India, the new Himalaya of the market?



Behind China, the other significant emerging force on the international art market is India. In the mid 1990s, India’s strong economic growth produced a new generation of patrons and sponsors willing to invest in the art of their fellow-countrymen. Today, the demand is global and fast-growing, substantially fuelled by the speculative incentive to earn attractive gains on quick turnarounds. The works produced by the new stars of Indian art are exchanged in auction houses in Hong-Kong and Dubai, London and New-York, New Delhi and Paris. After China, India looks like a new Eldorado for collectors / buyers attracted to the speculative potential.

The sculptor Anish KAPOOR is a perfect example of the kind of price inflation that is occurring for some Indian artists. First seen on the secondary market in 1980’s at the price of €15,400 the artist’s price index has acquired two more zeros over the last four years, particularly concerning his large alabaster works. Standing roughly 2 metres tall, the one sold on 1 July 2008 in London fetched GBP 1.72m (€2.2m). Some of his mirror sculptures now fetch similar prices. Blood Mirror, a 2-metre disk sold for £520,000 (€789,000) in February 2007. Since 2004, the price of Kapoor’s work hasn’t stopped rising, even for his multiples. For example, Blood Solid, a red-lacquered bronze work made in 8 copies first sold for $80,000 in 2004. The version that found its way to auction at Sotheby’s two years later sold for £92,000 (€136,000). The one sold this year at Sotheby’s New York went under the hammer at $250,000 (€162,000).
Another rising star on the Indian scene is Subodh GUPTA (aged 44). Gupta was absent from international auction rooms until 4 years ago. Today he is comparable to Damien Hirst in terms of fame and rocketing prices! In 2005, Sotheby’s sold his painting Fisherman for $13,000 (€10,700). This was the year that Pierre Huber exhibited his work on a stand at the Frieze Art Fair. In 2007, the prices of his paintings had moved into a completely different sphere and were changing hands for between 130,000 and 280,000 euros! His success is today global: in Hong Kong, London or New York, even in France, collectors of all nationalities are eager to acquire his works.

This kind of phenomenon been actively encouraged by Christie’s and Sotheby’s (and others) particularly with their « specialised sales » over the last few years. In France, the first session specifically dedicated to Modern & Contemporary Indian Art was organised by Artcurial on 3 December 2007 as part of their sale of Chinese and Indian. The results were good (revenue: €1.4m) with a couple of outstanding bids including one for a piece by Manjunath KAMATH (1972). His acrylic work entitled Teeth Politics (2007) finished not long before it appeared on the auction block, fetched 36,000 euros. Determined to pursue the Indian vein, Artcurial included Indian artists in its Contemporary Art sale of 3 April 2008 and beat Sudodh Gupta’s previous record! Gupta’s installation Vehicle for the seven Seas sold for €425,000 more than three times its estimated value… a record bid generated by a French auction house! But that record didn’t last long; a month later a in Hong Kong, Saat samundar paar (10) sold for HKD 8m (€651,000) and in July 2008 a painting dated 2005 fetched £520,000 (€657,000 ) at Sotheby’s in London.

One of the major surprises of 2007 involved the young artist Raqib SHAW whose Garden of earthly Delights III demolished all expectations when it fetched for £2.4m (€3.45m) in London (12 October 2007) setting a new record for a work of contemporary Indian art. Admittedly the work already a prestigious background having been acquired from the Victoria Miro Gallery in 2004 and exposed at the New York MoMA in 2006.
Other Indian artists are currently jumping onto the lower rungs of our global rankings of the most highly-priced artists. On 20 September 2007,a work by the painter Atul DODIYA entitled Three Painters fetched $450,000 (€322,000). In April 2008, A triptych landscape by the artist Bharti KHER – who made his first auction appearance in 2006 – fetched £165,000 (€209,000) in London although it had been valued at £40,000 – 60,000. A month later a diptych by TV SANTOSH fetched $280,000 (€178,000) at Christie’s in New York. On 1 July 2008, his Man Made Famine and the Rats, a work in created in 2005 measuring 137 x 182cm went under the hammer for £100,000 (€125,000). A similar work sold for only €30,000 just two years earlier. On 25 May, in Hong Kong, a work by Jitish KALLAT sold for the equivalent of €105,000. The same day, a painting by Shibu NATESAN fetched €113,000.

Fuelled by specialised sales (national focus sales), the progression of the price index of « contemporary Indian art » has been spectacular: In July 2008, the increase of our index for this category over the previous 10 years stood at no less than +3230%!