Art News & Views

Market Insight

Financially speaking, 2009 has not been a happy year for the art market. Auction prices for individual artists started falling since the economic downturn, and in 2009, it reached a decade's low. However, as the year came to a close, there were certain pointers that indicated that this year will see a growth.

The International scene

Internationally, it was Andy Warhol who fetched the best price at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Sale on 11 November, 2009. Overall, the 11 November sale generated a revenue of $ 117.1m, which, according to art market insiders is quite impressive in these trying times. Among the star lots, Sotheby's presented a Self-Portrait of Warhol, which was reported to have been lying at the back of a cupboard for 42 years. Warhol had apparently given this piece to Cathy Naso, a part-time receptionist at the Factory, in 1967. The high final hammer price of $5.4m for the work was probably due to a mix of factors including its exceptional colours, its anecdotal history and the surprise effect of its discovery. However, the most spectacular bid was submitted for another Warhol's '200 One Dollar Bills', a 1962 work reproducing the design of a $1 bill 200 times. Estimated between $8m and $12m, the work fetched a massive $39m, taking second place on the all-time Warhol auction podium. This when compared to the price of $ 350,000, the same painting fetched at Sotheby's on 11 November 1986, makes its present value more astonishing.

The price of Jean Dubuffet also surprised. Dubuffet's Trinité Champs-Elysées fetched an additional $800,000 since it last appeared at auction just three years ago; however the most reassuring news came from the market for Jeff Koons. Koons' price index had fallen 49.5% since 2007: on 10 November 2009 Christie's sold his 'Large Vase of Flowers' for $5m vs. £600,000 in June 2000, and his vacuum cleaner (New Shelton Wet/Dry 5-Gallon, New Hoover Convertible Doubledecke) fetched $2.7m vs. $320,000 in May 2000.

Despite a mediocre volume of business, Christie's posted three records for works on paper. The artists in question, Brice Marden's 'Untitled with Green' fetched $1.75m, Philip Guston's Untitled work fetched $450,000 and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled work fetched $2.7m. Basquiat's index is a major indicator. His previous auction record of $ 1.2m for a large untitled paper work set on June 22, 2005, at Sotheby's in London was more than doubled at the Christie's sale.

This also shows the trend among collectors bidding hard for the best contemporary signatures. Basquiat's price index rose 120% between these two records.

The Indian artists on the world ramp

It is noteworthy at this point that in the 1990s, there was vitually no secondary art market in India. Another interesting trend is that between 2000 and 2008, the price index of Indian contemporary art multiplied by seven times. And the biggest benefactors of this had been Anish Kapoor, Subodh Gupta and TV Santosh.

Kapoor's works has an auction track record going back 20 years. However, Kapoor has not had any 7-figure results over recent months and his most expensive works have all been bought in. On 11 November 2008, a splendid alabaster sculpture estimated at 2 to 3 million dollars went unsold at Sotheby's.  Indeed, his current record was set on 1 July at Sotheby's in London for another alabaster sculpture which fetched £1.72m (€2.17m or $3.42m). Kapoor experienced a further setback on 24 November 2008 when his monumental aluminium installation (5 metres wide) Mountain was bought in at Bonhams in Dubai. However, on 5 February 2009, an sans titre work in stainless steel (1996) actually fetched more than expected when it sold for £840,000 (c. €936,000) versus an upper estimate of £700,000, at Sotheby's in London.

On the other hand, Subodh Gupta, who was unknown to the international art market before 2005, (works he created in the 1990s could be acquired for between €10,000 and €50,000), started experiencing a very high demand from 2006. One of his pieces, 'Before the Plunge', quadrupled its price estimate that year fetching the equivalent of €35,300 on 29 March 2006 at Sotheby's in London. From then on, demand for his work became so intense that not one single Subodh Gupta auction lot remained unsold, until the month of October 2008. At the Hong-Kong sale of his works, on 4 Ocotber a 4-metre canvas by Gupta had to be bought in by Sotheby's. Since then, eleven pieces have been bought in at all the major international auction venues including Paris, London, and New York. In November 2008, the failed sale of Vehicle for Seven Seas III at Christie's New York (estimated $300,000 - $400,000) confirmed a sharp contraction. In fact, on 3 April 2008, a very similar work from the same series had tripled its lower estimate at Artcurial in Paris when it fetched €425,000. Subodh Gupta has a solid international reputation and his work has been acquired by a number of private and public collections.

Kapoor and Gupta are regarded among the world's fifteen top-selling Contemporary artists. However, the third top-selling Indian artist, TV Santosh had a revenue total only one tenth of his peers' (€1.2m). His very first painting to sell at a New York auction in March 2006 (for the equivalent of €11,600) doubled its estimated price. In September 2007, Santosh posted his first auction result above €100,000. The painting, 'Across an Unresolved Story' (2005), more than quadruped its upper estimate when it sold for $180,000 (c. €130,000) at Christie's in New York. In 2008, he crossed the €100,000 line on six other occasions. However, he took a beating in 2009, never achieving the magic figure. His best result in 2009 has been €55,400 for an oil on canvas painted in 2005 entitled 'Hundred Square Feet of Curses' at Christie's on 24 May. Since the beginning of 2009, the price fall is harsh: around -45% between January and June 2009.

On the other hand, Modern Indian artists have been showing better resistance to the art market crisis. In fact, compared to the contemporary artists, they give an impression of immunity to the downturn.

Jogen Chowdhury, and Francis Newton Souza both tripled their estimates supplied by Sotheby's at its Indian Art sale on 16 June 2009. Chowdhury even signed his new record with a 1979 water-colour entitled 'Day Dreaming' which fetched £310,000 (€364,000). According to some sources, the good results at this sale (where 69% of the lots found buyers) were linked to the morale-boosting effect of the May elections in India.
In fact Jitish Kallat, the youngest among the three also seemed to have benefited from the election effect. The sale of his works at Christie's Asian art sale was scheduled eight days after the elections, on 24 May 2009 and saw two of his works eliciting very good results. Rickshawpolis 9 actually fetched twice its estimate at HKD1.3m (€105,000).

Predicting the art market is a hard task. However, according to the trends set at the closing of 2009, there seems to be hope for the secondary art market picking up once again, and the focus this year may as well be on modern painters across the world.




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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.