Analysing Art Sales After The Gulf War-II

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: May 18 2003, 05:30am hrs
Saffronart.com is emerging as an effective Indian shop-window for our contemporary art. Their on-line auction came up with some expected results. MF Husain did well. Of the nine lots of his on sale, four went above the highest price quoted. The 1987 horse, a small oil on canvas (51 x 35.5 cm), lot 10, fetched Rs 4,60,800, well above the highest price expected for it, which works out to Rs 254.52 per sq cm.

His oil on canvas of the 1990s of a woman with a bow on a chariot sold for Rs 15.04 lakh just above the highest expected price of Rs 15 lakh. The price for this, per square centimeter, works out to Rs 146.95. For the Ardhanareeswara figure, which went even higher above the expected figure at Rs 11,86,750, the price works out to Rs 186.11 per sq cm. The sun chariot figure sold at Rs 14,38,200, that is Rs 128.84 per sq cm. A pair of horses sold at Rs 9,35,3000, well above the Rs 7,50,000, working out to Rs 201.75 per sq cm. The average works out to 183.64 per sq cm which is a good price to buy a work of Husain at.

MF Husains untitled oil on canvas which fetched Rs 4,60,800
The other artist who did well was SH Raza. His Jaisalmer abstract (lot 24) sold at close to the highest price expected for it, Rs 19,03,500, which works out to Rs 184.77 per sq cm, bringing the price for this seminal work of Raza to the level of Husain. The other works of his that sold either close to the highest price or above it, were Spandan (of his bindu series) that sold at Rs 5,07,600, working out to Rs 195.16 per sq cm. Other works did not do so well. But we can infer from this that the artists abstract forms and landscapes from the mid-1970s, without didactic slokas are, good investment.

Another artist who did well, expectedly, was Arpita Singh. Her large lexicon like canvas sold at Rs 5,66,350, working out to Rs 52.66 per sq cm. Her Women with Ducks did even better by going over the top at Rs 1,83,300 or Rs 107.57 per sq cm, which is a very good price for her work indeed. Two of her watercolours also sold at expected prices of Rs 1,43,350 and Rs 1,31,600 respectively (lots 77 and 78), which works out to a price of Rs 73.97 per sq cm and Rs 67.91 per sq cm respectively. She has done well, but her prices are clearly well below those of the Husain and Raza. She is still among the emerging artists as far as art investment goes.

One artist whose work could have done better was Ganesh Pyne. Only one of the five lots of his work sold. It was three-coloured jottings that sold at Rs 2,29,000, that work out to nearly Rs 74,000 each. The reason perhaps is that a number of fakes as well as poor works have entered the market. Also, the expectations of the sellers of Pynes works are often higher than the artists actual value in the market. A good work of Pyne, like one of Husains, is still the best thing one can invest in.

Among the other who have done well, we have NS Bendres oil on canvas that sold above the top, for Rs 6,83,850, working out to a price of Rs 118.40 sq cm. But while white lot-I sold, the two other lots did not. The KH Ara works up for sale also did not sell. However, FN Souza has proved his resilience as one of the most successful artists of the Mumbai group and also a good investment.

Four of the eight lots of his that were put up for sale sold. As expected, his Prophet of 1958, sold well above the highest price expected of this work, Rs 6,95,000, at Rs 10,10,500, which works out to Rs 217.97 per sq cm. An early portrait of 1952 netted Rs 5,75,750, which was just above the highest price expected for it, working out to Rs 159.93 per sq cm. Two of his chemicals on paper works (lots 32 and 33) sold at Rs 61,000 and Rs 70,500 each. Clearly, Souzas work ranks with that of Husains and Razas as investment today. The Tyeb Mehta drawing too, went for a very respectable Rs 2,07,364, although the lowest price expected for it was a very high Rs 2,10,000.

Akbar Padamsee, Jagadish Swaminathan, Sakti Burman, Anjolie Ela Menon too did not do well. It is evident that history is more recent than those who write society columns. Indeed, my basic reading from this auction is that the destabilisation and occupation of Iraq and the plunder of its museums have affected our art market adversely. If the idea was to shore speculative spending with the Iraq war, it has not succeeded. On the contrary, we are seeing the spectre of depression looming over us. It can only be laid to rest by bold spirits working to end the monopoly of the dollar with a number of alternative currencies to invest in as the world no longer believes in an arbitrarily-priced dollar.

Global contemporary art, and Indian contemporary art is precisely such an alternative currency. The great artists of the national movement like Gaganendranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and Ramkinkar Baij are obviously the best investments. The artists of the Mumbai Group, especially those with panache and a bold approach to their art are equally good investment. Also, even where an artist is in this bracket, if the works are either seen to be over-priced or not up to the mark, they are given the go-by just as if they were fakes. So responsible artists should ensure only good works of theirs enter sales.