Saturday, April 01, 2006

Contemporary Indian Masters at Auction

It is an irony that custodians of art can make so much more money from a given work than the artist. Yet custodianship entails work of another sort, and both the creator's and the collector's credibility are eventually measured at least as much by coin as by any other calculation. With the emergence of Indian

Tyeb Mehta
- from modern and contemporary art in international sales, the rise in returns has been steep, lately, if a long time coming. Now, quite suddenly, it feels as if every fan of Desi art just won a quinella.

Building on the success
late mid-century horse - M.F. Hussain of last fall's auctions, two sales held last week - at Sotheby's on Wednesday and at Christie's on Thursday- together kicked off what will become regularly scheduled sales of Modern and Contemporary Indian paintings in New York. As almost everyone knows by now, almost every lot at both auctions outperformed all expectations. It was heartening to watch as it happened.

The morning sale on Wednesday at Sotheby's was well attended, with many CIOs (that's Collectors of Indian Origin) in attendance. I spotted a few familiar faces, with and without paddles, and the phones were fairly busy while Tobias Meyer applied his cool and cordial wit and swift gavel. Hussain and Souza were well represented, and consistently exceeded expectations, though not by as much as Satish Gujral, or Ram Kumar or Shinde. Tyeb Mehta’s Falling Bird went for $1.248,000, and Syed Hyder Raza’s Tapovan fetched $1.472,000.

Jamini Roy's mohila from

The next afternoon, the more enclosed saleroom at Christie’s (Rockefeller Center) was packed, and the phones a hotbed of activity. A larger number of works on offer in the mid-priced range seemed to reflect a quirkier Triptych by Anjolie Ela Menon aesthetic, all going forward in a more jocund and familiar atmosphere with more Indian experts and specialists involved, and Hugo Weihe’s merry brogue lending a
festive note to the
ings.The Souzas
and Hussains spanned more periods, and the Bengal schools were better represented,
including Ganesh Pyne's moonlit cow from Ganesh Pyne and Shyamal Dutta-Ray. A mixed media work by the reclusive Vasudeo Gaitonde went for $1,472,000.

"This sale is hot," said a former Spence mom, now working at Christie's. One young woman who had flown in from Miami said, "I'm in sticker shock!" A middle-aged lady mused, "Now I can tell my mother exactly why she shouldn't sell her Satish Gujrals just yet." Another woman, who had collected contemporary
Indian art since she was sixteen and had come from China for the sale, noted with satisfaction, "I'm a multimillionaire now."

Sunil Das' motion sketch from

But as Jolly Lolly of Tolly once noted in another context, “For what it is, that’s a song.”

Paritosh Sen's "kal katta" masalchi from

Syed Haider Raza (read interview from Outlook India )

Vijay Shinde

Except where noted, the images here are from SPEAR Art Museum.
Sotheby's makes catalogues of past sales available online, while Christie's sells only print editions of their catalogues.

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