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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Bargains galore at Visual Arts Council’s end of year exhibition

By Andrew Mulenga

Festive Expression, the on-going exhibition running at the Visual Council of Zambia’s Henry Tayali gallery in the Lusaka show grounds is an attractive display of paintings and a few wooden sculptures.

We are one, mixed media, (mixed media)
by Chris Simbule
It is not attractive in the sense that it has anything new or overly outstanding in terms of thematic subject matter or technique, and the artistic expressions on display too have nothing to do with Christmas or end of year festivities.

However, the main attraction to the exhibition should be without doubt the unexaggerated pricing on most of the works, including those by the likes of the much collected painter Poto Kabwe whose work also features in Oprah Winfrey’s private collection.

There is a fairly-sized painting by Kabwe, one of Zambia’s most important daily-life painters entitled Fetching Water going for as little as K950, 000, which is an absolute bargain and its value, is bound to increase at least fourfold in the next year. Fetching Water is a typical rural scene by Kabwe. Although its title is drawn from the four women on a footpath balancing water container on their heads, it also provides for a magnificent landscape with a blue sky, hills, yellowing grass suggesting the beginning of the dry season, a rock face and boulders.

Again while the prices are arbitrary the average range is between K200, 000 (two hundred thousand) and K1.5 million, these are definitely not your everyday exhibition prices, so this on-going show may just be labelled an end of year sale, which is not entirely a bad thing.

Footballer, (acrylic on canvas)
by Lombe Nsama, K2.8m
But, there are also exceedingly higher priced paintings hanging in the gallery such as Christopher Simbule’s We are One Family that has a price tag of K7million. The painting depicts a sports bar scene with pub patrons enjoying a game of pool. A very entertaining painting indeed that will hang well in any restaurant, lounge bar or night club. But its price tag is bound to scare off any potential buyer if compared to other works in the gallery even though it was one of most skilfully painted pictures and quite possibly the author’s favourite.

But this seemingly conflicting and unregulated pricing, arouses the question on what really determines the cost of a work of art and brings to mind the thoughts of American art historian and novelist Noah Charney. Charney, expressing his thoughts through the fictional character Genevieve Delacloche, an expert on paintings by Russian painter Kasimir Malevich in the 2008 crime thriller The Art Thief.

“A four-year-old girl could sneeze on a piece of paper, and if someone loved it, and was willing to pay one hundred thousand pounds for it, then its value is one hundred thousand pounds, full stop… The selling price has nothing to do with the work of art being good or not,” writes Charney who is also founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) an international non-profit think tank and consultancy group on art crime prevention and art protection.

“It has to do with what people are willing to pay for it at any given time… There is no such thing as ‘real worth.’ It does not exist. Value is some number miraculously pulled out of the stratosphere. A combination of rarity, execution, perceived rarity and execution, number of buyers interested and their spending money…”

Fetching Water, (oil on canvas)
by Poto Kabwe, K950,000
Nevertheless, Zambia’s art pricing and sales methods may not apply to the global standards of Christies or Sotheby’s auctioning systems or indeed the international gallery practices, but even so, Charney’s reflections on art pricing does give us food for thought in drawing parallels against our own, local setup.

Carving Paddles, (oil on canvas),
by Alexander Chongo, K900,000
Still, most of the prices in the Festive Expression exhibition are ideal for the season of giving. In case you intend to purchase a Christmas or end of year gift for a friend or loved one who appreciates art, it is a ‘must visit’. Works such as Oliver Sakanyi’s enormous portrait of a woman entitled A Young Lady is a run for money at K1.3million, as much as the painting does not say much, it can cover an entire wall in the average front office space of any business house giving it an artistic ambience. And for the corporate houses and individuals who have been congratulating our beloved Chipolopolo skipper Christopher Katongo for being voted the BBC 2012 Africa Footballer of the year Award, there is an abstract painting entitled The Footballer, by Lombe Nsama who won a Ngoma Award last Wednesday. Why not get the skipper this painting for only K2.8million, he can put it in his home and it will last longer than any billboard or advertisement, if they need the usual publicity, they can ride on the press and hand it over to him at a ceremony or briefing. Alternatively, the painting would also sit ideally in the foyer of Football House; surely FAZ has a coin or two to spare on beautifying their premises.

Certainly, the prices may not seem that affordable to the average Zambian particularly with the recent talk about escalating Millie meal prices, but getting a bargain on works by skilled and well accomplished Zambian artists such as Smart Banda, Mwamba Mulangala, Mulenga Chafilwa David Chibwe Raphael Chilufya and others does not usually come ones way.

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