15th Mar 2006

Younger artists in major Indian auction Kishore Singh / New Delhi March 15, 2006 ART: Saffronart's spring online auction should take the mantle of contemporary artists to the next level.

Even as you read this (and provided you aren't a terribly early morning reader), chances are the next auction of Indian art has already got underway. But this is an exciting year for art auctions anyway.

Osian's began the year's offerings with a rocking auction that recorded the highest-ever price for a work of art in India (Rs 6.9 crore for an Amrita Sher-gil) and several other high points for V S Gaitonde, F N Souza and the like.

As the year moves on, international auction houses Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams too will feature contemporary Indian art. But today and tomorrow, the action will shift to Saffronart's spring online auction that will consign 125 lots to the hammer.

As the market has matured, Saffronart has dispensed with a all-in-one format for its art, and split them into two collections. The current auction is of younger contemporary artists, while its May auction will feature the works of masters of modern art.

'Putting together a catalogue of contemporary artists is tougher than one for masters,' said Dinesh Vazirani, director, on the eve of the auction, 'because collectors (including dealers and gallerists) are not ready to sell the works of younger artists that they've been collecting only over four-five years.'

It helps that these contemporary artists have been showing around the world at such prestigious venues as the Basel Art Show and the Venice Biennale.

'The timing for contemporary art in India is good,' says Vazirani, especially now that it's getting record prices.

Some of these include Rs 60 lakh for Shibu Natesan, Rs 50 lakh for Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Rs 27 lakh for Baiju Parthan ' prices that are much lower, Vazirani says, than the estimates in the catalogue (where the highest for Natesan is Rs 14-16 lakh, for a five part Mazumdar Rs 35-40 lakh , and for Parthan Rs 2.5-3 lakh ). 'Our estimates,' he says, 'are actually lower than these artists' prices in the market.'

While Vazirani might insist these prices are low, collectors will notice that works by Manish Pushkale have risen sharply in the last year (from Rs 1 lakh on average to Rs 4.5-5.5 lakh in the catalogue), and even Paresh Maity has more than doubled in that period (Rs 12-14 lakh in the catalogue).

'With seminal works by masters selling for Rs 4-5 crore,' explains Vazirani, 'worldwide, the phenomenon is that younger artists command 5-15 per cent of that price. And the lots for our younger artists is averaging out at Rs 4-5 lakh, so it isn't out of whack with the trend.'

Interestingly, the Saffronart auction seems to have attracted a lot of newer and younger collectors who've registered to bid over the two-day online auction that will close on Thursday at 9.30 pm.

'For these young collectors between the ages of 25-40 years, there's a growing identity with these contemporary artists who've grown up without the baggage of the post-colonial era,' Vazirani explains. 'Plus, they have the wealth and the confidence to buy art and invest in their Indian heritage.'

All the reigning stars of the post-independence generation are there ' Jitish Kallat, Manisha Gera Baswani, Rekha Rodwittya, G R Iranna, Krishnamachari Bose and the controversial Jagannath Panda ' but interesting inclusions are the reclusive Bharti Kher whose works are rarely seen, and Jayasri Burman, who doesn't quite belong in the same genre as the others.

For Vazirani, though, of the 44 artists whose works are being auctioned, the most important are those of Atul Dodiya ('five works from a broad range starting in 1985 up to the early 2000s'), Anju Dodiya 'two strong works'), Subodh Gupta ('who's doing well internationally'), Nataraj Sharma, Anandjit Ray ('very strong works'), Chittrovanu Mazumdar ('who is doing consistently well') and Surendran Nair. And yes, just in case you wondered, 'We should see some record prices across the board,' promises Vazirani.

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