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Indian art prices at Christie's jump

By Maitreyee Handique in New Delhi
September 10, 2004 10:40 IST
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Tyeb Mehta's Rickshaw Puller ($120,000-$150,000), M F Husain's The Arrival of Fifth ($80,000-$100,000), Raja Ravi Varma's Maliyali Beauty ($50,000-$70,000) and Ram Kumar's Varanasi series ($28,000-$35,000) are among the 72 works -- valued at $2.5 million -- to feature at Christie's Indian art auction to be held at New York's Rockefeller Center on September 23.

Other trophy works that will go under the hammer include Bhupen Khakar's Night ($120,000-$180,000) and K G Subramanyan's Bombay ($4,000-$6,000), both of which belong to Singapore-based Bodhi Art, a new entrant in the art auction market and promoted by businessman Amit Judge.

The Times of India Group is also putting up two works for sale -- Jagdish Swaminathan's untitled work ($60,000-$80,000) and Gulam Mohammed Sheikh's Between Memory and Music ($20,000-$25,000).

The good news is that prices of Indian art have grown by 20 to 30 per cent a year ever since Christie's began auctioning it in 1995. The average lot value at the auction has also gone up from roughly $8,500 in 1995 to $27,000 in 2003, a whopping 217 per cent jump in less than a decade.

According to Malika Sagar Advani, Christie's India representative and a specialist in 20th century Indian art, "Christie's sales from Indian art grew from $600,000 in 1995 to $2.5 million in 2003".

At the auction this fall, artists like Sudhir Patwardhan, Laxman Shrestha, A Krishna Reddy and Badri Narayan are resurfacing after a gap of three years. Interestingly, while "sale totals" have gone up, the number of works on offer have climbed down.

"We want to trim our sales and focus on top quality work," says Advani. In 1997, Christie's offered a total of 233 works compared to 108 over two auctions in 2003 (New York and Hong Kong).

Advani expects younger Indian artists to do well. She feels third generation artists such as Jitish Kallat and Ravinder Reddy will soon be regulars at international auctions. Over the years, nearly 1,300 Indian works have featured in Christie's auctions.

While 95 per cent of the buyers at the sale were of Indian origin in 1995, last year, the figure stood at 70 per cent with other buyers comprising the remaining 30 per cent.

Experts say that interest in works of artists such as Sudhir Patwardhan, Arpita Singh and Jogen Chowdhury is also growing rapidly and they have witnessed a substantial price increase in recent years.

For instance, a 4x5 canvas titled My City II by Arpita Singh sold for $5,500 in 1995 while a 3x2.5 Pink flower, yellow flower by the same artist sold for $33,500 in 2004.

But this season will there any trophy investment like Tyeb Mehta's Celebration, which fetched a record $3,17,000 in 2003? "I think, we have to wait and see. I don't want to make any predictions. An auction allows you to track market changes and identify trends in buying patterns," says Advani.

Christie's at a glance

A total of 72 lots will go under the hammer

The works are valued at $2.5 million

Sudhir Patwardhan, Laxman Shrestha, A Krishna Reddy and Badri Narayan make a comeback after three years
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Maitreyee Handique in New Delhi

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