Going under the hammer

Untitled (Ganesha with the world) by M.F. Husain
Untitled (Ganesha with the world) by M.F. Husain

The auctions are back and they bring good news for the art market. After a slow and sluggish time in the summer, the new season has brought in its wake two interesting auctions. Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) announced the opening of an auction wing in August and the online giant Saffron Art reported brisk sales in their September auction.
Recently Dinesh Vazirani founder of Saffronart, brought down the hammer on an almost forgotten work by artist Akbar Padamsee, at Rs 19 crores setting a new record for the artist. Titled Greek Landscape, the 4×6 painting was acquired by fellow artist Krishen Khanna at a throw-away price. Other artwork that made a considerable impact on the art market index was a 1960 oil on canvas painting by Nasreen Mohamedi at Rs 2.4 core. Bengal School artist Gaganendranath Tagore’s work “Ruben’s Sketch Book” was sold for another record setting price at Rs 1.8 crore.
While the DAG auction provided art lovers with some forgotten masters like Radha Charan Bagchi, Nikhil Biswas, Shyamal Dutta Ray, Dhanraj Bhagat and SG Thakar Singh, it was the known names like M F Husain and F N Souza that led the market as usual. Husain’s painting “Padmini Mohini Shankhini,” was estimated at $149,300 – $ 223,900 (Rs 1 crore – Rs 1.5 crore). Notably the DAG team of CEO Ashish Anand and curator Kishore Singh, intend to target cites like Pune and Jaipur besides metros like Delhi and Mumbai. It is also a good way to recycle the collection and generate funds to acquire new works.
“We want to create familiarity about senior and respected master artists by introducing them to buyers at auction houses. It is the perfect way to preserve their legacy,” opines Anand.
The spike in the auction market may actually help perk up sales in an otherwise lackluster art market, although the works that did attract buyers came from personal collections and were rare, even obscure artworks. This indicates that buyers have become even more selective and are not going in for run of the mill work that is easily available. Notably as Saffronart CEO Hugo Weihe put it, “Works rarely seen at auction were well received.”
As a result, galleries will also have to up their ante and provide a primary market stocked with quality artwork at competitive prices. “As far as I see it, it is still a buyer’s market out there,” says collector Gopal Mirchandani. This of course can only be seen as a good thing, since quality always trumps quantity when it comes to collecting art. It is always the rare or exquisitely executed artwork that accrues value and not the easily available, ‘affordable art’ that is often available. Today’s contemporary artist can become tomorrow’s great masters and it is with this intention that one must sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Following the auctions closely will provide collectors with a good guide map on how to look for artwork in the primary market.

All quotes have been sourced from public forums and previous interviews with the author. Image courtesy: DAG Modern

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