One thing we learned last Sunday at the first ever TNR Silent Art Auction is that animal lovers are not necessarily art lovers and vice versa.
The majority who attended the TNR picnic were primarily animal lovers who came not just to enjoy the food, fresh air, music, fellowship or even the art by some of Kenya’s finest contemporary artists.
They came to support a worthy cause, that of animal welfare and the group, TNR, which stands for ‘track, neuter, release’.
In fact, the picnic and the silent auction (organized by Carol Lees who is both the owner of One Off Gallery and a TNR trustee) were part of a fund-raising event to get TNR’s mobile veterinary clinic off and rolling round the country, providing free rabies vaccinations and dog neutering all over Kenya.
It was in aid of that worthy cause that Carol invited local artists to create works that could be included in last Sunday’s Silent Auction. As an added incentive she gave out stretched canvas squares (30cm by 30cm) to artists who were interested in taking part.
In all there were 46 paintings in the silent auction that had gone online for the bidding to begin a few weeks before the deadline day of disclosure, September 16 when the bidding was to end at 3pm.
But when 3pm rolled around, Carol, assisted by Kui Ogong’a and Annie Mather allowed for a little bit of last minute bidding, both the kind that came in on the auction’s what’s app account and in person.
In fact, that last minute bidding is what earned the auction its largest sales. Both Kui and Annie were monitoring Whatsapp since there were bidders overseas (as well as some locals) who were also watching the bids closely.
Annie was continually updating the bids online while Kui was updating the public listing at the tented arena where the TNR silent auction was taking place.
Perhaps it was because there were so many other events going on (like the raffle, the dog show, the live band and the gourmet food) that the auction didn’t attract the sort of art-shopping audience that could have snapped up almost every artwork on display as ‘a steal’.
In other words, there were works in the auction by some of Kenya’s most esteemed (and pricey) artists whose paintings eventually sold for ‘a song’.
Of course, the paintings were relatively small in size but the value of an artwork is not necessarily determined by its size. (Just check out da Vinci’s Mona Lisa)
In that regard, one of the smallest works in the show was Rashid Diab’s, but his tiny oil painting commanded Sh120,000. And that was the highest any one painting went for that day.
There were bidding ‘wars’ for works like Rashid’s, Timothy Brooke’s, Peterson Kamwathi’s and Olivia Pentergast’s, the latter three all went for Sh100,000. The closest sale after that was Dennis Muraguri’s Matatu at Sh70,000 but that came after another mini-bidding war.
Otherwise, the only explanations I can surmise for why some of our leading artists didn’t sell for more is because the animal lovers are not conversant with (or interested in) the current art scene.
For instance, a sweet dog portrait by the doyen of Kenyan art, Yony Waite, went for just Sh30,000. So did the cat lady by Joseph Bertiers, the fish by Peteros Ndunde and the stitched aluminium piece by Dickens Otieno.
Several went for Sh45,000 like paintings Beatrice Wanjiku, Fitsum Behre’s dog and Florence Wanjui’s kittens. Richard Kimani’s Mask went for Sh50,000 and Peter Ngugi’s and Leena Shah’s both went for Sh40,000.
But as the bidding began at Sh10,000, many of the works went for Sh15,000. They included a print by Thom Ogongo, a drawing by Eric Gitonga, a glass piece by Nani Croze and paintings by Elaine Kehew, Kamal Shah, Joseph Cartoon and (unbelievably) a drawing by Mandy Bonnell.
The one painting I wish I had bid on was by Anthony Okello whose contribution was a ‘collabo’ between himself and his two little girls. It went for a mere Sh20,000.
There’s probably a lesson to be learned from attending a silent auction. And that is, if you love Kenyan art, make sure you are there on the last day of bidding. You are likely to get amazing artworks for affordable prices.