India’s economic woes cast a shadow of gloom over the art market last year, says Uma Nair
Over a decade ago, a national daily had given a headline to an article, “India’s art market blooming.” Cut to the beginning of 2020, the boom hasn’t lasted as the market has been deflating following the economic crises in the country.
Saffronart, Sotheby’s and Astaguru sales whimper
The three sales organised by Sotheby’s, Saffronart and AstaGuru produced unexpectedly poor results in 2019 as they failed to meet targets. Sotheby’s and Astaguru both had to deal with front cover works that bombed. It had nothing to do with the quality of the works because these were by India’s Progressives. While the Gaitonde at Sotheby’s was not such a classy affair, the Tyeb at Astaguru was a top of the line Rickshaw Puller that failed to meet the aspired price.
Bidding on the top lot, at Sotheby’s was a 60”x40” in abstract oil on canvas by VS Gaitonde, which stopped at a mere Rs 14 crore, well below the estimate of around Rs 21 crore. This, however, did not seem surprising because it paled in comparison to the successful Rs 26.9 crore sale, including buyer’s premium of a Gaitonde in the Saffronart Delhi auction in September.
Saffronart, too, the current market leader in South Asian modern and contemporary art, had its woes in their auction that closed on December 10, last year, with four of the top six lots failing to meet their reserve prices.
Leading the sale were two oil on canvas paintings by SH Raza, created a decade ago and depicting the evolution of the artist’s oeuvre. Paysage (1960) was sold for Rs 3.23 crore, exceeding its upper estimate. Auctioned for the very first time, the work is a fine example of the beginning of Raza’s unrestrained style that recalled both his French surroundings and Indian roots. Another painting by the artist, titled La Terre 3 (1970) sold for Rs 2.02 crore.
Saffronart’s auction total was Rs 12.66 crore with 72 per cent of the lot sold. In the art mart, clearly, traditional ways of buying and selling have fragmented considerably with options ranging from Instagram to boutique, high-end art advisers and direct artist links. While there are a lot of choices — art fairs, online auctions, exhibitions — buyers are getting pickier. The gap between good and great works keeps growing and collectors must ask if they would get the same or higher price for the works that they had bought earlier.
Christie’s: A lasting engagement
January 2020 opens on a promising note as Christie’s who have announced a single-owner auction, A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection, offering more than 150 works of Indian art from the prestigious collection of Jane and Kito de Boer. This is the largest and most important single-owner sale of South Asian modern and contemporary art that Christie’s has had in the last few years. A live auction, to be held on March 18, will be accompanied by an online sale, offering additional works from the collection between March 13-20.
A strong selection of highlights will be on view at Christie’s India representative office during Mumbai Gallery Weekend from January 9 to 12, and then will be exhibited at a preview at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi on January 31 and February 1, coinciding with the India Art Fair.
Speaking about their collection, Jane and Kito de Boer noted, “We purchased our first paintings on impulse. These were an emotional response, reflecting our excitement at the vibrancy and energy of India’s culture. Since then, collecting India’s art has become an obsession. It has come to shape our lives. Today our collection has over 1,000 works of Indian art. Far too many to display. The moment you run out of wall space and yet continue to acquire is the time to admit that obsession has turned to addiction.”
The collection, which started as a way for the duo to understand and engage with India, where they were based in the 1990s, represents one of the largest holdings of modern Indian art today in any private collection, comprising paintings, works on paper, photography and sculpture made in the country over the past 120 years. It has the strong representation of works from the Bengal School.
The first work in this impressive collection, Ganesh Pyne’s painting, Lady before the Pillar, was acquired 25 years ago, in 1993, when the de Boers relocated to New Delhi. It took the de Boers a couple of days to purchase the work as they were not familiar with Indian art or with collecting at the time. This moment — getting started — was the first of four collecting stages they identify in retrospect. The second — getting hooked — happened when they bought Rameshwar Broota’s large triptych Traces of a Man shortly after its execution in 1998. Until this moment, the duo had justifications and rational arguments for each purchase but not in this case, where they felt they had no choice but to buy the work. The next two stages go in tandem — getting confused and finding peace — in the effort to stay true to a collecting method, and not to please or to be influenced. In these final stages, the only reason to buy a work of art for someone is the personal connection to the work itself.
Unsurprisingly, the highlights of the auction include a suite of rare works by Ganesh Pyne dating from the 1950s to the 1990s and a range of works by Broota including the seminal 1982 painting, The Last Chapter. Additional highlights include early paintings by Akbar Padamsee and Maqbool Fida Husain, alongside a strong selection of works from the Bengal School and artists like Francis Newton Souza, A Ramachandran, Bikash Bhattacharjee and K Laxma Goud. Contemporary works in the auction include important early paintings by Anju Dodiya and Atul Dodiya as well as works by Anish Kapoor, Chittrovanu Mazumdar and Hema Upadhyay.