectors are crucial to art, Castellote, who coincidentally just launched a book he co-authored, Collecting Art: A Handbook, gave an important piece of advice: “A good collector should research, check provenance and document properly.”
And when the debate slid into what makes good collection or collector, Castellote chose to be on the safe side of relativity, arguing, “there is no difference between good and bad collectors.” And whatever artists produce in Nigeria, he stated, has been “what the collectors want.”
While sharing the inspiration behind her art collecting, Clark recalled how the revered Mbari Club of the 1960s, as it “inspired my collecting.” Also, concerns about cultural flight of arts overseas worried her, saying, “As a lot of our art were going out, we decided to be collecting,” she added, citing for example, “we still have a 1965 painting by Bruce Onobrakpeya.”
Omotayo charged Mbanefo Obiago on the criteria that determines choice of exhibits at Wheabaker as well as her advice to collectors. “The choice is to represent the diversity of the Nigerian art,” the curator responded. “Sometimes it could be political, like Duke Asidere whose work is highly critical of governments.”
Again, as in many fora, the contents of what should be exported generated debate. Clark argued that contemporary art should be allowed to move out and not restricted as artefacts or antiques. Indeed, the recurring issue would have been unnecessary if the custom officers at border posts really know the difference between modern/contemporary and ancient art. And between the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) lies the responsibility to educate the border post officers on the difference between contemporary and antiqued art.
Sponsored by the German wine brand, Louis Guntrum, and Sterling Bank, The Art of Collecting… had non-panellists spoke as well. Hon Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister for Industry, Trade & Investment, talked about the importance of the creative industry. He noted that “the future is bright,” citing figures and statistics of the art market, which he said “tells story of an industry that is evolving from a marginal to a sizeable segment of the economy.”
President of IDAN, Titi Ogunfere explained how the art and design synergy in the context of what she described as “the big picture that draws from ideals that are traditional, and also shows influences that depict an intercultural undertone.” President of the International Federation of Interior Architects & Designers (IFI), Sebastiano Raneri eulogised Nigeria’s hosting of the international body with about 100 delegates from across the world, including renowned Ghanaian-born African architect, Sir David Adjaye.