Art News & Views

Market Insight

As the confidence of buyers return after the two-year lull in the world art market, it is evident that one of the greatest beneficiaries of the resurgent conditions has been Indian modern and contemporary art.

Reactions from major auction houses all over the world, many of them coming out of their respective 'Asian weeks' in March, has been very enthusiastic. “Our tremendous achievement is a clear testament to the immense strength of Asian Art, with success across all categories,” was what Theow H. Tow, Deputy Chairman of Christie's Americas and Honorary Chairman of Christie's Asia had to say after the conclusion of the Asian Art Week at Christie's New York between March 23 and 26. The sales from this auction totaled $60 million, and according to sources this was the second highest total for Asian Art Week at Christie's New York with a 73% market share. Although the week was not just limited to Indian contemporary and modern works of art, it is worth noting that S. H. Raza's 1989 acrylic on canvas titled Gestation was the biggest over achiever in the contemporary category. Gestation sold for $1,202,500 against a higher estimate of $800,000. Incidentally, the sale of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art of which Raza's piece was a part sold 95% by value.

It is Raza, Manjit Bawa and M F Husain, who still lord over the world auction results. While at Christie's Raza's Gestation beat Husain's 1979 oil-on-canvas Sita Hanuman, at Sotheby's Husain's 1955 Untitled oil-on-canvas was the top-grosser, fetching $1,058,500, against a higher estimate of $200,000, closely followed by Manjit Bawa's Untitled oil-on-canvas that fetched $602,500 against a higher estimate of $300,000. The other stars at Sotheby's Indian and South East Asian sale at New York, just the next day after Christie's were Tyeb Mehta and Raza, at an auction that sold 84% by value.

However, what came out as an important aspect from the Sotheby's sale was the interest that Indian contemporary and modern art generated among bidders. At the end of the sale, a visibly happy Zara Porter Hill, International Head of Indian Art at Sotheby's informed, “We are very proud of the exceptional prices for modern Indian paintings, where 74 works sold for $5.4 million -- the dynamic bidding leading to a staggering 97% sold by value rate. The $1,058,500 fetched for a Husain was a stunning success.” However, it was Bawa who became the real star at the Sotheby's sale. According to Hill, “We have set a new world record price for a work by Manjit Bawa at auction; the $602,500 price achieved was far above our pre-sale expectations. It is by far the most important work by Bawa to have appeared at auction in the past 10 years and it attracted interest from all around the world.”

Husain also commanded top slot at Saffronart's auction held on 10 and 11 March, his Untitled going for $448,000. The other stars at the auction were Subodh Gupta's Doot ($391,000), Francis Souza's Decomposing Head ($350,750), Akbar Padamsee's Prophet ($278,875) followed closely by Raza and Bawa.

If Bawa, Husain and Raza were the stars at the Christie's and Sotheby's auctions in New York, back home in Mumbai, Tyeb Mehta's Mahishasura achieved the magic $1 million figure at Osian's Masterpieces Series Auction, that registered a total sale of $4.11million, the other top grosser being Akbar Padamsee's Christ and Rameshwar Broota's Reconstruction.

The Osian's auction brought a number of points to the forefront.

Art enthusiasts looking to invest in quality works of art bid fervently for works by Akbar Padamsee, S.H. Raza and Rameshwar Broota, with each of their works fetching well over a crore.

The auction signified a definite demand for rare and quality works. Black Lillies by Jehangir Sabavala brought in $ 129,288 while Alphabet Stories II by Gulammohammed Sheikh and Fisherwomen by B. Prabha fetched $ 121,372 and $ 94,987 respectively.

However, what was most significant was the fact that, while all the National Art Treasures (Raja Ravi Varma, Nicholas Roerich, Abanindranath & Gaganendranath Tagore, Jamini Roy and Sailoz Mookherjea) were sold, only 25% of the Contemporary works (4 out of 16 lots) could find buyers.

According to experts, this phenomenon signals a serious maturity of the market, and a vindication of the fact that historically significant art must gain financial credibility first, and only then can the contemporary market emerge with financial confidence. However, Osian's re-established the fact that the most consistent performers in the art market still come from the Bengal Modern Masters, with 55 % of the lots, consisting of works by Ganesh Pyne, Ganesh Haloi, Paritosh Sen and Bikash Bhattacharjee being sold (11 out of 20 lots). Another consistent performer has been the Mumbai's Progressive Artists' Group, (Souza, Raza, Ara, Husain, Gade and Bakre), registering 61% sale by lots.

Elsewhere also, it has been a buoyant scene. In New Zealand, Art+Object's March sale saw the highest total in the company's history, with final negotiations taking it to $1.4 million - the house's third million-dollar sale in the past 12 months. The International Art Centre also followed with a good sale. Webb's, another NZ house, also hit the mark with a small but outstanding offering, in which works by two leading contemporary artists, Bill Hammond and Shane Cotton, topped the $200,000 mark during March-end.

By the middle of April, new auction records were being set for a number of artists, with Cotton going at Webb's to a spectacular $228,120. This made the New Zealand Herald comment that despite the recession, the art market had actually shown a lot of resilience and by April 2010, yet another clue to this silent resilience came through with “the good attendance and spirited bidding at all three auctions, plus the many phone and absentee bids registered.” However NZH also noted that “while there may still be some resistance in the middle of the price range, interest at the top and bottom ends appears strong.”




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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.