When Mutuma Marangu is not trading in commodities, he is pioneering on the cutting edge of art collecting in Kenya.
Specialising in stone, Mutuma only started exhibiting sculptures last year at the Nairobi National Museum. The moment he put up Robin Mbera’s impressive exhibition of 26 Kisii stone sculptures entitled ‘Afro-Cubism Journey #1’ at the museum, Mutuma became an inspiration and de facto spokesman for Kenyan art collectors.
At Nairobi's Windsor Hotel, he shared his insights as a collector during a two-day ‘Art and Finance Conference.’ The meeting was organised by Roy Gitahi, the Art at Work chief executive and also the chair of Wabuni Sacco.
“I see art very much like land,” said Mr Mutuma who only started collecting art in 2006.
“Both are finite in the sense that there is only so much good art and good land. But both have immense investment potential,” he adds.
The value of art is not only measured by its investment potential, according to Dr Fred Scott, an experienced fine art consultant from South Africa who explained at the conference that art’s value is both aesthetic and economic.
Risks of investing
The global art market in 2018 rose to nearly $67.4 billion (Sh6.7 trillion), according to the annual Deloitte’s art and finance report.
Dr Scott noted that 88 per cent of the Sh6.7 trillion was transacted in three countries; the US, UK and China. He added however that the African art market has immense investment potential.
If you want to start collecting, first learn the risks involved when buying fine art.
The art could have been stolen, it might also be a fake. There is also the risk of overpaying for an artwork that is not ‘very good’, meaning it could diminish in value over time.
Dr Scott cited a painting by an American painter, Parker Ito who sold his painting in an ‘overheated art market’ at a Sotheby’s auction in 2011 for $47,000 (Sh4.7 million). Six years later, the resale of that same piece on the secondary market had plunged to $4,800 (Sh483,400).
But Dr Scott also recalled that the most expensive artwork in the world, by Leonardo da Vinci (‘Salvator Mundi’) sold for a record-breaking $450 million (Sh45 billion) at Christie’s Auction House two years ago.
To know how much to pay for a piece of art, Dr Scott said that research is essential as is knowing the provenance (or origin) of an artwork.
Sell at auctions
Unfortunately, he said, the value of the global art market is measured by figures derived from annual sales at auction houses, galleries and art fairs.
“That is why I advise young artists to get into art auctions as soon as possible, since those recorded figures provide a benchmark for collectors who might be interested in buying your art,” he said.
He added that even if the sale of an artwork is relatively low at an auction, a prospective buyer will know they are likely to pay more than the online figure.
Mr Mutuma added that the subsection of the global art market that interests him most measures post-colonial sales which fetched good prices in 2018. And in relation to Kenya, that includes artworks made post-1963.
“Our Kenyan art market is still in its infancy,” said Mr Mutuma who has no doubt that growth market is bound to experience a ‘‘crossover moment’’ when the measurement of Kenyan art’s value explodes.
For this to happen art institutions need to be both established and strengthened.
Mr Gitahi established the Wabuni Sacco to address financial constraints that local artists face. Most artists do not have access to credit because they do not have consistent salaries. But he hopes to see that artworks serve as collateral so that artists can access credit, insurance, pension plans and other financial services.
“Negotiations have begun with Wabuni, but they have not yet been finalised,” said Ken Gitau, Stanbic manager in charge of workplace banking.
Nonetheless, Mr Gitahi is even proposing that Kenyan artworks can eventually be traded on the Nairobi Securities Exchange.
One obvious shortcoming of the art and finance conference was the absence of Kenyan artists. Only two were present. One was Swift Elegwa the graffiti artist who had created an artwork given to the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta who attended the conference. She was accompanied by the Culture, Arts and Sports secretary Amina Mohamed.
The other artist was Robin Mbere whose afro-cubist sculpture was exhibited at the conference.