Three years ago, when Tyab Mehtas Mahishasura fetched $1.5m at a Christies auction in New York, this was hailed as a new chapter for the Indian art market and also for a new breed of buyers: Indians! Flush with their share of booming Indias goodies, people like the hedge fund manager who made the above-mentioned buy, confidently walked into galleries and auction houses to hoard up on local talent. This wasnt just about aesthetics, but a good investment as well. More recently, as the financial crisis spreads to all shores, the sales havent been so good. Indian arts boomtime has left behind some specific problems. A heated market seduced artists into going on the block with too little time to repose. As a measure of class, provenance became secondary to price. Absurdly, primary sales also started turning secondary within months. Of course when aesthetic appraisals dont track financial ones, its sometimes just a subjective issue. Take the Independents review of the Indian highway exhibition at a London gallery this month. Told MF Hussain is the Picasso/ Andy Warhol of India (go figure), he finds himself facing a baffling cultural gap. It seems to him that Hussains cartoony pictures belong out in the park, but he struggles to accept that the artist is a major figure in the Indian context.
If you are a Manjit Bawa fan, the recently deceased artist of purple bulls and ochre fields fame, and can walk the talk with your wallet, there is a godly oil on canvas going for $362,500 on the Christies website.