Well, as it turns out, I must have been drinking something more intoxicating than "Sapele Water." For the document I saw yesterday is nothing but a plan by some conniving crooks to kill and to totally mess up what is already a lackluster contemporary art industry in Nigeria. Rather than consider laws that should strengthen the National Gallery in terms of making it a semi-autonomous progressive institution not stage-managed by civil service bureaucrats and politicians, this bill-in-the-making is a shameless attempt to hijack and micromanage key aspects of contemporary art transaction in Nigeria. It looks like some people have suddenly realized that there is money in art, and thus are scheming for a way to milk this cow, legally. I am under no illusion that some folks are trying to legalize what is clearly a parasitical impulse, especially with the relatively high sale numbers turned in by new private auction houses in Nigeria.
I do not know who is behind this bill (sponsored by Tunde Akogun) from within the art industry, but it must be said that THIS NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART BILL STINKS! and must be rejected by anyone who cares about the present and future of contemporary art in Nigeria. Let me be clear that if this bill passes, it will have a most devastating effect on artists, collectors, private galleries, and everyone involved in the field of contemporary art. Just imagine the nonsense about registration of all artists practicing in Nigeria, including those who do not live in Nigeria but wish to have their works exhibited or sold in Nigeria. Not even in efficiently managed dictatorial regimes did government mandate registration of all artists, including those who never wished to do business with government. Moreover, I am sure the National Gallery of Art could spend its time taking care of the works in its collection, rather than be turned into a money collecting and management agency. Just imagine the scale of transactions in contemporary art in Nigeria, and you would realize what it means for the NGA to supposedly micromanage every art sales and auctions, every building construction funded by government, and the registration status of art and artists. To me, this bill effectively kills the hope that some of us have that the National Gallery of Nigeria will one day become the type of institution imagined by the visionary members of the Federal Society of Art and Humanities in the 1960s.
Finally, if you don't believe me when I say that this bill has been drafted by people who are more interested in money that in art, consider this. Twice in the bill we are told that works of art without proof of paid royalty or clearance permit will be DUMPED in the National collection of the NGA. So, here you go. The bill effectively will legalize the transformation of the NGA such as it is currently into a dump.
Just in case you wonder what has got me this riled up, here below are a few of the clauses in the proposed bill:
- Every contemporary visual work of art sold in this country or otherwise shall attract a 5% deduction from the total cost, paid in cash as royalty to the original artist estate whether he is alive or dead.
- This royalty shall be made payable to the Embellishment Committee of the National Gallery who shall within one month remit same to the estate of the affected Artist after a 1 % administrative deduction from the gross sale.
- Every contemporary visual work of art engaged in an exhibition, displayed for sale which does not comply with section 19 shall be confiscated and dumped in the National Collection for art until the royalty of 10% of the sale and another 5 % as fine is paid by the artist selling, auctioning or exhibiting.
- Where the Director-General or the person authorized in writing by him is certified that the object is a contemporary works of art, he may issue permit hereinafter called "Clearance Permit'1 in respect of that object or where he is satisfied that the object is contemporary works of art and that the object is not the property of another artist, he shall issue a "Clearance Permit" and a number identifying such work of an where there was none existing pursuant to section 19 of this Act.
- Where a permit is not produced and surrendered within one month, the Gallery shall dump it in the national collection of art at the National gallery of Art.
- Every contemporary visual work of art originating in Nigeria or not originating in Nigeria but is being sold or auctioned or exhibited for sale in Nigeria, shall be registered, stamped. and issued a number by the Gallery.
- The number so issued shall be unique to the art work and shall be issued-to identify the art work throughout Nigeria and to locate the estate of the original artist.
- Every Artist or Art collector practicing in the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall register and obtain a registration number from the National Gallery of Art—