Sculptures, unlike paintings, can be intimate pieces of art which, apart from their touch-and-feel element, occupy spaces in such a way that they slowly become a part of collectors’ lives. It’s no wonder, then, that acclaimed sculptor Himmat Shah’s signature human heads, made of both terracotta and bronze, are highly sought after for their intriguing, abstract feel. An untitled bronze work by Shah which fetched Rs45.60 lakh at Saffronart’s 21 September sale was the fourth most expensive sculpture sold by an Indian artist so far this year.

“His iconic heads, which appear androgynous, have an element of spirituality associated with contemplative images of deities," said Roobina Karode, director and chief curator of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, who has curated a retrospective of the 84-year old artist, to be held at Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur from 29 October.

Like Shah, the late artist Meera Mukherjee, who was influenced by the Dhokra sculptors of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, was also known for bringing a touch of modernity to traditional sculpting methods by improvising on the wax-casting technique. “Meera has perfected sculpting in bronze, creating stunning pieces rooted to Indian traditions, often highlighting folk cultures," said Reena Lath, director of Akar Prakar Gallery, which represents Mukherjee.

Top three modern works

Meera Mukherjee’s People ina row. Price Rs1.11 crore
Meera Mukherjee’s People ina row. Price Rs1.11 crore
Adi Davierwalla’s Galaxy. Price Rs1.20 crore
Adi Davierwalla’s Galaxy. Price Rs1.20 crore
Meera Mukherjee’s Untitled (the Storm). Price Rs1.09 crore
Meera Mukherjee’s Untitled (the Storm). Price Rs1.09 crore

Two of Mukherjee’s sculptures—which sold for Rs50.40 lakh and Rs44.40 lakh at Saffronart’s 16 February and 21 September sales respectively—feature among the top five sculptures sold this year. Twenty-four works by Mukherjee, who died in 1998, were sold between 1 January 2013 and 15 October 2017, earning a total of Rs9.1 crore, according to data from Artery India, an art market advisory and intelligence firm. That makes her the third top earner among Indian sculptors, trailing only Subodh Gupta (Rs11.6 crore from 17 works) and G. Ravinder Reddy (Rs9.1 crore from 14 works).

A 1992 piece by the late Somnath Hore, a sculptor and printmaker known for portraying the anguish of the human body—Draupadi and Shakuni, where he portrays the Mahabharata characters in a bronze sculpture—sold for Rs76.15 lakh at Christie’s 13 September sale, making it this year’s second most expensive work. Parsi artist Ardeshir Davierwalla’s 1966 Galaxy is the most expensive Indian sculpture sold this year, going under the hammer for Rs1.20 crore at Christie’s 13 September sale.

Modernists are dominant in the sculpture market, says Arvind Vijaymohan, chief executive officer of Artery India, who calls 2017 an interesting year. “With a turnover of Rs8.3 crore from 43 works, Modernists dominate the category, as against Rs2.30 crore for the contemporaries from 24 works," he said.

Top three contemporary works

G. Ravinder Reddy’s Devi. Price Rs2.70 crore
G. Ravinder Reddy’s Devi. Price Rs2.70 crore
Subodh Gupta’s Other thing. Price Rs 1.95 crore
Subodh Gupta’s Other thing. Price Rs 1.95 crore
G. Ravinder Reddy’s Family. Price Rs1.84 crore
G. Ravinder Reddy’s Family. Price Rs1.84 crore

Still, unlike in other art domains, contemporary sculptors have fared well over the years. Reddy’s Devi, a gold-emblazoned woman’s head with a hypnotic gaze, sold for Rs2.70 crore at Saffronart’s 10 September 2015 sale, earning more than double this year’s top-selling sculpture by Davierwalla.

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