In Conversation with Art Consultant, Nkechi Cryan
Nkechi Cryan is the founder of Niki Cryan, an art consultancy firm that provides a range of bespoke services to satisfy the creative interests of her clients. Cryan also seeks to develop the careers of select emerging artists. In this interview with Omenka, she discusses the Nigerian art market and the challenges faced by Nigerian artists.
You are the founder of Art News Africa, “an online publication dedicated to promoting the work of African artists and also the founder of Niki Cryan Art Consultancy, an outfit uniquely poised to identify emerging artists and oversee the growth of collections while creating memorable experiences for galleries.” When did your interest in art begin?
My interest in art began when I was a child. I was always going to museums and galleries. I also spent a lot of time engaging with my uncle’s private art collection. That’s where my love for African art was born. Art has always been a part of my everyday experience.
The process of buying art differs for each collector according to his or her aesthetic preferences. How do you work with your collectors to address individual preferences, and how do you find your artists?
When working with collectors, I follow a very simple two-step process to address individual preferences: I ask why? and what?
I like to start with the reasons they want to collect. Are they collecting with the desire for investment, purely for the love of it, for decorative purposes, or are they collecting to start a private museum or collection that they want to be viewed by the public at some point? After learning the why, the what is next. When I start with a collector, it is important to know which artists, works, and medium they want to collect. Do they want a photography collection, a painting collection, or do they want to focus on a specific artist? It’s also really important to know what their desires are. Some people don’t necessarily know what it is they want; they just know that they want art. For these collectors, I like to show them various types of works so we have an idea. I take them to galleries and museums so they start seeing different things to narrow down their criteria. Part of my job is to train their eye and develop their taste.
I discover lots of artists on Instagram. Instagram has been a really great platform, because it has opened the world up like never before. Now you have access to artists across the world. We have the ability to see their studio practice, to see their development and growth. It has been a great source for connecting with artists. Meeting in person is also great, going to openings, graduation shows, and studio visits are also really important.
As collectors now increasingly access and purchase artwork online, it is clear that the traditional gallery model is changing. What do these developments in the art market mean for the average artist, and where do you think the art market is heading?
I think that even with the rise of online platforms selling art, there will always be a place for the physical gallery model, in the sense of a physical experience. People still want to be able to look at works in person. I don’t think online is going to replace physical galleries, as they offer a sensory environment for individuals to experience art physically.
For the artists, I do think the rise of online platforms is good because it gives them more autonomy over their careers. They engage directly with collectors. Though the online platform is definitely beneficial for the artists, it can also be detrimental, because there can be overexposure of their work and there can also be copying. Prior to online platforms, what happened in the artist’s studio was secret until the show, but now they’re sharing their works in progress and sharing techniques online, so you can have some imitation from other artists. However, I do think the good definitely outweighs the bad in the benefits of online platforms for the artist: Their reach is wider. They’re able to do things for themselves that maybe their gallery isn’t doing for them. They can promote themselves and connect with collectors and curators.
Embracing this new paradigm for accessing art is exciting for art collectors. What new challenges does it pose, and how do you support collectors in navigating this new environment?
The sense of being overwhelmed and confused by the vast amount of information online has become a regular complaint of collectors—and for good reason. Collectors now find it is challenging to identify value and opportunity online and at big art fairs, to clarify a consensus around new artists and ideas, to discover artists they don’t yet know, to understand the conditions of their markets. My job is to guide them and help them filter through the noise.
Despite general advice to place aesthetics and personal resonance over all considerations when acquiring art, there remains a significant place for investment value. What traits increase the monetary value of a work?
Firstly, the artist themselves who made the work increase the value. The rarity of the work, where the work has been seen, and how long ago it was seen can also increase the value of a work. Sometimes a work can become more valuable when, for example, it has been in institutions or has not been seen in many years. That scarcity can increase the monetary value of the work. A high demand for the artist, works by a specific artist, or a particular work increases the value as well. Quality, how well the work has been preserved, and the materials used are some traits that also increase the monetary value of a work.
How would you describe Nigerian and African collectors? What recent trends and collecting habits have you observed?
There is a new crop of collectors I have experienced who are very open-minded, very sophisticated, well-travelled; they attend art fairs and visit galleries and museums. They are very engaged with the art world and are interested in expanding their collections to be more inclusive and have a more international flair. I’m seeing collections with an eclectic mix of local art, East African, South African, and African diaspora art, especially African American and Black British art.
Despite the pioneering achievements of such Nigerian modernists as Ben Enwonwu, prices for their works still pale in comparison to those of their South African counterparts. What reasons can you adduce for this anomaly?
I would say institutional support has a huge role to play in this.
You organised an exhibition titled The Nenaissance by British artist Irvin Pascal, who explores a field between the human body and abstraction. Please tell us about the experience and how the show was received.
It was a great experience. It was great to introduce Irvin to the Nigerian market. It was very well received. People were very excited and enjoyed seeing and experiencing something different from the norm.
What do you consider to be the major problem facing Nigerian artists today, and how can they best achieve local and international recognition for their work?
I would say the major problem facing Nigerian artists today is the lack of institutional support. The best way they can achieve local and international recognition for their work is to continue making quality work, step out of their comfort zone, experiment more, and allow their work to evolve. The recognition will come.
In your opinion, what domestic infrastructure is needed in the immediate to sustain the global attention on Nigerian and African art?
Lagos right now is doing quite well. I think we need more galleries, art spaces, residencies, art fairs, and art festivals. The more activity going on in the city, country, and continent, the more inevitable the global attention will be. It’s here already, but more will come.
What is your long-term vision for Niki Cryan Art Consultancy?
To continue to provide a platform that will support artists and connect them with collectors and to continue to put Nigeria on the international stage.
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