In terms of market value, the late VS Gaitonde has pulled ahead of the Bombay Progressives to set a new benchmark for modern Indian art going under the hammer. An early abstract landscape fetched a closing bid of R23.7 crore, almost three times the floor price, at Christie’s auction in Mumbai.
Another Gaitonde canvas fetched 12 times the reserve price of R8 lakh. It's the sort of thing that makes the punters keel over and weakly cry out for a glass of Perrier.
This rally led by Gaitonde—other artists like Manjit Bawa, Bhupen Khakhar and Ganesh Pyne have also performed far better than expected—may be read as a sign that the recession that began in 2008 is finally over. Perhaps it is over everywhere, for this was a global auction. Telephonic bids came in from all over, and the result shows that there are surpluses everywhere in search of investment options.
The art market is an extraordinarily sensitive barometer reflecting the weather in general markets. This is because art—especially modern art, whose historical value is yet to be established—is wonderfully chancy. It bears no obvious markers of commercial value, authenticity may be a matter of opinion in the absence of paperwork, and value may be affected in unpredictable ways by evolving tastes among fanciers. This makes modern art high-risk, and it is among the sectors that money exits first during a crisis. And it is among the last to recover after the event. But modern Indian art, an emerging market whose value and nature are not universally agreed on yet, has clearly recovered. The rally at Christie’s leaves no room for doubt: the global recession is over.