After Christie’s and Saffronart, another art house, DAG Modern, is taking the auction route in India. Clearly, art auctions are no more the preserve of the West
WHEN CHRISTIE’S held its inaugural auction in India in 2013, not only was it a phenomenal success, it also shook up a market wont to traditional art exhibitions and fairs. The auction that year established the highest price for a work of art ever sold in India, and the total sale of R96.59 crore was double the pre-sale expectations.
The 250-year-old London institution followed it up with two runs—in 2014 and 2015—totalling R75.27 crore and R97.69 crore in sales, respectively, setting newer records and indicating their continuing success in India.
The trend continues. Last year, Saffronart, a premier auctioneer with deep Indian roots, appointed Hugo Weihe, a former international director of Asian art at Christie’s, as its new CEO. The development was seen as a rightful moment for Indian art to further shine on the global map and came just a couple of months before the auction house’s 15th-anniversary sale that totalled about R82.60 crore.
Now, another art house, DAG Modern, is taking the auction route. Clearly, art auctions are no more the preserve of the West.
“In May last year, a painting by Pablo Picasso set a new world record when it reached $179 million (approximately R1,147 crore) in New York, thereby becoming the most expensive artwork to be ever sold at an auction. That one painting itself comprises the entire size of the Indian art market,” points out Ashish Anand, MD and CEO of DAG Modern. The 42-year-old entrepreneur is referring to the minuscule part of the international art market that India currently holds, with a percentage share that is less than 0.5% reportedly.
The need of the hour, then, is to broaden the scope of the art market, and hence art auctions. “Few artists are known outside India, and even within the country, there is very little knowledge about accredited senior artists. We believe that introducing these senior and respected master artists to buyers at auction houses is critical for preserving their legacy,” says Anand, adding, “An auction is a perfect way to let the market evaluate their worth.” DAG Modern is all set to hold its first auction in Delhi today The evening sale of ‘20th-century Indian art’ is the first in a calendar of four-five auctions to be held annually. A further advantage will be the travelling previews that DAG Modern will hold not just in Mumbai and New Delhi, but also in other major cities, as well as tier-II towns, with “the aim of growing the domestic appetite for art”, as per Kishore Singh, who has just been re-designated president of DAG Modern after being associated with the company for about six years as head of exhibitions and publications. “The travelling previews will make art more accessible to people in smaller cities and towns,” he says.
There will be no ‘buyer’s premium’ as well in DAG’s auction model, offers Singh. “All other auction houses charge a buyer’s premium, a levy that the buyer has to bear. By ensuring that there is no buyer’s premium, DAG Modern will guarantee that works bought at its auctions will always be less expensive than those of its peers,” he says.
The works will be available for about 30% less than what is generally offered at galleries, says Anand. DAG Modern is able to do this because the art to be auctioned will come from its sourced acquisitions, as well as from its collection of 20th-century art, which includes all the great masters and their senior peers.
It will include works across all mediums, offering a comprehensive glimpse of the gamut of Indian modern art.
But newer markets pose newer competition. So does DAG Modern also anticipate it? “We are in no competition with other auction houses. In fact, we would like to work with them. The idea is to start the market. I would be happy if 10 more auction houses come up. That is what is needed at the moment,” says Anand.
Sharing details about the first auction, Singh says the event will feature 70 lots of Indian artworks by 65 artists consisting of the most significant practitioners and innovators in Indian modernism. The works up for auction cover a hundred years, from the ‘early-Bengal-style’—a fierce Kali astride Shiva from the 19th century—to the most cutting-edge modernist expression from the late 20th century. “All six founding members of the Progressive Artists’ Group are featured, with works of great quality and rarity… whether it’s a painting from the ‘black’ period of FN Souza, MF Husain’s Indian response to the biblical ‘three graces’, or a 1970s abstract canvas in rich, earthy tones by SH Raza. There are also significant works by associate member artists of the group such as Ram Kumar and Krishen Khanna,” explains Singh.
Leading names of Indian art are showcased through narrative, figurative or abstract works, paintings, sculptures and prints. The works include a refined artwork on the mother-and-child theme by master folk modernist Jamini Roy, an abstract composition by Rabindranath Tagore, an academic work in response to Edouard Manet’s celebrated painting Olympia and a landscape by celebrated academic painter SG Thakar Singh. Fine works by Jehangir Sabavala, KG Subramanyan, Madhvi Parekh, Sunil Das and Himmat Shah are also part of the collection.
Offering artworks for as less as R1 lakh to over R1 crore, the DAG Modern art auction will bring outstanding works at “extremely attractive prices to create new audiences and market for Indian art,” promises Singh.