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Scorching prices chase new art

Last updated on: March 17, 2006 18:41 IST

An hour before Saffronart's real-time online auction closed, the telephones lines of art collectors all over Delhi and Mumbai (at least) were closed to callers.

Baroda-based artist Anandajit Ray's work, estimated at Rs 450,000-550,000 in the auction catalogue, had moved up to Rs 33 lakh (Rs 3.3 million).

Atul Dodiya had already settled past the Rs 1-crore (Rs 10 million) benchmark, creating a new record for the younger generation of contemporary artists. Last minute bids were streaming in for Baiju Parthan, GR Iranna and Manish Pushkale.

Jagannath Panda was sailing way past his estimates, but in an evening that saw several new highs, Anju Dodiya, who had settled comfortably close to a half crore, commanded a staggering Rs 96 lakh (Rs 9.6 million) at the end of the evening.

Bose Krishnamachari, Justin Ponmany, Surendran Nair and Jittish Kallat doubled their estimates, Manisha Parekh trebled hers, and others like Anjum Singh, Sunil Padwal and Baiju Parthan simply sold way over their best watermarks.

Thursday night saw artists in their 30s and 40s come of age as collectors around the world logged on to the Saffronart site, and began a bidding war for the largest-ever auction (44 artists, 125 works) of young artists.

It saw Subodh Gupta's familiar painting of milkpails go for Rs 28 lakh (Rs 2.8 million), and an installation of two bicycles with mail cans, set a new high with Rs 60 lakh (Rs 6 million).

If the money kept pouring in, it was as much a tribute to Dinesh Vazirani's networking skills as it was to the global recognition of Indian art, and particularly contemporary art shorn of the baggage of old masters.

"The auction will see a lot of new highlights, with price records across the board," Dinesh Vazirani, director, Saffronart, had predicted on the eve of the two-day auction, and he was proved right. Catalogue estimates, which he said were "actually lower than in the market" had been estimated by other gallerists as being fairly realistic.

However, the auction actually raised the bar for many of them, even though recent auctions had already taken Shibu Natesan to a high of Rs 60 lakh (Rs 6 million) recently {at the Saffronart auction, Natesan's highest was Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million)}.

"The Indian market is particularly strong now," Vazirani said, with an estimated 40 per cent of the auction's buyers from India.

Of the balance 60 per cent from overseas, a fairly large 20 per cent (or 15 per cent of the total buyers) are non-Indian, which is a very high number, according to gallerist Renu Modi of Gallery Espace.

That prices for artists have risen sharply is evident when an artist like Manish Pushkale, who was selling for Rs 100,000 less than a year ago, was estimated to sell for up to Rs 550,000 at the auction, but eventually commanded three times that price.

"These prices are highly over-exaggerated," says Modi, "and people no longer know when to buy or sell. Art has become about fashion, and it is fashionable to buy some of these artists, but it is only confusing collectors."

For the record, Modi's gallery has been pivotal and has dealt with many of the artists on the block at the auction.

It was not as happy for everyone: for every Paresh Maity {Rs 26 lakh (Rs 2.6 million) against an estimate of Rs 600,000-770,000), there was a Rekha Rodwittiya, who barely cleared her estimate value.

But with "such excitement", as another gallerist and collector has summed up, it is clear that the prices are only set to rise higher - "at least for the next two or three years", estimates Modi.

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Kishore Singh in New Delhi
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