Indian contemporary art : the podium



In the 1990s there was virtually no secondary art market in India. Between 2000 and 2008, the price index of Contemporary Art multiplied by seven! While Anish KAPOOR and Subodh GUPTA are among the world’s fifteen top-selling Contemporary artists with auction revenues of €11.2m and €10.7m respectively, the third top-selling Indian artist, TV SANTOSH, had a revenue total only one tenth of his peers’ (€1.2m).

Anish Kapoor
Anish KAPOOR (the older of the three), has an auction track record going back 20 years. His best sculptures that usually change hands for 6-figure sums have shown excellent resistance to the current crisis. On 5 February 2009 at Sotheby’s in London, an sans titre work in stainless steel (1996) actually fetched more than expected when it sold for £840,000 (c. €936,000) versus an upper estimate of £700,000. However, Kapoor has not had any 7-figure results over recent months and his most expensive works have all been bought in. On 11 November 2008, a splendid alabaster sculpture estimated at 2 to 3 million dollars went unsold at Sotheby’s. Before the crisis, the quality of the work would have almost certainly guaranteed a new record for the artist. Indeed, his current record was set on 1 July at Sotheby’s in London for another alabaster sculpture which fetched £1.72m (€2.17m or $3.42m). Kapoor experienced a further setback on 24 November 2008 when his monumental aluminium installation (5 metres wide) Mountain was bought in at Bonhams in Dubai.

Subodh Gupta
Subodh GUPTA perfectly illustrates the price explosion of Contemporary Indian art. Unknown to the international art market before 2005 when works he created in the 1990s could be acquired for between €4,000 and €10,000, one of his pieces (Before the Plunge ) quadrupled its price estimate the following year when it fetched the equivalent of €35,300 on 29 March 2006 at Sotheby’ in London. From that date on, demand for his work became so intense that not one single Subodh Gupta auction lot remained unsold … until the month of October 2008! Since then, eleven pieces have been bought in at all the major international auction venues including Paris, London, and New York? However Hong-Kong was where the first signs of unease first appeared when Sotheby’s bought in a 4-metre canvas by Gupta on 4 October. The following month, the failed sale of Vehicle for Seven Seas III at Christie’s New York (estimated $300,000 – $400,000) confirmed a sharp contraction. In fact, on 3 April 2008, a very similar work from the same series as Vehicle for Seven Seas tripled its lower estimate at Artcurial in Paris when it fetched €425,000. Subodh Gupta has a solid international reputation and his work has been acquired by a number of private and public collections. However, today collectors have neither the available cash nor the appetite for risk to bid two or three times over the published price estimates. On 30 June 2008, for example, the winning bidder at Christie’s in London invested £260,000 (€330,000) in a piece entitled Dubaï to Calcutta #19 . In October 2008, a very similar sculpture entitled Oman to Madras sold for considerably less at £115,000, (€148,000) at Phillips de Pury & Company in London.

Santosh T.V.
Demand for TV SANTOSH’s work accelerated in a matter of months. His very first painting to sell at a New York auction in March 2006 (for the equivalent of €11,600) doubled its estimated price. Entitled Who’s war is it?, this oil on canvas painted in 2005 is part of a series that also includes a larger version that fetched $38,000 (€28,500) on 21 March 2007. In September 2007, Santosh posted his first auction result above €100,000. The painting – Across an unresolved Story (2005) – more than quadruped its upper estimate when it sold for $180,000 (c. €130,000) at Christie’s in New York. In 2008, he crossed the €100,000 line on six other occasions… but not once in 2009. His best result so far this year has been HKD600,000 (€55,400) for an oil on canvas painted in 2005 entitled Hundred Square Feet of curses at Christie’s on 24 May.

Since the beginning of 2009, the price fall is harsh: around -45% between January and June 2009…
On the other hand, Modern Indian artists have been showing better resistance to the art market crisis. In fact they seem frankly immune to it! Jogen CHOWDHURY (born in 1939) and Francis Newton SOUZA (born in 1924) both tripled their estimates supplied by Sotheby’s at its Indian Art sale on 16 June 2009. Jogen Chowhury even signed his new record with a 1979 water-colour entitled Day Dreaming which fetched £310,000 (€364,000). According to some sources, the good results at this sale (where 69% of the lots found buyers) were linked to the morale-boosting effect of the May elections in India. The young Jitish KALLAT (born in 1974) may also have benefited from this effect at Christie’s Asian art sale on 24 May (eight days after the elections) when two of his works elicited very good results, notably, Rickshawpolis 9 which fetched twice its estimate at HKD1.3m (€105,000).