Christie’s leads the Indian art market



In December 2013, Christie’s inaugurated its new branch in Mumbai, becoming the first international auction company to launch a regular auction ractivity in India. The results of that inaugural sale devoted to South Asian Art ($15.455 million including fees, i.e. double the estimated total, with 98% of the lots sold) clearly reflected strong demand from Indian buyers.
A year later, Christie’s is the undeniable leader of the Indian market for Modern and Contemporary art. The results of its December 11, 2014 The Indian Sale at the same venue ($12 million including fees) are below the previous year’s performance, but buyers remained stimulated by the works on offer with 70% exceeding their estimates and an overall sold rate of 90%.

Mumbai – New York
In recent years the market has somewhat neglected Contemporary Indian artists who, like their young Chinese peers, posted rocketing price indices during the 2005-2008 period. The buying has substantially refocused onto established Modern signatures. Like last year, the star lot of the Christie’s recent Mumbai sale was a painting by Tyeb MEHTA (1925-2009), India’s most sought-after Modern artist. In the mid-1990s, Metha’s paintings were worth between 5,000 and 10,000 dollars on average. Today the artist has 19 million-plus results to his name (from Mumbai, Calcutta, London and New York) and his painting Untitled (Falling Bull), which Christie’s reproduced on the front cover of its December 11 sales catalogue, generated $2.421 million. This result shows that the market for Modern Indian artists is just as dynamic in Mumbai as it is in New York. In fact, Untitled (Falling Bull) fetched $500,000 more than canvas with a similar subject and dimensions sold by Christie’s New York in March 2014.

The only other artist to cross the million-dollar threshold on December 11 in Mumbai was Francis Newton SOUZA (1924-2002) who scored his third-best result at $1.2 million with a 1947 oil-on-cardboard (119.7 cm x 117.2 cm) representing a family scene (Untitled (Indian Family)). Like Mehta, Souza’s Mumbai performance is now as good as his New York performance: just a few weeks earlier, New York (which accounts for more than half of the artist’s market) sold a large painting titled The Butcher for $1.4 million (Christie’s, September 17, 2014).

Collectors bid fiercely to acquire works by the major Indian artists born in the 1920s and the top selling works were often dated from the 1950s to the 1980s, i.e. at the peak of the artistic careers of artists like Tyeb MEHTA, Sayed Haider RAZA, Ram KUMAR and Jagdish SWAMINATHAN.
Few Contemporary works were offered in Mumbai, and those few were not major works. Anish KAPOOR and Bharti KHER were in the catalogue, but with works insufficiently appealing for international demand. Kapoor’s acrylic sculpture In Mind nevertheless fetched $80,700, double its low estimate, and Bharti Kher’s painting Hyperbolic Spiral (60 x 60 cm) sold within its estimated range at nearly $52,000. The market for the leading Contemporary Indian artists is clearly digesting the 7-figure over-consumption of previous years. Nothing in this particular segment is easy to sell, including on the world’s leading marketplaces. Last September, in New York, Bharti Kher’s imposing sculpture, I’ve Seen an Elephant Fly (fiberglass covered with bindis) remained unsold despite a low estimate of $500,000, and yet it is a subject that has generated both of the artist’s million-plus results (The Skin speaks a Language not its own, at Sotheby’s London in June 2010, and then at Christie’s New York in June 2013). Sold or not, the best works by Kapoor and Kher are still included in sales in London and New York, but not yet in Mumbai sales.

Aside from these well-known signatures, a certain A. BALASUBRAMANIAN (born 1971 and living in Bangalore) is making a remarkable breakthrough on the local and international scene. His work has already attracted the interest of the MoMA, the New York Guggemheim and the Mori Art Museum, among others. At the December 11 sale, the new rising star of Indian Contemporary art sold a 2008 sculpture titled Gravity for the record price of $145,000. The name A. Balasubramaniam will no doubt be seen at sales in both the East and the West in 2015. Christie’s next Indian sale is on March 21, 5015… this time in New York.