April 11, 2020

‘The Lockdown Allows Me to Complete a new Book’-Jess Castellote

By Toyin Akinosho


Jess Castellote is taking advantage of the lockdown in Lagos to complete a book on Fine Art.

He is doing a follow up book to Collecting Art, which he wrote in collaboration with Fabian Ajogwu, the professor of Corporate Governance at the Lagos Business School.

The collaborators…a new book comes in October

The ongoing assignment is also a collaboration with the same partner.

“I am currently writing the chapter on authenticity, originality, fair use of images”, he says over the phone. “At this rate we may be able to complete the book in time for possible release in October”.

The critic says he is discovering new things as he writes. ”The absence of time restriction is allowing my mind to wander and explore”.

Castellote, who started out as an architect, and is now one of the most referenced art critics working in the country, says he spends entire mornings thinking, checking, dissecting and discovering new ways of seeing the same issue.

“I have, for instance been recently thinking a whole lot about appropriation”.

Ajogwu and Castellote started the current project with a “narrow working theme”, about Rights and Duties of Artists, but they have since expanded the parameters of inquiry. “It could be Cultural Authenticity..or something in that area. For instance: what would be an authentic Spanish Art. What could be an authentic Yoruba art?” Castellote queries.

While Castellote broaches the main subjects, Ajogwu tackles the legal issues around them. “Fabian’s focus in the book is on contractual aspects, rights and obligations with gallerists, auction houses and so on. He gets as detailed as he can on the legal blind spots”.

The global pandemic, which has forced the Nigerian authorities to decree a lockdown in Lagos for 14 days in the first instance, has encouraged the exploration of the digital space.

Castellote has access to “all types of books and journals online, from the library of the University in Madrid, Spain”, where he received a doctorate degree in Art History last October. “Fortunately, they have not locked me out of the system”. His thesis was The Nigerian art system. Structure and agency in an emerging art world.

Castellote, far right, shows guests round the Yemisi Shyllon Museum

“I hope our work on this can be of great use to people”, he explains. “It’s not a scholarly work, just a contribution to how people can understand issues around the visual arts ecosystem”.

Jess Castellote maintains A View from My Corner, a widely consulted blog on contemporary art in Nigeria and compiles the Nigerian Art Market Report annually. He authored, with the late collector Sam Olagbaju, Contemporary Nigerian Art in Lagos Private Collection: New Trees in an Old Forest, produced, with Akinyemi Adetunji, a monograph Osaghae: Visual Chronicles of a Society in Flux and solely authored a coffee table book Oshinowo, on the painter Kolade Oshinowo.

Of his taking advantage of the period of containment, Castellote says he is “a little bit ashamed” that he has found this period of global uncertainty and anguish to be productive for him personally.

Then he answers the question for which I called him in the first place.

“Luckily nobody from my immediate and extended family in Spain has been affected by the virus”.


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