Art auction market witnessing new generation of buyers
By Madhusree Chatterjee, New Delhi, July 11 : A curious dichotomy has gripped the art auction market with a sudden boom in sales at record prices even as economies in Europe, the US and India log a slump in growth. A new generation of buyers is opening up its purse strings to acquire rare and high quality works.
A quality consciousness rarely seen before is driving art auction markets worldwide as new segments of buyers - collectors and private archives - have emerged.
Art market analysts say the phenomenon is a consequence of the caution imposed on buyers after the price bubble in the investment driven market burst post the 2008 economic slowdown. It resulted in a steep crash in art prices by as much as 30 percent in developing countries like India.
A bulk of the over-hyped new art that was doing repeated auction rounds on the pretext of emerging talent was flushed out of the market in the deluge of depreciating prices and ensuing price corrections.
When "the markets showed signs of resurgence in late 2010, prices of art by the masters had remained largely unscathed in the two years of the economic chaos", said a Mumbai based art critic, who did not want to be named.
"The old masters, modernists and contemporary pioneers are still commanding steady prices in the auction market. In hindsight, nothing has really changed in the echelons, which is controlled by the masters," the analyst told IANS.
According to Alex Bell, co-chairman of Sotheby's Old Masters Paintings Worldwide, these are exciting times for the old masters and the British painting markets.
At an auction of Old Masters' and British Paintings in London which realised 32,268,650 pounds, the top lot was a 350-year-old historic naval scene, 'The Surrender of the Royal Prince During the Four Days Battle 0f 1st-4th June, 1666' by Willem van de Velde (the younger) which sold for 5.3 million pounds.
A drawing of the grand canal of Venice by 18th century Italian master Canaletto, acquired from a private collection, sold for 1,945,250 pounds, a spokesperson for Sotheby's said.
Bell said Sotheby's has been seeing strong prices in extremely dynamic sales in which collectors "were prepared to go head-to-head for the very best works".
"The auction market was also attracting an encouraging number of new clients and strong participation from new markets," Bell said.
In a dramatic bidding on the telephone June 20, Sotheby's sold a 1927 European classic, "Peinture (Etoile Bleue)" by Spanish artist Joan Miro for 23,561,250 pounds.
Helen Newman, chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department in Europe, said the sale reinforced the unprecedented demand for the best examples of 20th century art.
"The masterpiece by Miro not only shattered the previous record for the artist set four months ago but made more than three times it achieved five years ago," Newman said.
The South Asian modern and contemporary art segment continues to be ruled by a club of 20 elite, which includes masters like Tyeb Mehta, S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, Manjit Bawa, M.F. Husain, Ram Kumar and Anjolie Ela Menon and historic legends like Jamini Roy, the Tagore brothers (Abanindranath and Rabindranath), Nanadalal Bose and old Bengal masters, experts say.
Two early 20th century artists - S.H. Raza and V.S. Gaitonde - created a new auction record June 22 at Saffronart when their art sold for Rs.3.15 crore (USD 585,000)and Rs 2.85 crore (USD 527,500) respectively.
According to Hugo Weihe, Christie's international director of Asian Art, the collectors' base for South Asian is expanding with "bids from collectors, institutions and dealers from Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East to Europe and the US at strong prices in auctions".
At an auction of South Asian modern and contemporary art in Christie's June 11, a painting from the "Mahishasura" series by Tyeb Mehta sold for 1,385,250 pounds, setting a record.
"I had predicted two years ago the hype will die out and only those who have proven themselves will survive. It is about demand and supply. When you don't get quality art, rare and historically rare art in the market, prices automatically rise," Kolkata-based auctioneer Vikram Bachhawat told IANS.
"After the death of artist Jamini Roy's son, who was an accomplished copier of his father's works, there is no one to copy Jamini Roy, leading to scarcity of his works in the market," Bachhawat explained.
Heritage artists are naturally in demand and buyers are ready to pay any amount, he added.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)