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The Nigerian investment banker, Hakeem Adedeji, is deeply embedded in the country’s visual art ecosystem. On a recent afternoon in his office in Southwest Ikoyi, on the edge of the Lagos Lagoon, the photographer, art collector and sometime “art residency sponsor”, fielded a range of questions on the financial value of contemporary art, from BookArtville publisher Toyin Akinosho and special correspondent Foluso Ogunsan. Excerpts from the conversation..

BookArtville-Jess Castellote asked me to help him with his annual Art market Report for this year. The Nigerian Market on the surface doesn’t particularly look well developed and it’s important that such a report has to include an explanation of how the market works beside the figures and charts and their analysis. I start from the premise that the Auctions are quite important and ArtX, the ambitious, new fair is….

Hakeem- I don’t think ArtX and the other auctions contribute more than 10% of the entire volume of art works that are being sold in this country.

BookArtville- What you’re saying is ‘I value they might be significant, but in terms of volume they don’t do much…’

Kavita has played the biggest role in this arts space. People like me are thankful to people like Kavita because a lot of our eccentricities, I mean art used to and is still an eccentricity for me

Hakeem- Toyin, probably this year I think I’ve bought over 200 drawings. They’re from young artists so it’s not as if I’m putting out much there. I’ve bought about 200 drawings from young and old artists alike. It’s a trade between me and them. The point is who’s recording that?  It’s not you, Jess or Kavita. Do you know how many people will go to (the neorealist painter, Biodun) Olaku and queue on the line and collect their own work after a while? Nobody’s recording that. How many works were sold at the last ArtX auction? I don’t know if they sold half of what they put out.

With the architect Kojo Konu at a Charity Concert

BookArtville –Does that have anything to do with the economy as it were…?

Hakeem- On average the Arthouse Contemporary puts out about 100-110 works out and they do it twice a year. In my view, Art professionals-galleries, are not putting enough money in the pockets of the Artists to win their loyalty. The way the art system works in other markets is that a gallery will take you on and meet most of your needs. Some art practitioners will give you enough money to live on for the next five years if they haven’t received anything from you. They’ll do that because you’re giving them exclusivity. You’ll sign contracts that you won’t sell that work to anyone else except the gallery which has invested in you. If an artist routinely sells at 1Million per piece in a gallery, yet the gallerist doesn’t think he should give that artist ₦10-₦20Million ahead and take exclusive rights to the 10-20 pictures he’s going to produce in the next two years, why shouldn’t the artist sell to someone else who is bringing ₦850,000?. He might even get ₦1.1Million from such a buyer. Like everyone else, the artist is paying school fees of kids abroad and he is a thorough professional who should be able to afford those fees, but his dealer is not investing in him. So why should he keep the work for the dealer?.

BookArtville- You don’t think that a few galleries are beginning to do that?

Hakeem- I work closely with artists. 99% of the work that I buy that I are through personal arrangements. I’m a friend to the artists because I go directly. I probably know as many artists on a one-to-one basis as the best galleries out there. The point is that people are not putting in investment. They should. Rather what happens is that the artists complain that galleries take their works, first all they disrespect them, second they don’t pay them on time. There are very few art professionals who actually give the artist the deserved respect in Nigeria.

If I give ₦20million or ₦50million to an artist and that artist were to mess up with my contract, I’ll make sure I bankrupt that artist, he’ll never be able to sell because I’ll use the full force of the law.

BookArtville- You travel extensively on the West Coast and you’ve documented photographs, you’ve done Dak’art. Inspite of the weakness you find in the Nigerian market, what is your take on the art market in these neighbouring countries?

Hakeem-  I’ve been doing the West African Market since 1996. What I learnt is this, there are artists, there’s a lot of art, a large part of the art scene is influenced by the colonial art and unlike Nigeria, there’s a lot of what people call contemporary art that is abstract. Here we have more of realism. A lot of abstraction is going on there.

BookArtville– You think they’re influenced by the Colonial Structure?

Hakeem- I think that in Senegal, they’re influenced especially by the French. But while there are artists and there can never be as many artists as there would be in Nigeria because of the sheer size of our population, I don’t know that the local collectorship is as big as Nigeria. So you hear about a few names in Ghana, Ghanaians collecting works. My experience is that a lot of the art in West Africa outside of Nigeria is collected by expatriates. They don’t have the base that we have.

BookArtville– The Middle-class bulge?

Hakeem- Not just the middle-class, If you talk middle-class in terms of resources, I was collecting art before I could afford really afford it. When I started buying the Duke Asideres and the Ben Osaghaes, I’d take the works on credit and pay them in piecemeal from my meagre salaries. So when you talk about middle-class by the money in my pocket, then No! There are quite a few people who do that today and I say if you want to collect art, don’t be intimidated, some of these artists actually want to develop friendships over a long period.

They want to develop a collectorship, who knows they may be able to accept a portion now and a bit later. So even if you can’t afford it, look at it. My thesis is that a lot of these collectors come from abroad, a lot of them sell abroad. I have a friend who sometime ago shipped a sculpture from Ghana. The Togolese and Beninois usually go to France or Belgium. The collectorship is not as strong as here. I also have a thesis that a lot of those people who are buying from abroad who in most cases are not the business expatriate (meaning coming to invest in  businesses or working for Transnational Corporations), a lot of them are actually people who are Aid Specialists. 1,000 dollars to them is nothing compared with an average Nigerian collector. An average five-ten years out of school professional artist as a Ghanaian is asking for $5000-$10,000 for an art work, but his Nigerian peer may not be able to get that much because the average Nigerian collector may not be able to pay that much.

I had a discussion with Kavita (Chellarams, the owner of Arthouse Contemporary, the country’s leading auction house) a while back, the Nigerian art is still considered relatively cheap compared to other African Art. Which is why I continue to buy Nigerian Art because one day when you have dealers who are investing in the artists and forcing the artists to have exclusivity, the supply source will dry up for people like me and prices will rise.

BookArtville– When the proper dealership takes off?

Hakeem- Exactly! You asked me to look at it from a business angle. So whereas a lot of people of my age or profession are buying houses, I’m buying artwork. If I collect four works from Duke (Asidere) or same from Ben (Osaghae) R.I.P,  that for me might just be a piece of land. The collectorship I think is more solid here and as the economy grows and more people get into art, the prices will rise. I don’t know that the prices in those other countries will not be at par with Nigeria at some point. The other point is this, if you throw a stone on the street or market in Ghana, maybe for every 10 metres you’ll hit an artist. In Nigeria it is a metre. Because of our sheer population, there are just so many artists and talents in this country that I believe sometimes it acts as a suppressant on the prices that they can get. So when you want to buy an old piece an Enwonwu, A Grillo, you probably have about 10-15 of them. In Ghana, how many do you have? In Olaku’s age, you have how many of them?

I continue to buy Nigerian Art because one day when you have dealers who are investing in the artists and forcing the artists to have exclusivity, the supply source will dry up for people like me and prices will rise.

Because of the keen competition the average Nigerian artist has to differentiate himself quite significantly. Mind you, an Olaku is able to command the type of prices he commands only because he does not produce many. Control of supply is key not just before you get known, but when you get known, in order to maintain your price. You’re spoiling your market when you produce so prolifically.. So it’s not just whether you produce prolifically or whether you sell prolifically if there’s anything like that. So a lot of people would rather hold their stuff back even if they’re very prolific or should hold their stuff back in order to maintain a good price because if a collector comes to you and he says give me for a million or half-million, if somebody else comes tomorrow, it shouldn’t go lower. The only way you can sustainably do that is to not sell to everybody that comes by.

BookArtville– You earlier talked about the unwillingness of professional art dealers to invest in artists. Is it not the commercial size of those organisations that determine how much money they can dispense with, ? How much is really in the hands of these people to really splurge…. there are not that many Kavitas in this world who’ve got pedigree in terms of family, being an Aswani  or married to a Chellarams  and this is a small economy at the end of the day.

Hakeem- From a banker’s perspective, first all I think it’s about vision, it about what you really see which is vision. Hear this, I’ve spoken to the biggest art practitioners, I was saying to one of them, one month I got about 4 works from a big artist. The next month I got another 4 works from a big artist, by the way I hadn’t finished paying, at that time. I usually have about three months. So the person echoed, “why won’t these artists just let us sell for them?”. So I said to the person, “when last did you give an artist ₦20Million? He couldn’t say much. He said well the artist will only go and be selling to other people. I said if I give ₦20Million or ₦50Million to an artist and that artist were to mess up with my contract, I’ll make sure I bankrupt that artist, he’ll never be able to sell because I’ll use the full force of the law. It’s no longer about the art, it’s about integrity because if I’m willing to put my money down and you’re willing to break the trust because of a crumb, then there’s a problem. But guess what how many times have you seen Nigerian art been talked about 10 years ago as it was in recent years? It’s all about Nigerian art in the international market.

BookArtville– You mean we’re now known?

Hakeem-We’re now known!  Believe me if you have the right business savvy you can go to somebody. There are art investors out there, let’s set up a 1 Million dollar fund and let’s lock up these five guys. A Million dollars is Three hundred and fifty-seven Million naira, around a third of a Billion. Give each artist fifty Million Naira each, you still have change, lock their production up for the next five years but give them the comfort of producing for you and be knocking off whatever you sell off the deposit that you’ve given them. It doesn’t take much to raise a Million dollars if you have a good story to tell. First of all we don’t have a good story to tell or rather we can’t tell our story because we don’t see beyond our noses, secondly I think we don’t have the vision, to be honest with you. Everything is short-term. I’m sure you and I have been talking about when we will leave both our employments for the long-term. I didn’t just arrive here, I planned it. That’s my way out.

From the BQ in 2005 I ejected my cook and turned the space into an home-office. A lot of people just run into it because there aren’t many people into it. I think Kavita has done a lot, SMO is doing a lot by bringing out new art that people are not touching and I just hope that the economics for the artist are as good as she’s selling and I hope it’s not just about selling. It has to be beyond than that. Kavita has played the biggest role in this arts space. People like me are thankful to people like Kavita because a lot of our eccentricities, I mean art used to and is still an eccentricity for me which I never could see a value for and I just kept buying. A lot of it has market value now. They’ve done a lot, maybe they need to do a lot more, and maybe other people need to come in to take it further.


BookArtville– Let’s talk about Wealth Management in the context of the art market. The New Yorker wrote about Damien Hirst, he did something at the Venice Biennale that is not supposed to happen- He sold his art. He made over 300 Million dollars. Now that kind of guy, as far as the bank is concerned, is someone to have a private wealth management relationship with. How much of that is happening in Nigeria? When they say First Arts, are they looking at CSR or are they looking at something they can make money out of? When they say Access Bank has an Enwonwu collection, is it something they’re just funding or is it a money earning vehicle? When GTB says that it is investing in the TATE Gallery, is that it wants to ……

Hakeem- I know, you’re asking me if what the banks are doing is CSR. As a banker, with investment banking outfit, are they developing products for that market, is that what you asked?

BookArtville– Yes that is it.

Hakeem- I would say No, I don’t think so and I don’t think the capacity exists. Put it this way, how many Nigerian banks today are developing the plain vanilla wealth banking products? Even when they’re doing your wealth management, they’re just collecting your deposits, giving you 5%, 10%, 20%. So you come to their office to withdraw and they give you tea. Go and see what those bankers who come from Barclays, who come from the Swiss banks on a weekly basis, go and see what they’re doing with the wealth of Nigerians in their own countries. What I’m saying is we don’t have the product not to talk of……

BookArtville– And we don’t have people who are championing those possibilities?

Hakeem- I don’t know! So GT, Access, they have collections, but is it the MD that will now…. I actually don’t know that they’re interested. So a GTB that is after more deposits, why would it sponsor an art event in Nigeria when it’s only elitists that would come? Whereas when you say you want to sponsor a food show, you can hopefully sign on a thousand new clients. I don’t know that there are products being developed. I don’t know that you can actually borrow in a process driven way. A process is about having a manual that refines. So I don’t know that they are saying, Okay Mr Adedeji, for these your Olakus, we’ll give you 25% or 60% of the average prices that an Olaku has fetched in the last five years.

So how much did it fetch from 2011 till 2017. All of those prices divided by half is the average price of an Olaku. In that case we’ll then give you 60% of it as a loan. That’s a product. That’s what the Europeans do. They’ll then take those monies, knowing fully well that by the time you say prices of an Olaku from 2012 to 2017, most of his ₦2-₦3Million works may have come in the last two years which means that you tend to have a much lower average number than ₦2-₦3Million. If they give you 60% of that, they’re really taking that much of a risk because they’ll probably rate it at about ₦1Million-₦1.5Millon, 60% of that gets you around ₦900,000. If you default there’ll still be value in it. That’s what you call product. Or maybe we’ll tie an insurance policy to it.

BookArtville– Women have become the gatekeepers of the art exhibition scene; the people who determine the visual arts calendar in the year, ensure that a Nigerian artist is on view in a London or Cape Town Fair. It is women who are determining our participation at Venice Biennale. Do you think that the male has lost the narrative, or whether there’s just some increasing diversity. Or is this just a fad, such that, in the entire historical process we’ll come and look at it and say well some women showed up at some point in the evolution of Nigerian art market, and did their bit…

Hakeem- I think that process is unstoppable. I think you’ll find less and less men in that gatekeeper community. You’ll still find a lot of men in art creation, but I think a lot more women have shown interest in managing art, being gatekeepers than men.

BookArtville- Is there a special skill for that?

Hakeem- I think women can be more trusted. I really don’t know why. I don’t want to give a sexist reason. I think women tend to take a lot more interest. One programme which I’m actually sponsoring and I’m putting down a sizeable amount of money on in 2018 is this, one with an arts space which I’m sure you know. It’s actually promoting female artists. Young female artists. There’s a programme which I’m sponsoring and it’s a programme about taking young women to see established female artists. The first one we want to do is (with) Ndidi Dike.

BookArtville– But that’s at the level of the creator, not the arts manager

Hakeem- To be honest with you, I really don’t think it matters whether it’s a woman that’s the gatekeeper or not. But one thing that I see that is missing is the female artists. I mentor about three or four young ladies in their twenties. There are quite a number of them, but you need to tease them out of their shell. The first thing that happens is that unless they’re really determined, nobody will take them serious and people won’t take them serious for sexist reasons.

BookArtville– So even the managers-exhibition managers, gallerists, who are women, don’t go looking for women?

Hakeem- I don’t know. A manager is concerned about bottom-line, unless you’ve got sponsorship. A lot of the artists whose work attract good prices in the market are established males. Whether you’re a male or female gatekeeper, you can take a risk. A few are actually taking risks, one of whom is the Princess you mentioned whom I admire a lot. She’s cutthroat! Rele is something else so I have a lot of respect for her. The female artists where the development needs to happen is actually getting those artists to go beyond their wedding day because a lot of them get conscripted into motherhood. We’re still a very chauvinistic society, not many men would like their wives to be artists. That’s something I am working on.

BookArtville– What’s your take on the growing popularity of the word “curator”. I used to think that the word “curate” was a very intellectually charged word. Somebody might be able to see a good work and pick it up and sell, as Folabi Kofo -Abayomi would say, ‘art is in the eye of the beholder’ and if you have that good eye, you might be able to put some artists together. But whether we can call you a curator which a lot of people are calling themselves….

Hakeem_ If I told you I was a curator, what would you say?

BookArtville-You’ve been around for a while, but…

Hakeem- Since 1995, I’ve curated about Four shows and the primary concerns of each was not to sell, but to tell a story. I was able to pick the collections that told the story about something. Guess what, I didn’t even know it was called Curating!

BookArtville-So , sometimes people do these things and they don’t know..

Hakeem- Sometime in 2001, I gave Ben Osaghae my house in Ibadan to stay in. He stayed there for more than three months. I didn’t know that’s what they call “Residency”! There have been many curators before even the word curator was coined. And just so you know, part of what I intend to do is take that same house Ben stayed in from my brothers and develop it into a proper residency. So what I’m trying to say is that going back to those banks, I think that’s what they should be sponsoring, not just the ones that their names will appear. That’s my own puritanical view.

Why would GTB sponsor art in Nigeria when it can sign on a thousand new customers at a food show

BookArtville- A Russian billionaire named Rybolovev sold the Salvator Mundi (A da Vinci painting) to some Arab collector has an issue right now that involves Sotheby’s auction house along with some other people. His grouse is that the art work he sold for $450Million which cost him $127Million in 2012 had a mark-up of about $57Million. The original cost was $80Million. As a private collector, you basically deal with artists, how do you deal with mark-ups?

Hakeem- Though I have a large collection. I’ve only sold about two works in my 32 years of collecting art. I have no qualms about selling an Ebenezer or a Duke at a much higher price than the figure I bought it for. Is that what you’re asking about my views about mark-ups.

BookArtville- Yes, however there’s an in-between person who negotiates the deal.

Art professionals-galleries, are not putting enough money in the pockets of the Artists to win their loyalty. The way the art system works in other markets is that a gallery will take you on and meet most of your needs. Some art practitioners will give you enough money to live on for the next five years if they haven’t received anything from you. They’ll do that because you’re giving them exclusivity.

Hakeem- You see if we now start moralising over in-between people and mark-ups, we’ll never have a free market. That’s my view, the market is where it is. Don’t forget that nobody sees the market when that $450Million drops back to $80Million, nobody pities the buyer. In any case, it’s a free market, let’s talk about oil, that our market called oil is a very free market where if people don’t buy, it doesn’t matter, if people buy it goes up. All it takes is for one person to make a statement and the market reacts. That’s efficient market. We start distorting that efficient market hypothesis the moment you start moralising that this person has made too much of a gain and the artist hasn’t made anything. Don’t forget that French in their communist ways says that 6% of any future sales must come to the artist.

BookArtville- That law was just two years ago?

Hakeem- I thought it’s being around for a long time..

BookArtville- So, in conclusion, the Nigerian art scene is ripe for Venture Capitalism?

Hakeem- I think Nigeria is ripe and the investor thing I said is Venture capitalism. Go get a Million dollars lock up some artists and lay claim to their works for the next few years. Some of us do it. I do it in a way. If an artist comes and says he needs a bit of cash, if and when you have something, give me a choice of picking one. The chances are he’s not going to charge me what he charges in a sale. Even if he charges me what he charges in a sale, that price is going to be 30%-40% cheaper than what he’ll charge in a gallery because he’s not paying commission to anybody.

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