The preparations were manic – artists were begged, collectors were courted and buyers were also cajoled. I contacted some friends who are ardent collectors to send in some of their artworks. Initially they agreed but later on they reneged. They claimed that, ‘Those who know that I’m selling some of my artworks will think that I’ve fallen on hard times’. With some it was ‘come today, come tomorrow’. One’s patience was taxed. While one was rubbing the ego of some people, there were others who came to the gallery with their works begging that they be included in the lot. There was excitement all around. Everyone in the gallery was busy – all hands were on deck. Staff shuttled between Mydrim Gallery and Terra Kulture, the other body in this partnership. At Mydrim Gallery in South-west Ikoyi, it was frantic. From the Principal Curator and owner, Sinmidele Adesanya to the most junior worker (don’t know who), there was a burst of energy and a determination that ‘we just must nail it’.
The 2016 edition of the Lagos Art Auction (TKMG Auction House), jointly organised by Terra Kulture and Mydrim Gallery, was held on Friday, 29 April in Abuja Lounge at the Inter-Continental Hotel, Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island. I was bubbling with excitement since it was my first experience at an art auction. In the morning of that Friday, there was a rehearsal at the auction venue, Inter-Continental Hotel. The projector and the screen were tested. Lot titles were checked and absentee forms were run through again. Staff from Terra Kulture and Mydrim Gallery taking part in the auction were briefed again on their functions. That was when the first drama began. Some of the staff members just remembered that they didn’t have any decent black trousers to don that evening. It was the men who were guilty of this slip. The women came all prepared for the event. Might it have been a ruse to have a brand new pair of trousers? I didn’t voice out this suspicion to anyone. To Obalende they trooped to get themselves new pairs of black trousers.
Packed lunch came from the Terra Kitchen for everybody. I forgot to ask the driver if he preferred it to the ‘MamaPut’ he buys in Obalende. There were different types of fizzy drinks to accompany the packed lunch. After looking after the stomachs, people changed into the attires for the night. They were expected to be dressed in black. Those at the front desk wore t-shirts with the TKMG emblem inscribed in front and back over their black trousers. Tables on which catalogues and paddles were neatly arranged were laid out at the entrance to the Abuja Lounge. In the lobby of the third floor of the Inter-Continental Hotel, were some sculptures such as ‘Sisi Oge’ of Fidelis Odogwu and ‘Gentleman’ of Francis Uduh. Also gracing the walls were paintings such as Kolade Oshinowo’s ‘Discussion’ which was on the catalogue’s cover.
The Auctioneer per excellence, Yinka Akinkugbe, arrived almost an hour and a half before the event. He’d been doing the job since 2013. When the auction proper started, I could see why his services had been demanded over the years. Guests started arriving quite early. Some bought the catalogue and started leafing through. Works of artists like Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ablade Glover, Segun Adejumo, Kehinde Sanwo, Ajobiewe Samuel, Segun Aiyesan and numerous other artists fill up the catalogue. I love people-watching but nothing from the body language of those browsing through the catalogue pointed out who would be potential buyer. Prospective buyers picked up their paddles. We crossed fingers and hoped for the best. The audience was joined by some artists whose works were in the lot and others who came to have fun watching people bid. It was my first auction participation so I belonged to the latter.
Wine, Chapman, fizzy drinks and bite-size food was served at the cocktail that preceded the sale. Artists, collectors and art dealers mingled together. Small talks were made. There were back-slapping jokes. Some ‘long time no see’ were exchanged. Television crew asked questions from those they cherry picked. Journalists also spoke to artists and others. Just before 7.00pm guests were given five minutes to finish up their drinks and food and troop into the Abuja Lounge for the auction to commence. By the time I joined the already gathered crowd in the auction room, there was no empty chair. So I stood at the rear with my back to the wall. I wasn’t the only one. The auction started on a low beat. But it soon picked up. From where I was I could watch a certain artist whose two works in the lot didn’t sell. I felt bad. I looked at him, his face was blank.
And then we heard the sound of ‘sekeseke’ in the lobby announcing the arrival of an eminent person. Who could it be? There were movements in the auction room. Timi Austen-Peters entered to speak with his wife, Bolanle who got up and went out. Voices could also be heard. The ‘oriki’ of the eminent person was being recited. The doors opened and it was the Arole Oodua, the Ooni of Ife, His Royal Highness Oba Ogunwusi who entered with his Olori, Wuraola and the Oba’s retinue in tow. They were ushered into the front row by the Austen-Peters. About six men in the Oba’s retinue formed a ring around the Oba and his Olori when they wanted to sit down. That was the day I knew that we lesser mortals were not supposed to see the Oba either eat or about to sit down. Why, you ask. The Oba is ‘igbakeji Orisa’. He’s the Orisa’s deputy here on earth. Did I mention that some of us said ‘Kabiyesi’ as the Ooni entered? His ‘iwofa’ (servants) came to join us at the rear. They eventually went out of the room. Would that have been after they spiritually ‘psyched’ up all of us?
I can’t say if HRH bought any work but more than a third of the lot was sold. Bidders were very cautious. The economic downturn in the country was felt in that auction. The question on everyone’s lips is if the air-conditioning system in the Abuja Lounge that broke down an hour into the auction contributed to the economic malaise of the bidders? That notwithstanding the evening was a glorious one blessed with a royal touch.