The highest selling artwork at Thursday’s Christie’s auction in Mumbai was no surprise. Tyeb Mehta’s 1999 Falling Bull sold for more than double the lower estimate, fetching Rs 17.54 crore, up from a pre-sale estimate of between Rs 8.5 crore and Rs 12 crore.
Not a single work of art, however, beat last year’s record sale of VS Gaitonde’s Untitled that went for Rs 23.7 crore — a new record for the highest price paid in India for a modern work of art. Overall, the buzz of last year’s event — Christie’s maiden auction in India, also held at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai — was missing this time around.
In all, 90% of the lots on offer sold, against 98% last year. And the only records set were personal highs by artists like Zarina Hashmi, Nasreen Mohamedi, Gurucharan Singh, A Balasubramaniam and Dayanita Singh. Hashmi’s Home is a Foreign Place fetched Rs90 lakh.
Of the total of 80 works on the block, all by modern and contemporary Indian artists, the second-highest selling work after Tyeb Mehta’s was FN Souza’s painting, The Indian Family, which sold for over Rs9 crore. This work was estimated at between Rs4.6 crore and Rs 6.2 crore.
The lot that fetched the third-highest price was an untitled work by VS Gaitonde, which sold for more than Rs 7 crore, and had been estimated at between Rs 5.5 crore and Rs7 crore.
Another item that exceeded expectations was the only artefact at the auction — Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s handwritten journal, which sold for Rs 1.7 crore (before buyer’s premium and taxes).
Written in Bengali, the leather-bound, metal-clasped journal features a mix of poetry and doodles amid details of mundane land transactions and tax accounts. The book was given by Tagore to his teacher, Subodh Chandra Mazumder, at Santiniketan and was offered for auction by Mazumder’s family.
Total sales amounted to Rs 75.27 crore, with a total of 225 bidders registered, of which 110 were present while the others bid over the phone and online. “This auction, we have seen that quality works are in demand. We also saw a lot of bids coming in online,” said Sonal Singh, head of department for Christie’s in Mumbai.
Singh added that the auction saw a number of new buyers. For the bidders, however, the drama of last year’s auction was missing.
“The auction didn’t live up to my expectations,” said art collector Aakash Belsare, who was present at the event. “It doesn’t say much for the state of the Indian art market.”
Geetha Mehra, director of Mumbai’s Sakshi Gallery, was happy to see artists like Mohamedi break records. “I was particularly happy with the prices fetched by her works,” Mehra said. All four of Mohamedi’s works were sold at and above their price estimates.
A section of 10 contemporary art works by the likes of Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Anish Kapoor were auctioned to raise funds for Khoj, an experimental art space in Delhi, and collectively raised Rs 2 crore.