Exhibition curating has become part of most art shows in Nigeria. The curator who sees that an exhibition goes successfully often times benefits more from the show than the artist who spent endless time to create the works.
It was gathered recently that some of the curators charge artists up to 2 million Naira to curate a show for them, which does not include the money for the exhibition space. This has given rise to so many group exhibitions as the artists see this as a way to reduce their burden since the curator and the gallery owner must be paid even if the artist doesn't sell his works.
In some cases when the artist wishes to curate the show himself, the curator caucuses go as far as urging gallery owners not to offer the artist their space unless the artist comes through them. They also encourage art collectors not to patronize the artist. This was the case of renowned artist, Emma Mbanefo, when he had his solo art exhibition last year, entitled WoodHood. Mbanefo who ended up using the National Museum in Lagos for his show said that he paid 250,000 Naira per week with no curator to shave his hair with price.
This finding sounded strange to Patty Mastrogiannis who had curated over 20 exhibitions within four years. She is of the view that stabilizing the price charged by gallery owners and curators would go a long way in helping the artists. But unfortunately, the visual art sector has no governing body like other professions in Nigeria.
Enquiring from her why gallery owners bill artists with neck-breaking price for a show, Mastrogiannis said: “I cannot comment on this because it’s sensitive. Each gallery has its strategy and their way of dealings. I don’t know what other galleries are charging, but some take cash and some take commission. In my gallery we are using a different approach to exhibitions. If an artist thinks the gallery is over charging, he should change gallery.”
What galleries should do for artists
For Mastrogiannis, owning a gallery goes beyond displaying artworks. Her goal aside making profit is to help the young talented ones become established artists. “It is a very big competition in the art market, and some people are so good and they don’t have anyone to expose them. Those are the people I take on. I am not saying I will not like to take any of the giants, of course I need them for balance, but the younger ones are the ones I want to reach out for because they are the ones that need me. Art is a leading thing in Nigeria and Nigerian artists have been booming for a while, and keeping them there is what people like me are trying to do,” she revealed.
Artists such as Stanley Dudu, Afeez Adetunji, Darlington A. Chukwumezie, Ike Gerald Chemezie, Raji Mohammed, Seye Morakinyo, Yemi Uthman, etc are currently signed under her gallery (Alexis Gallery). “These artists need help, even some of the established ones need help but they don’t know how to go about it.
If this industry were dealt with professionally to start with by the dealers, the artists won’t produce and still look for buyers . It is the responsibility of art dealers to carry the burden of marketing and selling of the works of an artist, not the artist. Their (artists) duty is to create the works and the dealers promote and sell the works for them.
“I don’t make profit in my shows; the works are a lot cheaper than when I am not having them for a show because I want to sell out for the artist, I want the collector to know he is going to make a profit from the show.”
She advised that artists should stabilize their price. “Some artists overrate their works, they should stabilize their prices and slowly build up the price. You cannot sell your work expensive overnight; it doesn’t happen in a day.
How she went into the art business
Before Mastrogiannis opened Alexis’ Gallery, which is located in Victoria Island, she had a store called the Home Stores. “The gallery was not meant to be, I never counted opening a gallery, it wasn’t planed, and it was a coincident. I’m an art lover, an art collector. The gallery used to be my warehouse before it was turned into a gallery. I had some artists as my friends and I buy their works to decorate my house and one thing led to another and I started collecting their paintings. Then someone said, ‘let’s empty this place and make it a gallery.’ We emptied the warehouse, painted it white and hung a few paintings on the wall; that was how Alexis’ Gallery came into existence in 2011.
“People laughed at me when I opened the gallery,” she said, “the artists laughed at me, they pointed their mouths at me and said, oyinbo, wetin she know, she wan do art business, but today I am laughing back,” said Mastrogiannis whose gallery is among the top galleries in Lagos.
Art business, according to her, is booming and very lucrative in Nigeria. In her words: “Art is profitable on a large turnover. But art business is extremely challenging because artists are not very easy to deal with. And keeping them is another challenge I face. I’m in very good terms with the artists; we have a very good rapport and this is really helping the business.”
Why it takes months for some artists to sell their works
“Some artists sell in specific galleries while some galleries don’t sell some artists because of the different client database, some clients want realism, some abstract, which is affecting some artists in terms of selling their works. The only way I think to backup an artist is to sell his works, promote him, sign him on, and show his works. Expose him locally and internationally…though overseas is a bit difficult, but charity begins at home. You start from helping them here (at home), then abroad,” she explained.
Government, she said can help the art dealers in helping the artists. “There are so many art dealers who are doing the promoting; the government can do more for art because this is a big industry. A lot of artists go abroad and I beg them not to, their heritage is here, and this is home. You are a king in your home; you are not a king abroad.
“I visited the National Museum in Lagos recently, no generator, and the place is anyhow; this is wrong. The museum is the image of Nigeria. If Nigeria wants to lift her image, they have to start doing little things such as rebuilding the National Museum to a world standard museum,” she urged the government.
Living in Nigeria
Mastrogiannis who speaks Hausa language fluently had lived in Nigeria for 40 years. “I don’t live in Nigeria. Nigeria is my home. It is my native home. My parents have been here for four generations. I’m a Lebanese by heritage but I am an African, a true African. Just people make mistake by my skin colour.
“I see so much beauty in this country which a lot of people fail to look at; everybody faces on the negative, but there is still something so much positive. Ppeople tell me oyinbo, go back to your country. What am I still doing here if this wasn’t my country, what will I be doing here if this country was so bad. I can live anywhere of my choice in the world with my skin colour, but why did I decide to live here, because Nigeria is more beautiful than ugly for me. I see more beauty in Nigeria than I see corruption.”
Her thoughts on the notion people have about Lebanese not being trust worthy
In Lebanon just like in Nigeria we have good and bad people, and you can’t say the whole nation is bad because of one corrupt person. Lebanese people have been in Nigeria for hundreds of years, some of them are your worst nightmares; they are my people, my parents’ people, but some of us are God-fearing, hard working and honest people. We the Lebanese people establish businesses in any country we enter. I am not saying Lebanese people are God’s gift to mankind. We all are not bad. I think it’s over rated when people say Lebanese people are bad!