A grand comeback

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Jan 16 2011, 08:37am hrs
The masters are back and the art world is celebrating their comeback with grand shows that define their contribution and their efforts to put Indian art on the global map. It was artist Ram Kumar that spellbound art lovers with his display of works at the Lalit Kala Akademi last month, crowded with colours, textures, events, and amplitude of emotions from the late 50s till the present. While (formerly) Paris-based artist SH Raza decided to come back to India last month, the ongoing display of works of legendary artist Tyeb Mehta in a solo exhibition, titled Triumph of Vision on display till February 18 at the Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery, celebrate a sort of homecoming of these masters.

Yashodhara Dalmia, curator of the ongoing Tyeb Mehta exhibition, says it is a coincidence that all these masters exhibitions are falling one after the other; others in the art fraternity say, the events are to cash in on the buzz generated by the upcoming India Art Summit. And, as Delhi Art Gallery plans to display the works of MF Husain, this is, the perfect homecoming of the masters.

Ajay Seth, Chairman, Copal Art, attributes the trend of back-to-back exhibitions to the confidence held by the masters in the collectors and buyers sphere. There is a great deal of interest among the progressives, says Dalmia about the Mehta exhibition, that has on display very select works of the artist made during the last decade of his life. Parul Vadehra of the Vadehra Art Gallery elaborates how the event was planned to be centered around the IAS. A graduate from the JJ School of Art, Mumbai, Mehta was an artist associated with a long legacy of exemplary work. He was a member of the prestigious Progressive Artists Group formed in 1947 and worked with masters like Akbar Padamsee, Krishen Khanna, VS Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, MF Husain and SH Raza.

Yes, there is obviously a change in the market. It is the moment for the modernists as far as the market is concerned, says curator Johny ML.

Mehta is also credited to kick off the boom in the Indian art market when he created auction history in 2002. Mehtas triptych Celebration was sold for Rs 1.5 crore ($3,17,500) at a Christies auction in 2002 in the highest- ever hammerprice for an Indian painting at an international auction. The largely unseen works in this exhibition span the last decades of the celebrated artist. The room-size triptych of a bull that the artist painted two years prior to his death is a dramatic work in black and white and is one of the major attractions of this show, says Dalmia. The work is owned by a family of private collectors in Mumbai and is not for sale, as is the case with most works exhibited at the show. The range of themes masterly perfected by Mehta in the last two decades are brought out very strongly and are also relevant and significant in the present times, says Dalmia.

Mohit Dhoomimal Jain, director, Dhoomimal Art Centre, says there has been a huge global market created for masters, which has witnessed a remarkable appreciation in the values. These names (of progressive artists) are household names now and these masters have been recognised at an international platform. They have introduced modern Indian art to the world, says Jain.

Another significant exposition lined up is Continuum, which opens at the Delhi Art Gallery on January 17 just before the art summit, marking the revamped opening of the gallery space with a show of over 250 works by the Progressive Artists Group. It will showcase the works of Souza, SH Raza, MF Husain, SK Bakre and KH Ara after 60 years. Works of six members of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group (1947-49), including FN Souza, will be on display beginning January 19.

Spread over 2,599 square feet, which includes a sculpture court, lounge and library, the gallery will showcase the works of Souza, SH Raza, MF Husain, KH Ara, SK Bakre and HA Gade. Yamini Telkar, project coordinator for Continuum, says though the movement begun by the Progressive Artists Group lasted for a very short while, for barely a moment in a sense. But the impact of what they achieved in breaking the mould has lasted to this day. In that sense, the modernism that they defined, or that defined them, has been in continuous play till now, so it made sense to label the show Continuum, adds Telkar.

Ashish Anand, director, Delhi Art Gallery, says the progressives and among them Raza, Souza and Husaincontrol almost 60% of the Indian art market. The market has grown hugely in the past 15 years, and more particularly in the last decade. The prices of Razas artworks have risen continuously over the past 16 years, since inception of the Indian art market in leading auction houses. Since then, over 550 artworks of Raza have been sold at various auctions that include auction houses like Christies, Sothebys, Saffronart, Bonhams, Tajan, Artcurial, Koller auction, Astaguru, Emami, Cornette de Saint, Osians , etc.

In 1995, the size of the market for modern art in India must have been Rs 5 crore in all, whereas today single canvases by artists fetch that much, and more! Even ten years ago, the market for Raza was nascent. Today, high quality works by senior artists of the progressives group are almost priceless, and yet we have not realised the full potential of the market, which will grow manifold in this new decade, says Anand. He adds that the contemporary component is still small, since there are a very large number of senior artists who are important for the market. Also, as their work becomes more scarce, these prices will continue to rise further. It is for this reason that serious collectors and investors will continue to pursue high quality works by the moderns. Pre-modern art, which is still rarer, is of course one of the main pivots of the market, says Anand.

Souza, Raza and Husain, who were arguably the frontrunners of the group, are among the highest selling artists in the contemporary art world. In order to appreciate the contemporary art of India, youve to look at these path-breaking seniors, says Ashok Vajpeyi, chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi. Seth adds that Indian art is very undervalued and there is a greater need for promoting it on a global platform. We expect to see a jump of almost 300% in the valuations of these artists, says Seth. It looks to be an artistic year ahead.