Asian art sales in New York: Indian art in the limelight



The Asia week kick starts spring in New York with works spanning right through the centuries. This cultural marathon included dozens of exhibitions and meetings in the Upper East Side arts focused on art from China, Japan, Korea and widely from South Pacific region. Once again this year, Sotheby’s and Christie’s played a key role by orchestrating sales entitled The Amaya Collection, Modern and Contemporary Indian Art and South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art on 19 and 20 March 2013 respectively.

The Progressive Artists Group attracts attention
The star lot of the Christie’s sale, and which graced the cover of its catalogue, was a creation by the Indian Sayed Haider RAZA (S.H. Raza), born in 1922. The artist offers a transcultural vision that draws inspiration from his country of origin and the half-century he spent in France. Known in New Delhi and Paris, his secondary market is primarily active in London and New York, mainly due to Christie’s and Sotheby’s specialised sales which have allowed him to score his seven million-plus auction results (in dollars) since 2006. The latest was generated on 20 March 2013 by a 1964 canvas entitled Village en fête. Fetching $1.55m, Village en fête doubled Christie’s initial estimate and signed Raza’s fourth best result, proving the dynamism and buoyancy of his market. The work does indeed represent a safe-bet in the field of Indian art and the auctioneer sold all the works by Raza proposed that day (11 in total, including a number of water-colours available for between $10,000 and $20,000). The day before, Sotheby’s had only one lot by the artist, but it was an important one: Rajasthan I (1981) fetched $670,000. This result is reassuring because it revives the prices achieved in 2007 for the same series, although Raza’s overall price index has shown a sharp decline since then (roughly -40% between 2007 and early 2013).
S.H. Raza left France in 2011 for a one way trip to New Delhi. The strength of his work resides in the links he creates between East and West. He participated in founding the Progressive Artists Group along with Francis Newton SOUZA and Maqbool Fida HUSAIN, a movement which aimed to open Indian artists to the international avant-garde. Souza and Husain are, like Raza, unavoidable signatures in Asian art sales, just as Picasso or Monet are for sales of Impressionist and Modern art in the West. The three founders of the Progressive Artists Group made a phenomenal breakthrough onto the international art market in the early 2000s, and their works were caught in the inflationary spiral of the years 2005-2007 before finding a more mature market over the past three years.

It is therefore not surprising to find these three figures in the ranking of best auction results for Indian art. Although their results produced no major surprises last week, one of their fellow countryman from the same generation – Vasudeo. S. GAITONDE (1924-2001) – generated the highest bid at Sotheby’s on 19 March (Untitled, 1962, $800,000) and the second highest the following day at Christie’s (Untitled, 1986, $575,000). Considered the best Indian abstract painter, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde actively participated in the actions of the Progressive Artists Group. His career has been consecrated by numerous international awards and his work is nowadays definitively anchored in high-end sales with a million-plus result in 2006 (Untitled, $1.3m at Christie’s, New York, 30 March 2006).

Evidence that buyers are refocusing on safer historical signatures such as the Progressive Artists Group was also supported by the fact that the usually very popular Contemporary Indian artists did not produce any significant results during these two days of sales (Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta did not cross the $80,000 threshold; Subodh GUPTA’s Vehicle for Seven Seas II fetched $80,000 while Christie’s had hoped for $100,000).

The next specialised sales of Modern and Contemporary Asian art will be held at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April in five sessions:

You are not Alone – Yoshitomo Nara works from The Kurokochi collection (5 April 2013)
In Transition – The Didier Hirsch Collection of Contemporary Chinese Art from the 1990s (5 April 2013)
Contemporary Asian Art (5 April 2013)
Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings (6 April 2013)
20th Century Chinese Art (6 April 2013)