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Signs of an art market growing in maturity
An encouraging string of Asian art sales recently have well exceeded rather subdued expectations. The semi-annual Asia week auctions by Sotheby's and Christie's, expected to result in sales of somewhere between $75m and $105m, witnessed higher prices than the pre-sale estimates on several pieces owing to intensely competitive bidding. The latter led with over $80m, or about 50% above their original pre-sale estimate, whereas Sotheby's total was more than $52m.

It is significant that the strong results could materialize in backdrop of a recent research, showing that art spending by most Chinese collectors have come down by 24% year because of falling economic growth coupled with a lack of quality works, according to the Reuters news report. However, the sales total suggested otherwise. Sotheby's two auctions of Chinese art fetched $41.3 million, well above the high estimate of $32 million. The figures clearly point to the continued demand for works from private collections that have distinguished provenance. The trend also underlines in-depth strength across all major collecting categories, according to Noah Kupferman and Michael Bass, Christie's co-heads (Chinese art). The vice chairman for Sotheby's Asian art segment, Henry Howard Sneyd, concurred to state that the results go to reaffirm New York as a vital global center for top Asian Art auctions, attracting both sellers and buyers the world over.

The Asian market seems to have become a key factor in the global art market. The latest New York results have revived hopes for the top auction houses even as they gear up for the upcoming sales. Yamini Mehta, international head (South Asian art) at Sotheby's, had stated that the Indian art market scenario was fast maturing, with several top works drawing great interest. In fact, a collection of art by Amrita Jhaveri attained impressive sales figures, nearing the high estimate of $7 million. Almost 60% of the lots easily beat the high estimate. The head of sales (modern & contemporary South Asian art), Priyanka Mathew, observed that new buyers had started entering the market, thus pushing prices for the consignments.

India remains an important destination for Sotheby's, Its client base in the country is growing steadily, claimed its Deputy chairman (Europe) and chairman (Russia), Mark Poltimore in a recent interview with Gayatri Rangachari Shah of The NYT News Service. Their goal is to build the international market for both modern & contemporary art from India, apart from better targeting collectors and buyers based in the country and NRIs. Such efforts will lead to the creation of international market for Indian art in London and New York, he avers. We summarize some of his important observations:

In 2012, Sotheby's saw a 20 per cent rise in the number of Indian buyers participating in our auctions and a 42 per cent rise in the amount they spent with the company. Indian buyers are now active right across our selling categories - not just Indian art, but also increasingly in our impressionist and modern, international contemporary and jewelry sales.

• At present, the majority of buyers of Indian modern & contemporary art are Indian clients, either resident or nonresident in India. Holding our sales in New York and London exposes these works to a wider international audience, which is increasingly showing interest in this field. Major institutions such as Tate in Britain and MoMA in New York are also seeking Indian art acquisitions for their collections.

• There is undoubtedly growing international interest in Indian contemporary art. What we observe is that collectors are becoming more discerning; they are not in a rush to buy and are looking carefully and researching what they want to acquire. These are good indications of a market which is growing in maturity.

On March 19, as mentioned above, the auction house hosted the Amaya Collection, the first ever major international evening sale of top Indian art and also the first ever single-owner sale in this particular category in over a decade. More than 40 lots, estimated at approx. $5 - 7 million, fetched $ 6.7 million (over Rs 36 crores). Consigned by collector Amrita Jhaveri, it comprised several significant Indian artworks made during the second half of the 20th Century right through to the early 21st century. The sale was led by Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled (est. $800/1.2 million, right) from 1982, produced during an important period in the artist’s career. A further highlight was ‘Rajasthan I’, a resplendent work by Sayed Haider Raza from the 1980s, which fetched $ 809,000.

‘The Horse that Looked Back’, a 1963 composition by Husain was in keeping with his fascination for the animal depicted as wild symbols of power and raw energy. Jogen Chowdhury’s ‘Ganesh with Crown’ done in 1979 was part of his Ganesha series. Painted in 1963, ‘The Puppet Dancers’ (est. $200/300,000, right) represented Maqbool Fida Husain’s fascination with toys. ‘The Crucifixion’, a powerful painting by Souza represents his fascination with religion that continued throughout his career. In ‘Satsang’, Bhupen Khakar depicts a Hindu gathering with a group of male figures paying their respects. It fetched $ 557,000, much more than its high estimate. A painting by VS Gaitonde went for $ 965,000 (over Rs 5.2 crores). Works by Arpita Singh and Ram Kumar also fetched good prices.

Proceeds from it would underwrite a project space and lecture room at the renowned International Artists’ Association, Khoj in New Delhi.