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Auctions achieve a record high during covid-19

The pandemic may have taken a toll on the global economy but the auction market in India continues to see solid trade, with new records set for 77 artists

'Untitled', Jagdish Swaminathan, 1993 Oil on canvas
'Untitled', Jagdish Swaminathan, 1993 Oil on canvas

The pandemic might have taken a toll on the global economy but the auction market in India continues to see new records. According to the latest knowledge report (dated 20 September) by Artery India, an art market intelligence and asset advisory firm, 30 auctions have been conducted since the beginning of 2020. Since April, a whopping 685 works have been successfully sold, realizing a turnover of 271.4 crore. Compare that with last year: The same number of auctions were held last year within this period, with a turnover of 356.19 crore. But this figure came from nearly double the number of works—1,249, to be precise.

There are some continuing trends from previous years as well, with the Modernists and Pre-Modernists doing well. In comparison, the contemporary and emerging art market is still lagging, though some glimmer of hope can be seen in the former category, with an increase in sales.

“Having experienced market conditions over the past 15 years, including the rise, sharp fall and the subsequent rise yet again, collectors are now aware of how this domain functions to an extent,” says Arvind Vijaymohan, chief executive, Artery India. Recessions present some of the strongest acquisition opportunities. So, he says, a prudent investor or a serious collector remains ready to deploy capital when such occasions arise.

'Untitled', Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Lot 51
'Untitled', Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Lot 51

The past few months saw some landmark moments for the work of the late artist Vasudeo S. Gaitonde. A 1974 oil on canvas by the Progressive artist set a world record for Indian art, fetching 36.8 crore in a Pundole’s auction held on 3 September. Barely two weeks later, another Untitled work by him achieved similar results at a Saffronart auction, drawing 35.5 crore (including buyer’s premium).

It is not just Gaitonde, several other artists too achieved their personal bests at auctions over the past couple of months. At the same Pundole’s auction, for instance, Jagdish Swaminathan’s Untitled work from 1993 fetched 10.9 crore. In July, Prabhakar Barwe’s First Cloud, an enamel on canvas from 1989, created a record for the artist, fetching 1.2 crore at an Astaguru sale. Some of the other notable prices: Krishen Khanna ( 2.4 crore), K.K. Hebbar ( 98.4 lakh) and N.S. Bendre ( 1.5 crore).

'Untitled (Road To Calvary), 1975', Krishen Khanna, Oil and acrylic on canvas
'Untitled (Road To Calvary), 1975', Krishen Khanna, Oil and acrylic on canvas

“While the economy is grappling with a slowdown, the Indian art market has been recording solid trade over the past four months in particular,” says Vijaymohan. In fact, according to the Artery India Record Break Index, from January, new global price records have been established for 77 Indian artists, ranging from 13,992 to 36.8 crore, the highest price ever paid for any artwork. He says the artist with the highest turnover since January is the late M.F. Husain, with 98.7 crore realized from 88 works. His most expensive work sold in August for 18.4 crore.

"As with all acquisitions, it is crucial that the allocated spends are justifiable, but the Indian art market is still immature. It is evident in the fact that a number of assets sold over the past 2 quarters were overpaid for, with unjustifiable premiums. Of the works sold since April, our 'Post-Auction Reports' suggest that at least 28% of the assets have achieved a price benchmark that is well above acceptable benchmarks, factored for premium.” he adds.

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