Saturday, June 13, 2009

Indian Contemporary Art - Recovery still a long way off !

Well, its auction season and two of them are already over, Christies and Saffronart have finished with their sales, so what are the results ? Let me give you a brief synopsis of how I see the market behind the veil, the truth is coming out albeit slowly !

First things first, the Moderns, Husain, Souza and Raza with Gaitonde are still going very strong, the appetite from good quality works from the masters is still there and they are selling well, not as good as last year but recovering. We as a blog focus on the contemporary space and that is still going through a deep and long but much needed price correction and I am really happy for that.

So how do I make a statement like that? Very simple, Subodh sold well at 94 lacs (I say well because it was higher than 79 lacs in the last auction!) and Rasid Rana at 1.3 crores for the Red Carpet means that appetite for his important works from the series like Veil and Red Carpet (where the images are actually from an abattoir and the blood makes the red carpet ) is still strong. These two gentlemen are anyway in a different league so what happens to the other lot or the 2nd tier of contemporary artists who till last year were hailed as the next big thing to be hitting the Indian art scene, well for some of them due to their greed and also the galleries and honestly most of the galleries need to have lessons in pricing art are down in the dumps!

So, lets talk about the three superstars, Surendran Nair, set a record of over 2 crores just a year back in the Saffronart auction, a work from the same series and a very well known work also displayed at the Hong Kong Art fair this time could not even match a lower estimate of 14 lacs! can you believe it, there was no one who even quoted 14 lacs for an artist who set a new price record of 2 crores plus last year, the work is here for you to see, as I said I was a buyer at 10 lacs but no one would touch it at 14 plus buyer premium plus tax, that is 18 lacs !


Second, contemporary star, Justin Ponmany, also showing at Art Basel the world's top art fair, we had mentioned a value point of again 10 lacs in our earlier blog post,now we are talking about a 10.5 ft work by 6 ft work, a good 65 ft work which just failed to sell again.Another one bites the dust, we said 10 lacs, the lower estimate said 20 so no value for money and Justin also goes down with no bids at that level !


Third, Contemporary star, Ashim Purkayastha, saw a lovely work of his at one of the exhibitions at my hotel, last year and the work was priced at 70 lacs! Again a huge canvas with a lower estimate of 14 lacs, failed to sell! What a fall!


Fourth, Contemporary star, Jagannath Panda, had a nice triptych which was again 10 ft by 6 ft so a 60 ft work which finally sold at 13 lacs plus buyer premium! Thank heavens for that. It will be interesting to watch his pricing at his upcoming solo at Nature Morte in August, will he like all the other artists mark his primary pricing over the auction price or will the best gallery in the country be more sedate with the pricing and follow public opinion !


So what is the moral of the story, for collectors like us it is important to be not carried away by the sweet talk that galleries are putting out and some of our contemporary artists are way beyond logical pricing levels. Also, galleries are still being completely illogical and high handed about prices, they claim to be in this for the aesthetic love of art but are very happy taking home illogical values home. I see young artists all the time with ridiculous pricing and my mantra on buying is very simple, young artists showing with a major gallery in a solo show for the first time and there are only 5-6 top galleries in the country should be priced around 1 lac for a medium sized canvas of 3 by 4 ft and 2 lacs for a 5 by 5 ft canvas, this is after you have had your solo with the real top boys. The problem is and I can give you countless examples of the first price only being 4-5 lacs, now that is setting up for disaster for a new collector.We do not even have 10 top contemporary artists who can guarantee a sale in an international auction and with such big boys failing to sell, be conservative with your buying for now.

Its time to have galleries price with a logic of building artists and collections, greed needs to be out otherwise we will be writing the obituary of contemporary Indian art. There are many collectors who own works from the wonderful artists mentioned above but are all stuck as they see their investment depreciating faster than any other asset class, love your art but be very careful, primary values have to be lower than auction values always ! That is my advise to all collectors otherwise just walk away, also remember that in odd cases auction values can be manipulated easily so always err on the side of caution.

I see more fly by the night operators in selling art than I see as a percentage in the stock market!

Buy what you love and that is the key, also at the price you want not what the gallery or the art dealer or consultant dictates !

Also, our predictions for the auction in an earlier post were bang on target as we said that the pricing was way too high for collectors to buy, please read our comments and I am pleased to see that people are not getting carried away for a change !



Kapil Chopra is a senior hospitality professional and writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian contemporary art at and a fortnightly column in the Sunday Telegraph magazine "Graphiti" reaching over half a million readers.


Sanjay Kumar said...

I think it is important that the facts be fully stated in your analysis. For example the Surendran Nair price comparison needs to specify that the 2 crore priced auction work was 4 times the size of the recent work. How can you not state something as essential and glaring as this?

We all know the market has corrected significantly but we need to keep our relevant facts on the table.

The prices of all artists; Moderns and Contemporary have come down by broadly a similar fraction. The Indian market is not a very deep market yet so rises and declines are both exaggerated.

Nothing can take away from the intrinsic merit of the artists you have mentioned. Your 'superstar' list is a good one to track for the future.

Kapil Chopra said...

I agree with you Sanjay,I thought I had mentioned that, actually the estimate gave it away, Should have mentioned that point, good observation. I don't agree with your point on modern and contemporary though. The modern market is still quite strong for good quality works but now even contemporary artists who are exceptional like Thukral & Tagra have failed to sell in the recent Sothebys sale where Jogen has set an auction record for a fantastic work. So really cannot say that the drop has been the same.



Riding The Elephant blog said...

It seems to me that the strong bidding and (relatively) good prices in recent auctions, especially for Jogen’s magnificent “Day Dreaming” in Sotheby’s, shows that the market may have bottomed out for the best works – as I've suggested on my Riding the Elephant blog -
best wishes
john elliott