Indian Contemporary Artists under 40



Friday is tops! Every other Friday, Artprice offers you the bid ranking for each category. This week: the ten highest bids for Indian artists under 40.

India, an emerging power, retained its tenth place in the classification of countries by GDP in 2012. The world’s second most highly-populated country, India only wrested itself free of British control in 1947, becoming a democratic republic in 1950 in the wake of the struggle led by the great Mahatma Gandhi. The country’s economic liberalisation was speeded up through the reforms launched in the early Nineties, including free exchange. While this period marked a turning point in the development of private art galleries and the professionalisation of the art market sector, it also saw the emergence of a new generation of artists. Between 2006 and 2008, the Indian art market rocketed sky high with names like Anish KAPOOR and Subodh GUPTA. In 2009, the Indian Art Fair (New Delhi), a key event for Indian art enthusiasts, arose from this dynamic. With no support from the State and no public policy for developing the local art scene, this type of private-sector action and financing played a crucial role. The explosion of the market was followed by the emergence of a large number of auction houses – mainly focused on New Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay), as are all market-driven activities. These include Osian and Triveda Fine Art (also an art gallery), based in New Delhi, Asta Guru in Mumbai and Bid & Hammer Auctioneers in Bangalore and New Delhi.
So, given this highly dynamic scene, how is the next generation shaping up? In 2012, which artists under 40 achieved the best bids?

Top 10 : the ten highest bids for Indian artists under 40

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Jitish KALLAT $85145 Suffix (Herbaceous Perenniale) -1 (2006) 06/11/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
2 Jitish KALLAT $62820 « Carbon Milk 9 » (2007) 02/17/2012 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
3 Raqib SHAW $45535 Untitled (2007) 02/16/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
4 Raqib SHAW $37684 Untitled (2004) 02/16/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
5 Raqib SHAW $28000 Untitled (2005) 11/15/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
6 THUKRAL & TAGRA $27865 Somnium Genero – Aries 03 (2006) 06/11/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
7 Jitish KALLAT $20000 « Traumanama (The Cry of the Gland) » (2009) 03/21/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
8 Raqib SHAW $19233 Untitled (2005) 09/12/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
9 Justin PONMANY $12900 « Kundali » (2008) 11/25/2012 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
10 Manjunath KAMATH $11000 Untitled (2007) 03/21/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)

A long way from the strike force of Western and Chinese auction houses, Indian contemporary art is increasingly in demand locally, and is well represented internationally. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the ranking reveals a map of Indian contemporary art sales divided between London, New York and Hong Kong. While five artists share the Top Ten, two stand out from the rest, taking up seven of the top places.

The works of Jitish KALLAT, an artist born in Mumbai in 1974, are already well known in the sale room. In 2005, he made a sensational entrance with the sale of Canis Familiaris : Dog’s life for $16,000: double its high estimate (Sotheby’s, New York, 20 September). Between 2006 and 2008, his rating continued to climb impressively. For example, the same work went to another buyer for nearly $122,000, i.e. a 75% rise in value (Asta Guru, Bombay, 22 February 2008). In 2009, the painting Dawn Chorus – 7 achieved his current record with a hammer price of $320,000 (Christie’s New York, 16 September). Then, after getting used to prices of over $100,000 since 2008, he saw the situation change in 2012, when his top sale was $85,000 with Suffix (Herbaceous Perenniale) – 1 (Christie’s, London, 11 June). And on top of that, with nine works bought in compared with four sold, 2012 ended with a clear drop in his rating. But in the under-40 category, Jitish Kallat still remains the most highly-rated artist because he occupies first, second and seventh places!

Raqib SHAW, born the same year as Jitish Kallat, is another artist who made a dazzling entrance in the auction room. In 2006, a work typical of his style, half-way between the visual and the decorative arts, went under the hammer for the first time at $60,000. The following year, with Shaw riding high in the contemporary markets, the imposing Garden of earthly Delghts III (305 cm x 152.5 cm) posted a thundering record of $4.89 m: four times its high estimate (Sotheby’s London, 12 October)! Unequalled to date, this record illustrates the sudden speculative upsurge of the time. In 2010 and 2011 Raqib Shaw’s best sales were $750,000 and $740,000 (Garden of Earthly Delight XIV, Christie’s London, 11 February 2010 and Absence of God III…and His Tears of Blood will Drown the Cities of Men II, Phillips de Pury & Company, London 17 February 2011). Since then, his market has produced more moderate results. In 2012, his prices did not go above the $45,000 obtained for a mixed media of 2007, which garnered him third place in this Top Ten.

The only duo in this ranking, THUKRAL & TAGRA, reached seventh place with the sale of Somnium Genero – Aries 03 for $27,800 (Christie’s, London 11 June 2012). In 2012, their market lost momentum –witness the sale of a similar work for over $48,000 one year earlier (Somnium Genero – Aeris 02 at Phillips de Pury, London, 14 April 2011). The trend seems to be confirmed in 2013, because the oil Somnium Genero-Self fetched $23,000 (Phillips, London, 15 February 2013), while it had gone for $55,000 two years earlier at the same auction house (Phillips de Pury & Company, London 24 April 2010).

Bids for the works of Justin PONMANY, in ninth place, followed an almost identical path to those of his compatriots in this ranking. The artist achieved his finest results between 2006 and 2008, including 16 bids between $35,000 and $176,000 (for Staple Agony-II (Plastic Memory), his current record. During the crisis in 2009 and 2010, his works posted prices between $20,000 and $35,000. However, since 2011, his market has gradually run out of steam. The lots on offer are increasingly few, and are generally bought-in. In two years, only the imposing Kundali, which garnered him ninth place in the line-up, finally went for $12,000, i.e. its low estimate (Christie’s Hong Kong, 25 November 2012). Christie’s had to make two attempts before selling the painting, and to temper its hopes by cutting the low estimate in half.

In last place in the Top Ten, Manjunath KAMATH signalled his return to the sale room with $11,000 for an untitled painting of 2007 (Christie’s New York, 21 March 2012). That very year, he had made a grand entrance at auction with two paintings that went for $54,000 and $52,000 within a week of each other (Character in my Grandfather’s Story at Christie’s Hong Kong, 25 November, then Teeth Politics at Artcurial Paris, 3 December). Since then, no new works have been up for sale at auction.

With an entrance ticket of $11,000 and a top result of $85,000 for artists under 40, contemporary Indian art no longer moves in the same spheres as it did between 2006 and 2008, but it seems to have found an equilibrium.