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The best and the rest

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Three auctions, high expectations

Already, the Tyeb Mehtas — difficult to come by in his lifetime — are leaching out of collectors’ homes, even before prices harden, which should be an indication of what buyers/investors can expect by the time the winter and spring auctions come around. He and the other Progressives seem to be the flavour of the current auctions, and if estimates are anything to go by, this seems to be as good a time to buy as you’re likely to get any time soon. It is definitely also the best time to look at the contemporaries, the market for whom seems literally to have bottomed out.

Our pick from the three auctions under preview:

Best buys
Jamini Roy: With the auction houses presumably having taken cognisance of things like provenance, especially in the case of Jamini Roy who is probably India’s most faked artist, these are excellent buys at very attractive price points. Christie’s alone has over a half-dozen Roys, which makes them very attractive for the bidder, since if you don’t succeed with one lot, you can move on to the next without emptying the bank vault. Sotheby’s has far fewer lots on offer, but once again, the Jamini Roys are extremely affordable. Most prices are in the Rs 5-6 lakh range, a few twice that, and only one has a maximum estimate of Rs 25 lakh.

F N Souza: For the same reason as the Jamini Roys, but in even larger numbers, though Sotheby’s seems to have overall better works than Christie’s, and though Saffronart has fewer drawings and paintings by him, it is a compelling collection. The most expensive valuation seems to be at Rs 75 lakh, and drawings are available for as little as Rs 1.5 lakh: The amateur collector couldn’t dream of starting off at better price points.

Tyeb Mehta: India’s artist non pareil who created only a few works in his lifetime, but each of them a masterpiece, is clearly the flavour of the season. Mehta drawings, never before seen at any auction, have this time been put on the block, clearly at the lowest price points (Rs 3 lakh at Saffronart) while Christie’s has five works, the most expensive estimates of which are for Mahishasura and Two Figures, at a peak of Rs 4 crore, while at Sotheby’s, And behind Me Desolation has a highest price estimation of Rs 1.75 crore.

Proceed with caution
M F Husain: There are a number of M F Husains of offer, and with private sales and auctions becoming, quite literally, the only way to access his work, it should be good news — only, for whatever reason, these are not Husain’s best works, even though there are his horses and Mother Teresa (Sotheby’s and Christie’s). Suss out the better works before bidding for them. My own favourite is an Untitled work from 1967, a fairly austere painting by his usually exuberant standard, with a high estimation of Rs 1.4 crore.

Krishen Khanna, B Prabha, Jogen Chowdhury: These are all interesting artists, and probably under-rated currently. Khanna has been ascending slowly and a Saffronart work based on the Last Supper is quite extraordinary; Prabha’s market, like Jamini Roy’s, is riddled with fakes; and Chowdhury, who plunged severely after rising spectacularly, is recovering slowly.

Not by choice

Riyas Komu, Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat: The prices are extremely attractive right now, and some of these works are good, even brilliant (Komu’s A Man Committing Suicide and Kallat’s Dawn Chorus — 7, both at Christie’s, Chowdhury’s Man! at Sotheby’s), but the contemporary market is in a volatile state and may take somewhat longer to recover. Prices, therefore, become particularly significant, and according to the trade it is best to pick up these and other peer artists straight from the studios or galleries where prices are not subject to the irrationality and excitement, of the auction market.

Subodh Gupta: Partly for the same reason as above, but also because when mindsets change, market recoveries of the most easily interpreted works have the most difficult time getting a fair price. Gupta's utensils series (Rs 1 crore at Saffronart) has suffered greatly, as a result of which it has now become a bad word among collectors who have suffered on account of very high prices earlier. New works by Gupta are probably a better bet.

For too long has Indian art as we used to know it - the miniature school — languished, so it is refreshing to see Sotheby’s devote a section of its lots to this. Of particular interest is an seven-lot collection that was part of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s collection, as well as a considerable number of 18th and 19th century paintings from various schools, and though it might be a problem to get them back to the country because of our rules regarding antiquities, the prices for these have remained healthy, in spite of the downturn in modern and contemporary art. A separate auction, at Christie’s, has more exhaustive art and sculpture.



Modern and Contemporary vArt Online, September 9-10

South Asian Modern + Contemporary
v New York, September 16

Indian and Southeast Asian Art
vNew York, September 16

South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art
vNew York, September 17



If you like to keep tabs on how your — or others’ — bids are faring at an auction, Saffronart has used the aid of newer technologies available to provide the information as well as the bidding tools on your mobile handset.

The first fine art auction house to make this service available, compatible with phones from BlackBerry, Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, the mobile bidding application can be downloaded from , and can be used for bidding (a colour-coded bid status indicator lets you know the leading bid) as well as keeps tabs on the progress of the auction, bid amounts and bid histories.

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First Published: Wed, September 09 2009. 00:14 IST