Demonetisation more or less took the wind out of the sails of the fourth annual Christie’s art auction, held in Mumbai on Sunday.
The event was a slow, quiet affair, with only about half the works selling in the classical art and antiquities section — and 20 of the 73 works remaining unsold in the main event of the day, the sale of modern and contemporary art.
“Out of all our four auctions here, this one was the hardest,” said William Robinson, international head of Christie’s. “While the modern and contemporary sale was better as it invites international bidders as well, the classical art and antiquity sale was more uneven as the response from local bidders is not at par compared to last year’s.”
The overall energy and enthusiasm seems to be down, added participating collector Aakash Belsare. “I guess it’s the demonetisation.”
The highest price commanded by a single work was Rs15.63 crore, fetched by an untitled VS Gaitonde’s from 1974. The second-highest bid was also for a Gaitonde, dated 1973, which went for Rs 11.43 crore. The third-highest bid was for the cover lot by Tyeb Mehta, an untitled oil on canvas from 1975 that sold for Rs 10.23 crore.
In the antiquity sale, a folio with a miniature painting from the Bhasholi region of northern India fetched the highest price — Rs 93 lakh.
In all, the bids fetched a total of Rs 72.16 crore, said Deepanjana Klein, international head of department at Christie’s.
There were some personal records set. Artist Meera Mukherjee’s bronze sculpture titled People in a Row fetched over Rs 1.11 crore, a step up from the approximately Rs 1 crore that a work of hers fetched at a London auction, also by Christie’s, held in May last year.
Another highlight was Bhupen Khakhar’s Interior of a Temple, 1965, which sold for Rs 2.65 crore, more than Rs 1 crore above the price it was estimated at.
The truth is, the art could be better too, said one collector present, on condition of anonymity. “The same modern artists’ name appear at every Indian auction and the same kind of work is seen everywhere. Where are the new names and better works,” the collector added.
Sonal Singh, specialist head for Christie’s India, put it down to a deflated mood. “I think the overall mood in India is not buoyant,” she said, “thanks to the financial events of the last month.”