New Delhi: As art auction house Osian’s raised Rs39.8 crore in Mumbai this week, most works sold within expected price ranges and dozens of others didn’t sell at all, prompting observers to wonder: Are prices levelling off or are buyers getting choosier?
A little of both, analysts say.
While an untitled painting by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde sold for Rs5.76 crore in the highest bid, 49 works went unsold among the 139 pieces on the block. The only 1960 work, an untitled oil on board, by Maqbool Fida Hussain, India’s most prolific artist, did not sell. Another oil, titled Queue, by Rameshwar Broota, who achieves his signature style by scratching off paint with a razor blade, went below the hammer price. It finally found a collector willing to pay Rs1.3 crore.
“There are good and bad works of artists. And there are some like Tyeb Mehta who destroyed his bad works,” said collector Shiv Karan Singh, referring to the legendary abstract painter. “But in all, buyers are becoming more discerning.”
With Indian art gaining value globally, the auction industry has mushroomed into a Rs1,000 crore business. Like auctions past, Osian’s Connoisseurs of Art Pvt. Ltd’s sale on Wednesday night still attracted its share of first-time buyers and investors in search of a work that might appreciate, rather than be appreciated.
Works of at least 10 artists— including romantic realist Amrita Sher-gil and elemental abstract painter Syed Haider Raza—each sold for more than Rs1 crore. Sher-gil’s Girls in Conversation, a work done in the 1930s, fetched Rs3.48 crore.
Total sales fell just a whisker below the Rs40 crore Osian’s itself estimated to garner, and its chairman, Neville Tuli, said the auction proved that Indian art remains valuable. “It’s not a time for excessive hype,” he said. “We have to give works the true value of the painting.”
To be sure, there were still a few collectors willing to pay a mark-up for paintings they liked. A.R. Chugtai’s delicate watercolour titled Radha & Krishna Playing Holi, appeared in the Osian’s catalogue with a price range between Rs40 lakh and Rs50 lakh. Businessman Kamal Murarka bid more than double that to take it home for Rs1.6 crore.
Others such as book publisher Lavish Jagasia walked out of the auction hall after he could not keep up with the bidding battle over five works of progressive artist S.H. Raza, whose paintings sold for a combined Rs5.4 crore.
Three studies of women on paper by Francis Newton Souza sold for about Rs38 lakh each, within the estimated price band. Art consultant Prima Kurien called the price for the paper works “ridiculously high”.
“Works should generally sell at a premium because of the quality,” she said.
Citing such examples, others said the market has a long way to go before correcting itself.
“A work of Prokash Karmakar is selling for Rs40 lakh,” one Mumbai collector asked, referring to the Kolkata-based artist’s work. titled Assassinated. “An art work which should not get more than Rs4 lakh gets Rs40 lakh. Now, tell me, have you ever heard of the artist?”