Mumbai: Amid the global economic gloom, international auction house Sotheby’s failed to find buyers for two major lots, including an estimated $1.55-2.05 million (Rs7.27-9.61 crore) painting by Subodh Gupta, at a Hong Kong sale featuring works by eight Indian artists.
Levelling off? An untitled 2003 painting by Subodh Gupta.
Since it marked the first time Indian artists had been included in a Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong, hopes were high that the works by Gupta and seven other artists—Jitish Kallat, T.V. Santhosh, Jagannath Panda, Justin Ponmany, Thukral and Tagra and Chintan Upadhyay—would sell at close to, or more than, the reserve price.
“We are going to see a levelling off,” said Sotheby’s India representative Maithili Parekh. “And we are seeing some effects of the global economy on the art market. So, I think it was a combination of extremely optimistic estimates given during the peak of the bull market and a little bit of levelling off of the global economy.”
Gupta’s work, along with an untitled work by Ponmany, valued at between HK$800,000 and HK$1.2 million ($103,000 and $154,000), both failed to attract buyers. Of the remaining five, Panda’s The Desirescape II sold well below the reserve price at HK$680,000.
A work by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, known for his kitsch pop-style art, also failed to sell.
Though fingers may be pointed at the financial collapse that has rocked global markets in recent weeks, historically that has rarely had an effect on art buying.
“I think there could be a short-term effect, but if you look at the art market, if you look at the volatility, art is usually not affected,” said Gaurav Karan, partner at India-based The Crayon Capital Art Fund.
“I would have expected sales to grow stronger at this particular time because, in the past, when stock markets haven’t done well, art markets have done better,” said Arun Vadehra of New Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery.
A South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale at Christie’s in New York, held a day after investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. announced bankruptcy, saw brisk sales last month, with a Subodh Gupta oil fetching $1.16 million, and several other works by Riyas Komu, Manjit Bawa and Jyothi Basu posting world auction records.
A landmark Sotheby’s auction of works by British artist Damien Hirst posted record-breaking two-day sales of close to $200 million, confirming that high networth individuals, who invest in the top end of the market, were continuing to buy blue-chip art.
“But, after five years of unprecedented growth, this slowdown has been expected,” said Parekh of Sotheby’s. “It was only a matter of when.”
With local gallery owners and auction houses gearing up for the festive season, the mood remains cautious.
“Our next painting auction is in December, so that will be the test. If there’s going to be a trickle-down, it’ll happen by then,” said Dinesh Vazirani of online auction house Saffronart. “It might change the profile of buyers a bit. Buying from hedge fund and investment bankers might slow down.”