International auction house Christie’s held its first art auction in India yesterday, doubling estimates on 83 lots that, combined, fetched an impressive $16.3 million. The sale was held at the glamorous Taj Mahal Palace, one of two hotels stormed by Islamic militants in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
In addition to exceeding predictions, the auction set a new record for a contemporary work by an Indian artist. A golden 1979 oil on canvas by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (pictured) fetched $3.79 million, surpassing the previous record of $3.48 million for an S. H. Raza painting at Christie’s London in 2010.
“Christie’s sees the relatively underdeveloped art market in Asia’s third-largest economy as fertile ground for growth as part of its international expansion that has included recent auctions in China and the Middle East,” wrote The Guardian. “Indian growth overall has been stalling, but the number of people worth $1 million or more is expanding, fuelling double-digit growth in the luxury market for the past five years.”
Research firm Euromonitor predicts 86 percent growth in India’s luxury goods market over the next five years, with China expected to be slightly behind at 72 percent.
“The higher you go up in the scale of wealth, art is becoming increasingly more attractive,” Fflur Roberts, Euromonitor’s Global Luxury Manager, told India Today. “It’s an appreciation of art and that luxury of being able to buy art.”
In an interview with NDTV, Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy described India’s recent economic slowdown as a “blip,” while claiming that his auction house had experienced a recent surge in the number of Indian clients. Murphy also predicted that the price of Indian artwork would “shoot up” in two to five years as it gains increasing international attention.
“Many of these Indian collectors are into patriotic buying, which means they mostly buy Indian art,” he added.
Works by nine of the Indian artists displayed in Mumbai, including those by Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Sher-Gil, are designated as “national treasures.” Because these pieces cannot be exported, hosting the event in Mumbai was the only way for Christie’s to put them on the auction block.
Other notable works that sold yesterday included a pair of paintings by Tyeb Mehta, one of the country’s best-known modern artists and a member of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group. They sold for a combined $4.7 million.
Many of the 83 lots were sourced from the private collection of framers-turned-gallery-owners Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy.