Friday, October 10, 2008

State of the art

Georgina Maddox

An unsold Subodh reflects the effects of a crashing Sensex

The market meltdown has not just affected the Sensex at the stock market. The buying of art has become more selective and speculative. Case in point: Subodh Gupta, the hot-new artist on the block whose paintings were being sold at Rs 7 crore, went unsold at a recent Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong.

“Although the Subodh Gupta diptych did not find a buyer, much post-sale interest in the work has been received,” says their representative Girija Balakrishnan. “The level of bidding in the room from a new group of buyers was most encouraging.”

“I think it’s a good thing that the market slows down,” says Gupta, realistically. “People have become too greedy. This will allow the real price of my works to emerge.”

“Buyers have become more choosy and discerning, and frankly, I think it’s a good thing for the market in the long run,” says gallery owner Aditya Ruia, who also observes that sell-out shows that were common among galleries, have become an exception more than the rule.

So has the bubble finally burst? Ranjana Steinruecke, whose contemporary art gallery, Mirchandani Steinruecke promotes many cutting-edge artists, believes that it may be just a blip and not a burst. “Yes, there has been a slow down, but there is a plus side to all this. Younger artists who are priced in the US $10,000-12,000 bracket are

seeing brisk sales. Besides, the Subodh diptych was priced 10 times above the asking price for the artist in the market now,” reasons Steinruecke. As if to support her argument, the Sotheby’s sales records also show that fresh names like Thukral & Tagra’s I Like My Man Covered Too was picked up at Us $ 235,000 at the same auction where Subodh failed to sell.

Steinruecke also believes good quality exhibitions are very important for Indian collectors. “Most of what is around is so mediocre.” With all the great and big shows of Indian contemporary art happening abroad and not at home, how can interest grow and develop in art here? “Therefore we have mainly speculators and very few real collectors, which is why we are so prone to market fluctuations,” opines Steinruecke.

Independent art consultant and auctioneer Angira Arya is of the opinion that the continuous fall of the financial market in the last nine months has affected every thing in the market. “Everyone is holding on to their money in the market and is not enthusiastic to part with their liquidity. It is a bad time to invest in anything, even art. However, Subodh is not a benchmark for the art market since his art was fetching very high prices previous to the dip,” says Arya.

Hope lies in the fact that auctioneers are not pulling back their planned auctions and the calendar is still busy. Saffronart is currently hosting their jewellery auction. Sabrang, a team of activists are still auctioning paintings to raise funds on October 16 at Taj Land’s End. Ma Passion has an upcoming auction on October 22 while Emami Chisel is slotted for November 8.

After all, there’s still glamour in art, even if not returns.

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