Hammer time: Wura-Natasha Ogunji troubles the art auction

Hammer time: Wura-Natasha Ogunji troubles the art auction

The following was written as part of a writer-in-residency for the Fusebox performance festival.

 

Hammer time: Wura-Natasha Ogunji troubles the art auction

By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Fusebox writer-in-residence

At an elegant museum fête a few years ago, I was seated next to an art auctioneer, a gentleman from a New York auction house. He pecked at his dinner, sipped his wine judiciously and proved a deft conversationalist. He was there, after all, not so much to dine but to auction off a dozen or so donated art works. Only after some diplomatic conversational probing on my part— rephrasing my query, circling back to the topic — did he grant that perhaps, beyond his deep art history education, his theatrical deftness at the podium had some connection to his forays at open-mike comedy nights in college.

A recent report assessed the 2016 global art sales at $45 billion. That figure is mostly calculated from auctions at which art is exchanged between collectors. When the hammer drops, the artist or his/her heirs are often long absent from the profit-making.

And further, given that the art market is among the most unregulated of businesses in the world, any tally of the obscene amount of money exchanged when art is bought and sold is approximate. At best.

With her performance “House of Wahala,” Wura-Natasha Ogunji plans to poke at the art world’s conspicuous consumerism.

For an evening, Ogunji will act as an auctioneer of her own invention, cajoling conversations with the audience about art and art-making and yes, pitching the sale of art. Sound artist Emeka Ogboh provides the aural environment.

 

Rahima Gambo, "Rukkaya and friends," from the series "Education is Forbidden," 2016. Digital print. Auction estimate $500-$800.

Rahima Gambo, "Rukkaya and friends," from the series "Education is Forbidden," 2016. Digital print. Auction estimate $500-$800.

“Traditional auctions are about selling,” Ogunji wrote to me from Lagos, Nigeria where she is based. “They're not necessarily about a more full exchange; they're not concerned with bringing the spirit of art-making into the room.”

“I want to use the format of the auction to ask and answer questions about art and life, to infuse the room with the excitement and challenge that being an artist in the world brings with it."

"House of Wahala" is a disruption of an art world establishment.

“The title ‘House of Wahala' literally’ translates from the Nigerian pidgin as 'House of Trouble,'" Ogunji explains. "It's about troubling the waters, going against the grain, bringing back creative integrity and honoring both artists and audiences in that process, talking about art in a way that preserves its integrity and energy.” ”

On the “House of Warhala” Tumblr page, Ogjuni, who divides her own art-making practice between visual art and performance, inserts a few aphorisms.

“Because art comes from artists,” one reads. “Consider collective ownership: Bid with your friends and rotate your new art every few months,” suggests another.

 

Kadara Enyeasi, " Emmanuel IV," 2016. Digital print from Polaroid negative. 14 x 10 inches. Auction estimate $400-$700.

Kadara Enyeasi, " Emmanuel IV," 2016. Digital print from Polaroid negative. 14 x 10 inches. Auction estimate $400-$700.

Ogunji’s is a friendly inclination to trouble. What she seeks is an equitable exchange between artist and audience. Respect and consideration for the public is paramount.

“I'm not just selling art,” she states. “(This performance) is an exchange that allows me to talk about the work that I like, the work that I think is exciting and important in the world today.”

Nevertheless “House of Wahala” artists will receive 90% of the hammer price. “As artists we give something important to people and I believe we should receive the monetary benefits of what we contribute,“

Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze. "somewhere," 2017. Photo transfer, ink, graphite. 14 x 17 inches. Auction estimate $1,800-$2,200.

Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze. "somewhere," 2017. Photo transfer, ink, graphite. 14 x 17 inches. Auction estimate $1,800-$2,200.

“one hundred black women, one hundred actions” was Ogunji’s performance for the 2010 Fusebox Festival with participants asked to perform a gesture of power or a critical action.

Ogunji spent 8 years in Austin, interrupted in 2011 when thanks to a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, she journeyed to Nigeria, her first chance to connect with her father’s family and with a country she had never known.

Before she left Austin, her 2011 solo exhibit at Women & Their Work — "The Epic Crossings of an Ife Head" brilliantly imagined a tale of a Nigerian sculptural artifact trying to reconnect with ancestors who had left Africa.

Back in Austin for a time in 2014, Ogunji staged a breathtaking solo exhibit at Mass Gallery. Her massive mural-size drawing were beguiling combinations of ink and hand stitching on featherweight, crinkled drafting paper with jittery, spectral cell phone video of Lagos street scenes projected on them.

Smaller embroidered drawings merged the faces of Ogunji and her parents, the visages then emerging refocused again.

Ogunji and I met for a walk-through of her exhibit when she was here in 2104. She told me, “Our futures aren’t necessarily predetermined by our pasts.”

Wura-Natasha Ogunji. "Even the dj must die. [I thought he was just flying backwards.]" 2015. Thread, ink, graphite on paper. 4 panels (60 x 24 inches each)

Wura-Natasha Ogunji. "Even the dj must die. [I thought he was just flying backwards.]" 2015. Thread, ink, graphite on paper. 4 panels (60 x 24 inches each)

 

 

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