The art of auctioning art

The Indian market may be barely 20 years old, but it certainly is proving to be a voice to reckon with.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHENNAI: It has been a jaw-dropping few days for all those avid news followers in our country. A painting by an Indian artist has sold for a whopping Rs 61.8 crore at an auction recently. Reactions by the dismissers of art have been varied. “Is this true or fake news?”, “Why would anyone buy a work of art for such a vulgar amount?”, “What’s the big deal in a painting??”...But, no matter what, money speaks to the human race without distinction and these astronomical figures simply cannot be ignored.

Here’s the full story. The artist in question is Amrita Sher-Gil, one of India’s most famous artists from the pre-independence era. Considered India’s national treasure, her artworks have been categorised as non-exportable Indian art. The auction was held in India and the staggering amount that the painting titled ‘The Story Teller’ fetched, was from the pockets of an Indian art collector. Up until a few years ago, art auctions and their newsworthy sales always belonged to the lands beyond our shores. Indians had wiser things to buy; real estate, gold, stocks and shares and of course, three-quarters of one’s wealth had to be set aside for that big fat Indian wedding! Investing in art was not even on any remote radar of our existence.

Things are certainly changing. This auction comes close on the heels of another one recently held in Mumbai where late Indian artist, SH Raza’s ‘Gestation’ sold for Rs 51.75 crore. In 2022, an untitled 1969 painting by VS Gaitonde was bought for Rs 48.3 crore, again at an auction house in Mumbai. And a painting by Tyeb Mehta sold for Rs 41.97 crore at a similar Indian auction. The Indian audience seems to have miraculously woken up to the potential of art as an investment. Although Indian artists have always garnered a lot of interest globally and have even broken records at international auction houses, they remained relatively ignored in India for decades. Enlightenment bestows its halo on those who seek and finally, the Indian market has started recognising the significance of these masterpieces.

The Indian market may be barely 20 years old, but it certainly is proving to be a voice to reckon with. European masters may have a 500-year-old advantage, no doubt. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold for Rs 3,300 crore in New York while the world gasped in disbelief. In comparison, we may have miles to go to reach anywhere substantially noteworthy. Yet, positive times lie ahead as bars are being raised by new art collectors.

Art auctions may seem to reduce art to a commodity. It may feel like being in the womb of a noisy stock exchange, teeming with brokers and investors. Risks are assessed to arrive at decisions. In the end, an acquired artwork turns into not merely an asset but also makes the buyer a part of its history. Art is an intellectual asset for an aesthetic soul. Go ahead and buy a piece of original art today and soak in the beauty of it while you await your returns.

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The New Indian Express