Jacob Jari: How the Price of Art Affects Practice



I stumbled across an interesting pieceby Akintoya Abodunrin about Jacob Jari’s talk on the art market, prices andpractice in the Tribune (Nigeria) the other day. Only got around to blogging it today. Here are some interesting excerpts.


Written by Akintayo Abodunrin, Sunday, 01 September 2013 00:00

[…]

He thereafter narrated humbling experiences that made him realise that the price of a work is not determined by its quality but by the reputation of the maker and how this has impacted art practice in Nigeria.

He recalled that around 1991, Gani Odutokun told him a gallery owner in Lagos was interested in his drawings and he selected four of his works to bring to the collector.  Jari disclosed that at the time, he had not sold any of his works in Lagos but had told Odutokun how much he was going to sell each work and the artist said his prices were fair.

A shocker, however, awaited him when he arrived in Lagos. “The owner appeared happy to see me and even happier to see the four drawings I brought with me. Upon telling him the price of each drawing however, his countenance suddenly changed and he became instantly hostile, prompting him to speak acidly and unintelligibly. Amidst the muttering and hissing, the two questions I could pick out repeatedly were, “Who do you think you are?” and “Who knows you?” I was shocked at this tantrum and I remained frozen until he finished his outburst at which point I asked him how much he was prepared to offer for the drawings.

“He looked at me intently and without batting an eye offered the price I was asking for one drawing for the entire four! In response, I too looked at him in a similar manner and told him to pay! He was so shocked at my response that he asked me to repeat what I said, so I did. He suddenly became jovial once more and putting his arm round my shoulders, he declared that he could do business with me. He implored me to bring more drawings and my paintings when I got back to Zaria.

[…]

He said he brought out four of his old drawings and showed them to the students. “I tagged them, A, B, C, and D. I told the students that A was produced by me; Gani Odutokun produced B; Bruce Onobrakpeya produced C while Jimoh Akolo produced D...I then asked them how much they were willing to pay for each drawing.

It was interesting to note that while drawings B, C, and D attracted substantial amounts, nothing significant was offered for A. Yet, in reality, I created all the drawings. I asked the students what informed their decision to award such prices and they simply explained that the other artists were more established than I” …

[…]

He contended that the manner in which works are collected in Nigeria encourages artists to remain in a certain mould of creation which targets sales and that this also explains why some artists copy successful ones. “There is therefore, the tendency for artists who wish to sell works to ape those who successfully sell theirs. This perhaps accounts for why forgery is particularly rampant in Nigeria not only perpetrated by artists but by gallery owners,” he noted. 

Of course, a lot of this is true outside Nigeria as well. Nobody INVESTS – and increasingly it’s an investment like any other rather than a matter of taste – in the work of artists that do not have a reputation. After all, one of the attractions of INVESTING in art is that the prices of the great masters, i.e. those who are established and preferably dead (i.e. increasing demand cannot be met through the production of new works) will remain stable or indeed increase in the future. INVESTING in the work of an artist whose reputation still needs to be established, on the other hand, is risky. – None of this says anything about the quality of his or her work. Or at least that’s what I believe. But, then how do you define quality in art anyway? I’d argue it boils down to taste – and tastes are acquired and shaped by exposure and fashions.

I guess, what’s differs is that there are other sources of funding and publicity for artists and for exhibitions that allow artists to make a name for themselves in other parts of the world that may not be available to Nigerian artists – or indeed the vast majority of contemporary African artists. And, of course, Jacob Jari made that point as well when he argued that

… art patrons and foundations need to assist creative artists with new ideas which might not be, from the superficial point of view, commercially viable but which sharpen the artists’ desire for freedom of expression. This, he noted, would take Nigerian art forward instead of so called contemporary works appearing to have been done in the 50s, 60s and 70s by the masters.

By the way, it saddens me to read that his own students didn’t rate him as a great artists and that he has to see ‘his works sold for lesser prices compared with works by younger artists with less impressive CVs.’ He’s done such interesting stuff.

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