From the Editor
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From the Editor Chika Okeke-­ Agulu T he field of contemporary African art is so active that one can only be thrilled, especially given where it was only sixteen years ago, when this journal began. In the past ten years several not-­ for-­ profit art centers and collectives have emerged in Africa, providing the infrastructure for showcasing important works of the moment and a platform for a much-­ needed conversation, from Africans within and outside the continent, about issues that affect local and international art. The upswing in the prices of works by African artists is a clear reminder that we are now in uncharted territory , which means that we must reassess the state of the continent’s secondary art industry, without which the gains made so far on the international scene will remain fragile. I worry about the effect of the rising monetary value of works by modern and contemporary African artists on artistic production and exchange, in the absence of established and credible systems of art appraisal, art insurance, freight services, and restoration laboratories. For example, while borrowing works for the exhibition The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, which Okwui Enwezor and I organized in 2001, we ran into a difficult problem with some Nigerian works. The owner had quoted incredibly high insurance values for prospective loans, yet it was impossible to dispute the figures, since there were no art appraisers in Lagos or anywhere else in Nigeria. The host museum ended up paying an exorbitant premium, and then, when the works arrived, some were in a state of such deterioration that they could not be exhibited. Perhaps the museum would have made a different decision about the loans if certified appraisal and condition reports had been available. Several years later, in 2006, I visited the influential Lagos painter Kolade Oshinowo. From a corner of his studio he pulled out what seemed to be a very familiar painting: Ben Enwonwu’s Negritude (1973), part of the collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). Apparently, a local collector had brought the painting—­ recently offered to him for sale, as Enwonwu’s masterpiece—­ to Oshinowo to confirm its authenticity! Although this particular situation was laughable, given that the original Enwonwu was still hanging in the NGMA, the fact is that the collector had no choice but to ask an artist , rather than a certified art appraiser, to authenticate what was supposed to be an important work of art. Add to these episodes the decision in early 2009 by the management of the National Theatre—­ the home of the NGMA—­ to commission a team of artists to “face-­ lift” the architectural friezes by the modernist sculptor Erhabor Emokpae (1934–84) by painting them black with gold highlights, without ever involving professional conservators and appraisers. These three scenarios indicate the challenges faced by Lagos and the Nigerian art industry in the absence of locally based art appraisers and restoration laboratories. The implications for the scholarship and international contemporary African art market, dominated more or less by Nigeria (and South Africa), are substantial. This is no more evident than in the new auction markets in and outside Africa. The establishment of Nigeria’s first auction house in Lagos in 2008, followed by Cape Town’s Strauss and Company (which held its first contemporary art auction in the spring of 2009), as well as the increasing popularity of contemporary African art in the international market—­ witness, for instance, the successful first U.K. auction, held by Bonhams, in November 2009 and then the Phillips de Pury auction in New York in May 2010, where artists such as Yinka Shonibare and Cheri Samba set new personal auction records—­ are important indicators of sure and steady progress. But the question is how the manifestly unstructured, unprofessionalized secondary art market will affect the integrity of the emergent international market and the corresponding scholarship . The signs are less than reassuring, as works of dubious provenance that had circulated in local private collections and auctions have now appeared in overseas auctions. The problem, of course, is that established auction houses unfamiliar with contemporary African art must rely on unverifiable provDOI 10.1215...