Art News & Views

Market Insight

As we step into March 2010, leaving the tortures of the recession of last year behind us, the most important questions facing us are:
1.    Is the art market poised to experience a recovery?
2.    Are the buyers getting back their confidence?

The second is actually linked to the first, and if we can seek an answer to the latter, we can automatically draw a conclusion regarding the former. Last month, we had taken a look at how Indian artists had taken a beating in the art market worldwide, mainly due to inflated prices ministered by the galleries and how artists like Jogen Chowdhury, whose price had remained more or less constant over the boom years of 2006 could register an even, and at times, an upward graph in the price index even during recessive times.

The fact of the matter is simple—demand for good works has remained constant, but an inflated price index in the case of some modern artists, coupled with a dip in buyers’ confidence on the resale value of their works, what with fund crunch threatening one and sundry, had actually left a mark all through 2009.

Conversely, masters have always maintained the edge even during that time, and that is because these works have proven track records.

A look at a few of January and February’s auctions from some of the biggest auction houses the world over, reinstills this belief.

Let us therefore take a look at the figures:
At Christie’s ‘Impressionist/Modern and The Art of the Surreal’ Evening Sale on February 2, two works of Pablo Picasso faired exceptionally well. While his Tete de femme (Jaqueline) sold at 8,105,250 pounds against a higher estimate of 4,00,000 pounds, his Homme assis sur une chaise fetched 6,089, 250 pounds against a higher estimate of 5,500,000 pounds.

The next day, Sotheby’s set a record when the bronze sculpture L’Homme que marche I by Alberto Giacometti sold at 65,001,250 pounds, setting the highest price for any work of art ever sold at an auction.

Meanwhile, sometime during November 2009, Iranian Farhad Moshiri was setting a record in Bonhams UAE. The auction achieved total sales of over US$13 million – almost three times the expected result, with a phenomenal 94 per cent of lots sold.

Moshiri's stunning Swarovski crystals and glitter on canvas 'Eshgh' (Love), broke the world record for an auctioned Pakistani work of art, Gulgee's 'Polo Player' which sold for US$336,000 – more than four times the reserve.

Bonhams Hong Kong also claims to have achieved a record around the same period, surpassing for the first time the HK$100 million barrier in total sales from the auctions of Fine Chinese Ceramics, Works of Art and Paintings, Fine Jewellery and Jadeite, Fine Wristwatches and Clocks, Fine and Rare Wines and Old and Rare Whiskies, clocking at the HK$110 million.

Which brings us to another question—is Asia the next big thing poised to happen in the art market? The first signs were evident even in the middle of recession. In May 2009, Bonhams achieved an encouraging 78% sale of rare Orientalist Paintings and Works of Art – the first of its kind in the region, following which, Giles Peppiatt, Director of Bonhams’ Orientalist Picture department commented, “It was enormously gratifying to have these works greeted with such enthusiasm in this region. The majority was bought by private collectors from the Middle East who outbid strong international competition.”

And later, at the November sale, where Moshiri broke all records, the emergence of the middle-east market was a proven fact. Matthew Girling, Bonhams; Chief Executive Europe & Middle East, had enthusiastically commented after the sale that, "This is an unbelievable result … and proves beyond doubt that the United Arab Emirates is an emerging commercial hub for modern contemporary art from the region."

Girling was already giving the Middle East a high-five—“The region has seemingly weathered the downturn in the economic market and collectors were notably enthusiastic to bid for the works of art we had on offer. I am optimistic that in 2010, we shall see the Dubai art market firmly back on the road to recovery."

Meanwhile, Nicholas Hall, International Co-head, and Ben Hall, Head of the Department, Old Master & 19th Century Art, were more reserved abut their reactions after the auction of Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings & Watercolours, Parts I & II, in New York on January 27 this year. “Collectors remained selective overall, but did not hesitate to bid high and often for the most rare and important works offered,” they said. What is noteworthy here is that, despite Lois Leopold Boilly’s The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café bought on behalf of the J. Paul Getty Museum achieved a world auction record for the artist, and mastered the highest price among all others at the bidding, it could not tip over the higher estimate originally set.

The same was the story at Sotheby’s. The January 29 Old Master’s Week totaled $ 74, 181, 071, but the $61.6 million that the Old Master Paintings and Sculpture brought in ‘nearly reached the High Estimate.’ Just 60 percent of the works brought home prices above the high estimate. Sotheby’s Co-chairman at Old Master Paintings Department was guarded in his comment when he said, “Immediately following our sale last January (2009), I knew that our approach to putting together future auctions was going to have to change to fit the environment  in which we were living.

Compare this with the unguarded enthusiasm that the Middle East market and South-east Asian artists selling in this market are receiving from auction house honchos. Mehreen Rizvi, Head of South Asian and Middle East Art at Bonhams, recently commented, “The South Asian (India and Pakistan) paintings sold a lot better than expected. The Tagore 'Illumination of the Shadow' went at ten times asking, which was incredible. It shows the strong demand in this region. This has given us a platform to work from and we look forward to the next sale in May 2010 with renewed vigour."

So the next focus may as well be Asia. After all, it is the Asian giants, China and India, and not America or the UK, that are leading the recovery of the world economy at the moment. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that one of America’s premium auction houses is not only setting up shop in Asia, but is actually looking forward to doing great business in this market and not in its country of origin.



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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.