15th Dec. 2004

Art champion gets going Art champion gets going

   As art prices move up, the real winner is Saffronart.

The art world is still digesting the results of Saffronart's online winter sale of Modern Indian paintings. With a total sale of Rs 13 crore, Saffron's four-day December sale is undoubtedly India's most successful auction ever.

Unlike previous online sales where activity only heats up in the final hour of the last day, this sale was action-packed from the minute it went online.

A plethora of proxy bids ensured that some of the hot favourites breezed way past their top estimates in minutes. The remaining four days were spent by potential bidders reconciling to the new price levels and upping their anticipated bids. This sale has been different from any of the auctions in the past.

Firstly, art prices, regardless of the artist and quality have escalated sharply and secondly, almost all the successful younger artists made record prices. The art market has, once again, become more exciting than ever and the year ahead promises to be even better. 

The sharp climb in art prices over the last decade was, till now, skewed towards the blue chip generation of older, established and thus bankable artists.

No doubt there has been a trickle-down effect with benefits accruing to younger artists as well, but it is nothing compared to the west where the hottest young artists sell at price levels similar to that of their peers.

Even though there has been a significant interest in the works of younger artists in the primary market, top quality works of these artists never came up at auctions so their true demand was, perhaps, not visible.

Not to mention the fact that the sharp rise in the older artists' prices has completely alienated a very large portion of collectors who are unable to cough up $100,000 for a major work.

Another factor could be the fast changing demographics of the collector himself. An increasing number of younger collectors and dealers are making their presence felt and the shift in taste was inevitable.

A look at the overall results show that art is being bought across the board, good, bad and indifferent. Not only did the FN Souza on the cover (lot 41) make a record of Rs 82 lakh, the SH Raza (lot 26) also made Rs 63 lakh. The Ram Kumars (lot 36) fetched over Rs 30 lakh. Other artists of this generation also did well. Krishen Khanna (lot 59) sold for a whopping Rs 30 lakh as did Jehangir Sabavalas (lot 31). Artists who have been thus far ignored or not considered fashionable, like Paramjit Singh and Paritosh Sen, also fetched serious prices.

In the younger lots, the star performer was Atul Dodiya, whose water colour (lot 129) made a staggering Rs 15 lakh, Natraj Sharma's small canvas (lot 128) made a record Rs 5.5 lakh while two Shibu Natesans (lots 137 and 138) made Rs 8 lakh and Rs 10 lakh, respectively. Surenderan Nair's early work (lot 123) made Rs 5.5 lakh.

With these results, Indian art prices have been revalued upwards across the board. The prices of younger artists have begun their northward march. Not to mention that the real winner in this is none other than Saffronart which has become the undisputed leader in the auction business. With Malika Sagar's exit from Christie's, this week, that position should be with it for at least some time.

Nitin Bhayana   

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