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The art market emerges from shadows of the recession
The art market seems to be emerging from dark shadows of the economic slowdown. The real art buyers are now back, doing what they know best – buying quality works. The turning point that the stuttering markets have been anxiously awaiting seems to be very much in sight. Following the £65m sale of a Giacometti sculpture, which marked a new record at Sotheby's in February, analysts feel that the market has ‘got its verve back’.

In fact, a series of sales, treated by many experts as a weather-vane of the current state of the art market, have begun with a bang. Picasso's Tête de Femme (Jacqueline) went for £8.1m - more than double its highest estimate - at Christie's. Four other works fetched over £5m. The relieved auction house claims that the demand is now high and the appetite of eager buyers is up.

“This could not have been said a couple of months ago,” a recent Business Week news report stated: “The sellers appear to be back, and experts see clear signs of recovery.” Echoing the mood, The UK Financial Times report underlines the art market’s return to seriousness. “The Sotheby’s robust sale of contemporary art sale indicates a sea change in taste. Largely gone was the bling of pre-recession sales: there was just one Warhol and one Hirst butterfly piece, and no diamonds or glitter. With low-ball estimates, top-quality works and the chance to buy from a renowned collection, bidding ignited, with 15 interested parties battling for some lots. There is a new seriousness among buyers.”

In keeping with trend, vigorous bidding for modern art from India marked the Asia Week art auctions in New York courtesy Sotheby's. Christie's opened their Asian sales on a strong note, too. A large acrylic painting ‘Gestation’ by Raza fetched close to million dollars compared to a pre-sale estimate of $ 600,000-800,000. A Manjit Bawa 1999 oil painting went for $ 360,000, almost double the high estimate, whereas two paintings by M. F. Husain fetched $ 150,000 and $ 210,000, compared to the high estimate of $ 80,000 and $ 120,000 dollar, respectively.

Back home, the mood clearly seems to be upbeat as indicated by Saffronart in its Spring Online Auction 2010. The leading auctioneer managed to sell 75% of the lots, totaling $ 4.6 million. Roughly 60% of them exceeded their high estimates, including Akbar Padamsee's 1953 portrait, ‘Prophet’ (a winning bid of $ 278,875, three times more than its higher estimate $ 80,000), Husain's 1970s Untitled (a winning bid of over $ 400,000, with a high estimate of $ 266,670), and F. N. Souza's ‘Decomposing Head’ that went for $ 350,750, exceeding its high estimate of $ 250,000). Subodh Gupta's ‘Doot’ fetched $391,000 against a high estimate of $ 240,000. According to its CEO and Co-founder Dinesh Vazirani, the strong results affirm the renewed confidence of the growing collector base for Indian art. Works Collectors vied for works of several other leading contemporary artists like Shibu Natesan, Sudarshan Shetty and Rajesh Ram.

The Osian’s Masterpieces Series Auction in March had on offer a wide range of fine art by some of India’s Modern & Contemporary Art masters. The proportion of lots sold was close to 60%. The major, high-value lots witnessed vigorous bids. The founder chairman of the auction house, Neville Tuli, underlined their ‘immediate commitment towards redemption of the art market’.

The strong auction results suggest a consistent demand from collectors for top quality and rare works. Indeed recession, it looks like, is finally behind the art market. Gauging the sentiment, a news story by Riddhi Doshi (The DNA, India) points out: “Though it’s still not boom time - like the one a few years ago - artists say they have left recession and the negatives associated with it behind. The first sign of the upturn is that leading contemporary artists, hit hard by recession, have started showcasing their works in India and internationally.”

The postponed solo shows by Jitish Kallat and Baiju Parthan, alongside Atul Dodiya are hogging the limelight. The latter feels that things are definitely looking better, as artists are churning out interesting works. Giving a broader perspective, Meneka Kumari Shah of Christie’s quips that the art market sure is gaining in confidence. According to her, the outlook underpinned by the returning dominance of private buyers - from the Americas, the Middle East, as well as Asia - is overall positive.