On the success of virtual actions like Pundole’s Fine Art Sale
Pundole’s fine art sale last week is one of many successful virtual auctions during the pandemic. Is there an explanation?
A torrential downpour, howling winds and even a pandemic couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of enthusiastic buyers of Pundole’s art sale last week. The Mumbai-based auction house has sold 98% of its 64 lots, at a hammer price of 14.78 crore or $ 1.9 million (including a 15% buy-in premium). The sale included world record auction prices for six artists, including Krishen Khanna, Piraji Sagara, Mehlli Gobhai, Navjot Altaf and works on paper by Sudhir Patwardhan and Homi Patel. “There were works to suit all budgets, starting at 20,000 yen and they were a combination of good quality, superb provenance and hard-to-find subjects, which created the perfect storm – no pun intended,” explains auctioneer and fine arts specialist Mallika Sagar. Despite the lack of buzz from a live venue, the technology allowed for frenzied auctions. Many works were on the market for the first time, coming from two private collections – that of Tina and Bakul Khote and Beroze and Michel Sabatier.
Renowned modernist artists continue to command a bounty. A first book by SH Raza, offered by another seller, sold for 80,000,000, more than two and a half times its low estimate. But also encouraging, the active auctions for contemporary works by Anju Dodiya, Vasundhara Tewari Broota, Nalini Malani and Navjot Altaf. Against the backdrop of the migratory crisis, Nalini Malani’s 1988 watercolor “Concerning a family of immigrants in the city” sold for 13,000,000, well above its estimate of 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 .
Ways to spend it
Indian art auctions have remained buoyant since March, when Sotheby’s South Asian modern and contemporary art auction grossed 35.7 crore. In June, Saffronart’s auction totaled 17.5 crore. Christie’s July sale last month brought in 35.7 crore and 51.4 crore Asta Guru. (All figures include buyers’ premium ranging from 15-30%).
During the lockdown, Saffronart, in addition to its main auctions, held many smaller, unqualified auctions, such as Absolute Tuesdays and Friday Fives, with a mix of art and other collectibles. Minal Vazirani, president and co-founder of the company, says these have also been very successful. “These auctions took on a life of their own during this time,” she says. The company’s 20-year bet on online sales set it apart as it has just under 40% market share of the Indian art auction market globally.
Discretionary spending on leisure activities, whether traveling or shopping, is stopping, even casual art buyers are willing to spend more. After all, how many people will be buying premium bags on the internet and, more importantly, where will they be wearing them?
“All over the world, art seems to retain its value due to easy liquidity conditions and because people have more time at home to look at art,” says the businessman and collector of ‘art Dara Mehta. Staying indoors has clearly had an effect on the art market. As Udit Bhambri, another prolific collector, puts it: “You spend so much time at home but you can’t really redesign your home just yet. Art is an easy way to look at your space in a different way.
The pandemic has seen serious and emerging art collectors react to stable prices and good works hitting the market. Mumbai-based businessman Shyamal Bodani, who started collecting art five years ago, bought 11 works during the foreclosure months, including a watercolor by Ayesha Sultana, a mural by Manish Nye and a work by young artist Biraaj Dodiya. He finally found the time to find out more about these artists, who were always on his radar. “My art has kept me company for the past six months,” he says.
Digital activity drives sales
“People imagine that the art world is suffering, which is not at all the case,” explains Roshini Vadehra, director of the Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery. “In terms of volume, our sales in the past two months have been higher than in recent years because everyone is in India and is not distracted by the holidays.” When the pandemic struck, the gallery turned to intensify its digital distribution, through a weekly newsletter and an online store. Vadehra has also sold to NRIs based in Chicago, Boston and Atlanta, for a range of $ 30,000 or more, using apps such as Art Placer (which lets you preview a digital display of art).
Shireen Gandhy, who runs the Mumbai Chemould gallery on Prescott Road, said she had sold three works of Anju Dodiya, whose personal exhibition was on display when the lockdown hit. “In March, I wasn’t even sure if I was getting any payments, but they came without our asking,” she says. Since then, around 20 sales requests have come through Instagram alone.
Prateek Raja, co-director of Experimenter in Kolkata, said the gallery is also engaging with young collectors who returned to Kolkata during this time. “We meet our collectors at art fairs where there is literally a five minute window to speak, but over the past few months we have had several in-depth conversations with collectors that last much longer than a rushed conversation. He said, referring to the presentations with clients made on Zoom.
Last April, the three galleries joined several others to launch In Touch, an online platform where each space has pre-selected works for sale. While the jury is out on its commercial success, the initiative reflects the type of cooperation that takes place between art sellers.
Saffronart has launched a partner gallery program to provide local galleries with access to a larger global network. “There was a perception in the market that it was a zero-sum game, that if one person sold it could hinder further sales,” says Vazirani. “If we collaborate, it fosters a greater level of engagement and helps attract more people to the arts ecosystem. “