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A bad year for contemporary Indian art

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-10-2017 Saumya Tewari

There’s an interesting fact related to artist Bharti Kher which reflects the recent decline in investor interest in contemporary Indian art. Known for the use of the ‘bindi’ as a central motif in her works, Kher’s Train’D To Kill 1, which sold for Rs96 lakh at auction house Saffronart’s 21 September sale, is the most expensive Indian contemporary artwork to be sold in an auction thus far this year. In 2013, this leading artist had an individual turnover of Rs12.7 crore from five pieces, higher than the total recorded sale from 183 Indian contemporary artworks this year, Rs12.63 crore.

The lack of confidence in Indian contemporary art was reflected most strongly at Melbourne-based auction house Mossgreen’s 17 September sale of 80 contemporary works belonging to British collector Frank Cohen. Of the 19 works by Indian artists on offer, 14 went unsold. The five artists who found buyers were Subodh Gupta, Thukral & Tagra, Jagannath Panda, L.N. Tallur and Reena Saini Kallat.

“Works by most of these artists witnessed a sharp price rise following the mid 2000s, fuelling a disastrous speculative wave that had been initiated by heavily flawed art investment funds and (which) would eventually lead to a drastic slash in valuation,” said Arvind Vijaymohan, chief executive officer of Artery India, an art market advisory and intelligence firm.

Agreeing with Vijaymohan, Gaurav Bhatia, managing director, Sotheby’s India, noted that lack of institutional backing and an artificial inflation of prices (about a decade ago), has resulted in a period of uncertainty for Indian contemporary art.

While the art market is on the road to self-correction, 2017, which has seen 22 auctions—including those of contemporary Indian art—by 15 auction houses, has been particularly weak in terms of market performance of Indian contemporary art. According to Artery India data, in the same period (Jan-Sep) in 2013, 333 artworks sold for a total of Rs39.9 crore, and in 2015, 175 for Rs32.9 crore. In 2015, according to Vijaymohan, the focus was on quality, unlike this year, when there has been a shortage of good artwork on offer. The downcast sentiment and average quality inventory fed off each other, resulting in the sluggish growth.

Top five Indian contemporary artwork sold in 2017

1. Train’D To Kill 1by Bharti Kher

Train’D To Kill 1by Bharti Kher. Sold for 89.06 lakh.

2. Untitled by Subodh Gupta

Untitled by Subodh Gupta. Sold for Rs89.06 lakh, Mossgreen, 17 September 2017

3. Sat Samunder Par (9) by Subodh Gupta

Sat Samunder Par by Subodh Gupta. Sold for Rs71.04 lakh, Saffronart, 6-7 June 2017.

4. Starry Night after V. G by Bharti Kher

Starry Night after V. G by Bharti Kher. Sold for Rs69.44 lakh, Sotheby’s, 16 March 2017.

5. Urban Animal (Horse) by Nataraj Sharma

Urban Animal (Horse) by Nataraj Sharma. Sold for Rs57.60 lakh, Saffronart, 21 September 2017.

However, Bhatia is confident that the market will pick up. Although at a nascent stage, he believes the market is correcting itself, backed by a more mature base of customers.“Indian contemporary art is finding a strong base in a younger generation. We are also seeing institutions, public and private, supporting this development,” he said.

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