Auction Replay in Art Mart

A few months ago,the Indian art world had reason to celebrate — veteran artist SH Raza’s Saurashtra sold for $3.5 million at an auction,becoming the most expensive Indian artwork to go under the hammer.

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published: June 17, 2012 2:04 am

A few months ago,the Indian art world had reason to celebrate — veteran artist SH Raza’s Saurashtra sold for $3.5 million at an auction,becoming the most expensive Indian artwork to go under the hammer. Even as the wine glasses clinked,Raza remained calm. “I had sold the work long ago. I cannot remember the amount but it was way less than what it has sold for,” recalls the Master,adding,“With this sale I stand to gain nothing,though there is recognition.” For long,artists have rued that they attain no monetary gain through auctions but,in the art market,the results of auctions can affect careers.

The relationship between the primary art market — when an artwork comes for sale in the market for the first time — and auction sales has been tricky. Analysts point out that a consistent good performance in auctions by an artist can lead to an increase in the price of his other artwork in the studio. “In the primary market,the gallerists or the artist decides the price whereas the buyer decides the price in an auction,” says Dadiba Pundole,director of Pundole Art Gallery,Mumbai.

Among other artists,Pundole represents Vivek Vilasini. The canvas titled Last Supper – Gaza by this up-and-coming artist from Kerala sold at Christie’s for $34,744 in 2009. “The auction price was much more than the market price,” says Pundole. Last week,another up-and-coming artist from Kerala,Roy Thomas’s Silent Viewer III sold at a Christie’s auction for $ 6,803. Consequently,collectors and new buyers are looking at these artists with new respect and enquiring about their forthcoming works.

“The details of every auction are recorded,so it is a part of auction history,” says Siddhartha Tagore,director of the auction house Art Bull,adding,“In case of the Masters,it does not have much impact,though it could affect the movement of artwork. Less-known artists have more to worry about. Managing to sell at an auction indicates the existence of buyers for their works and leads to an increase in prices. But not selling creates a doubt among the existing buyers of their works.”

The impact of a non-sale could be varied. While one school of thought is that the mere act of showing at an auction is prestigious for a lesser-known artist,others believe that a non-sale indicates a rejection. Every work has a base price called “pre-sale price”,at which bidding starts. It is said that to increase the possibility of an artwork selling,the pre-sale estimates for a less-known artist are kept below the market price.

It isn’t only newcomers who fail to find buyers at auctions. Even the Masters have drawn a blank at times. MF Husain,for instance,had mixed results because the quality of his work was varied. The re-emergence of a work at an auction in a short span of time is another reason for failure. Last week,Husain’s Cinq Sens,depicting a horse and male nude,failed to find a buyer on a pre-sale estimate of £4,00,000-£5,00,000. The 1958 work was coming back to the market two years after it was sold at Sotheby’s in New York.

Veteran Tyeb Mehta was one of the first in India to suggest that artists get royalty from auction sales. Until that happens,artists will receive little other than congratulatory messages after their work breaks records at auctions.

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