Sunday, October 25, 2009

Splashed in Red - September Auction Analysis for Indian Contemporary Art

Here is the article published in "The Telegraph" posted here for the International readers of this blog....... Check out the auction analysis with help from Art Tactic and figure out if there is really a recovery ........
You could say that the ‘Indian art season’ has kicked off. In September, there were three major auctions — Saffronart, Sotheby’s and Christie’s — and the results are a pointer to which way the art world will be headed in coming months.

So what can we look forward to? The modern art market looks strong — but the same can’t be said for Contemporary art.

The star of the season so far is one of the old masters, Tyeb Mehta. Even in this market , he notched up Rs 6.4 crore for one of the Mahishasura canvases.

He wasn’t the only one to make a splash. A rare but good-sized 57in x 92in Jagdish Swaminadhan went for close to Rs 2.75 crore at the Christie’s auction. This really goes to show that — as always — there are buyers willing to pay a premium over market prices and even market conditions for good quality art.

At the Sotheby’s auction, I was impressed by the nice Rs 3 crore figure for a V.S. Gaitonde canvas. Now, Gaitonde was one of the least prolific artists of his times and very few works are available. This was a 65in x 40in work and it’s typical of the abstract work he was known for.

This untitled Manjit Bawa work fetched a stunning Rs 1.27 crore at the Saffronart auction

In the Saffronart auction nearer home, both Akbar Padamsee with a value of close to Rs 1.87 crore and a stunning Manjit Bawa at Rs 1.27 crore were standout performers.

Yes, the top lots did do well. And this has lent weight to those who argue that the Modern art market has recovered.

But let me give you an interesting set of statistics: There were a total of 161 lots of Modern art at these three auctions and out of these, 107 — or close to 70 per cent — sold at the lower end of the estimate or did not sell. So the recovery was mainly in exceptional works of Tyeb Mehta, MF Hussain, S. H. Raza, F. N. Souza and Gaitonde.

Tyeb Mehta notched up Rs 6.4 crore for this Mahishasura canvas

Meanwhile, the Contemporary art scene was disappointing to say the least — and the picture looks even bleaker if you compare it to the Contemporary art sales last September.

Both Modern and Contemporary art prices have fallen this year; As the second graph shows, 81 per cent of the contemporary lots are selling at the lower end of the estimate or failing to sell

Last year, at the three September auctions, Contemporary art worth Rs 58 crore was sold. This year that figure fell to a pitiful Rs 4.5 crores — at all three auctions combined. That includes a very surprising performance of close to Rs 1.8 crore for a lovely Jitish Kallat work, Dawn Chorus — 7. Kallat has, over the last one year, failed to sell at a number of auctions, so this new sale record was a pleasant surprise.

With this exception, I didn’t see one result in the entire Contemporary space that merited. In fact, the sad truth is none of the three auctions had much quality work. The reason: collectors aren’t dispatching their best works to auctions because they fear the works will fetch less than their purchase price.

Looking through the sales figures drills home the fact how even seasoned collectors get carried away during good times when there’s too much money chasing art which isn’t always the best quality.

During the boom Atul Dodiya held a famous water colour show with some 40 of his works on display at Bodhi Art gallery in Mumbai. Each work was on sale, at the time, for about Rs 20 lakh — there weren’t many buyers at that price even then. But two of the same works came up for sale at Sotheby’s. They sold finally for about Rs 6 lakh.

The same phenomenon has struck many other collectors who have lost close to 70 per cent of their buying price. Art should be bought because you like the work and you relate to the work and it strikes an instant chord. Art bought for investment will never yield the right returns. Also, the price point is the key and you can burn a deep hole in your pocket if you get carried away and don’t do your research.

Similarly, a Surendran Nair canvas failed to sell in the second consecutive Saffronart auction despite decent estimates, showing there is no genuine collector demand for his canvas works at the current price points.

The ArtTactic Indian Auction Indicator for the Contemporary market is standing at 19. This implies 81 per cent of the contemporary lots are selling at the lower end of the estimate or failing to sell, indicating estimates could fall further before market equilibrium is attained.

Going ahead, I’d like to see the auction houses come up with better works. Let’s see some good significant works by artists like T.V. Santhosh, N.S. Harsha and Bharti Kher in the coming auctions. Let’s see some of the young artists who are doing cutting-edge work and being shown at some of the world’s important art fairs. I believe the next few months will be a great time to be buying exceptional art by some of the top Contemporary artists.

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

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