After the global economic meltdown, the Indian art mart is in a bad way. Everyone knew, of course, but there’s confirmation now in the form of three big auctions that concluded this past week: Saffronart, Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
And more than the moderns — a term used for earlier generation painters such as MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee — it is the contemporaries, led by Subodh Gupta, who have been hit the hardest.
A large untitled canvas by Gupta at Saffronart sold for Rs 79,35,000, about 15 per cent less than its lower estimate of Rs 90,00,000 the auction house had fixed. That’s still high, but it’s 86 per cent less than the Rs 6 crore ($1.2 million) that the similarly sized ‘Saat Samundar Par’ fetched at a Christie’s auction in May 2008. At Christie’s most recent South Asian Art sale on Thursday, his untitled canvas went for about Rs 89 lakh.
It’s not just Gupta. An untitled charcoal on paper by Tushar Joag went for Rs 232,875 at Saffronart, far below its Rs 3-4 lakh estimated price range. So did NS Harsha’s ‘Nations’, which went for a little over a crore, as against its asking price of Rs 1.25-1.5 crore.
Auction houses, however, give a positive spin, concentrating on the high valuations a few works by the modern masters have fetched, notably a 1965 VS Gaitonde abstract which fetched $482,500 (nearly Rs 2.5 crore) at Christie’s. As Maithili Parekh, Sotheby’s deputy director for India, says, “Buyers are willing to pay for significant works, provided the provenance of the work is above board and the valuation is right.”