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Art market ready to test bull run

March 10, 2004 12:36 IST

After a gap of nearly half a decade, New York will see Sotheby's take on its arch rival Christie's, in the Indian contemporary art arena. Sotheby's will hold its sale on March 24, a day before Christie's as part of the Indian and South-east Asian art.

Sotheby's newly appointed Indian art specialist, Robin Dean, returns to the auction world after holding successful shows with Grosvenor gallery in London. 

With this development the spring season, earlier restricted to Hong Kong, has brought New York back into the limelight as the Indian market gets ready to test the two-decade old bull run.

Both Sotheby's and Christie's  sales begin with Hemen Mazumdars and are followed up with Jamini Roys. While Sotheby's includes a generous dose of both early and late Hebbars, Christie's offers some unusual early Akbar Padamsees and S H Razas.

Strangely enough, both sales include very similar early gestural Tyeb Mehtas from the 1960s, three Ram Kumars each, several M F Husains and even a Prabhakar Barwe and B Prabha each. In short both are banking almost entirely on the Progressives.

No surprises for guessing the star lots. Even though Sotheby's Husain, entitled Ragmala (lot 175), is one of the best examples of his work from the 1960s, the most stunning lot in this sale is undoubtedly F N Souza's "Mystic Repast" (lot 165).

This is perhaps the most important Souza to have come up for auction ever. The large oil with a stellar provenance should exceed its estimate of $50,000-70,000 and possibly cross $100,000 creating a world record for the artist.

From Christie's, it's the spectacular J Swaminathan abstract from The Times of India collection. The gigantic work measuring 57 x 89 inches (lot 227) would probably be the largest abstract done by the artist.  This work too should see immense interest from collectors  and could also make $100,000.

Dean's access to dealers and collectors abroad certainly seems to come as an advantage, thus the plethora of stunning Souzas, unusual Ram Kumars and Japanese collector Masenori Fukukoa's Ganesh Pynes.

Mallika Sagar of Christie's benefits from her relationship with Vadhera and loyal sellers like The Times of India group who have, apart from consigning the Swaminathans put two stunning Arpita Singhs on sale as well.

Christie's also offers, a handful of pictures from the collector Henning Holck Larsen the co-founder of  Larsen & Tubro Ltd.

The art world will also closely monitor these sales to see if, for instance, Souza will take a march on Husain.

Also, Ganesh Pyne, whose market has been in the doldrums of late, will also be watched closely as three enchanting works form the best period might just reverse this trend.

Last but not least, all eyes will be on the Bhupen Khakhars after the smashing success his works at the Christie's sale last year. After Khakhar's demise, there has been a vacuum of his works in the secondary market.

On the macro side, the health of the market in general couldn't be better. There is much talk of NRIs wanting to put their greenbacks in assets outside their country to counter the depreciation of their local currency and art could be one such asset category.

However, as the logistics of these auctions make it more palpable for NRIs only -- Indians have to pay a thumping customs duty apart from the 20 per cent buyers premium and 7-odd per cent NY sales tax. Collectors in India shy away from raising the paddle.

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