London: London’s contemporary South Asian art auctions had a bumpy start at Christie’s International on Monday. Almost one in five lots failed to find a buyer as new taxes deterred some Indian collectors.
The sale, totalling £4.5 million (Rs36 crore), including commissions, was the first of three South Asian art auctions this week. The top lot, a 1968 abstract work by Vasudeo Gaitonde, had a hammer price of £420,000 from a telephone buyer, compared with a pre-sale low estimate of £450,000. As much as 19% of the works didn’t sell, Christie’s said.
Rising wealth in India got buyers to bid up prices as much as 20-fold in the past few years for works by 20th century artists such as Francis Newton Souza and Tyeb Mehta. Collectors are now digging in their heels as the quality on offer falls and India increases taxes on transactions.
“There’s a shortage of good works in the market,” said Suman Aggarwal, a collector and director of Indigo Blue Art in Singapore. Government measures such as taxes “are having a huge impact”.
A shift in capital gains taxes may be affecting art prices, said Prajit Dutta, a Columbia University professor and partner of London’s new Aicon Gallery. Under the 2007 Finance Bill, the government plans to include art and archaeological items as capital assets, making any transfer of the works liable to the tax. The government also imposed a tax last year on cash transactions to curb illegal payments.
Christie’s sold all but four of the 78 lots at its New York auction of postwar and contemporary art last week, which took a record $384.7 million (Rs1,577 crore), against a pre-sale top estimate of about $375 million.
A new confidence survey by ArtTactic Ltd found that 47% of those answering questions were bullish about the current and future Indian art market, compared with 36% who were neutral and 17% who said they were negative.
The London auctions are small next to those in New York, where Christie’s sold $17.8 million of Indian modern and contemporary art in September. The top artist at that sale was Indian-born Souza, who worked in London and New York and died in 2002. Man and Woman, a 1954 religious-themed oil on board, fetched $1.36 million—more than double the $500,000 pre-sale high estimate. Bloomberg
Le-Min Lim in Hong Kong contributed to this story.