Art in 2019: Record-breaking sales and a banana on wall

Last Updated 31 December 2019, 08:15 IST

Record sales by Indian artists pointed to the continuing steady interest in modern Indian art in an eventful 2019 that ended globally on a note of 'fruitful' controversy over a banana duct-taped to a wall in a Miami gallery -- and soon eaten by a visitor.

In the Indian art-scape, Vasudeo S Gaitonde was the undisputed star, bagging the top two spots for the most expensive Indian artworks sold in the year. While his 1982 Untitled oil-on-canvas fetched Rs 26.7 crore, another 1973 Untitled oil-on-canvas was picked up for Rs 25.2 crore at Mumbai-based auction house Saffronart sales.

Two more of his Untitled works, one created in 1958 and another in 1963, were sold for Rs 9.5 crore each at the Saffronart and Astaguru sales, respectively, making it to the "Top 10 artworks of 2019" list brought out by Artery India, an art intelligence and sales advisory, and shared exclusively with PTI.

The list also featured modern masters like Syed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza, Bhupen Khakhar and Raja Ravi Verma.

"This has been a promising year for Indian art, and sales reflect a steady global interest in and demand for modern masters, including V S Gaitonde, S H Raza and F N Souza, who were creating art during a transformational period in history," Dinesh Vazirani, Saffronart CEO and co-founder, told PTI.

Raza's "La Terre", an abstract landscape, considered an important masterpiece from the artist's career, appeared on the auction market after in September 2019 after 16 years and fetched Rs 21.6 crore at a Christie's sale.

Khakhar, who was a new entrant in this year's top 10 list, achieved a brand new record with his "Two Men in Benares" that fetched Rs 22.39 crore at Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art auction in June 2019.

The 1982 work became the most expensive painting by Khakhar, leaving behind his "De-luxe Tailors" (1972) that sold for Rs 9.71 crore at the Sotheby's auction of Howard Hodgkin’s collection in 2017.

The painting is also iconic in its historicity. Following its unveiling in Mumbai in 1986, Khakhar became the first Indian artist to freely disclose his sexual orientation through his work.

Souza's 1958 Untitled oil on board work showcasing two men groping a woman seemed like an uncannily appropriate representation of the current times.

It sold for Rs 10.4 crore at a Sotheby's sale.

While no contemporary painter made it to the list of top 10 most expensive artworks by Indians, London-based contemporary sculptor Anish Kapoor was named the most successful Indian artist alive by Hurun India Art List brought out by the Hurun Research Institute, a luxury publishing group based in Shanghai in China.

Kapoor sold 102 lots that realised a total turnover of Rs 168.25 crore in 2018-19, with his highest selling artwork -- an untitled stainless steel sculpture, fetching Rs 9.31 crore at a Christie's auction in October 2018.

"The works of Anish Kapoor, contemporary sculptor, registered the highest demand in terms of value and lots in the auction houses during the period under review(April 2018 to March 2019)," the survey noted.

The year also saw visible interest in rare books and prints.

Bengali sculptor and printmaker Somnath Hore's "Wounds", part of his paper pulp print series from his 1970s experiments, fetched Rs 9 lakh at Mumbai-based auction house Prinseps' rare books and prints sale.

During the September sale that fetched a total of Rs 33.23 lakh, there was particular interest in the 1809 copy of Luis De Camoens' "The Lusiad Or The Discovery Of India", which sold for Rs 2.04 lakh.

The three volumes of the Portuguese epic poem, printed for Lackington, Allen and Co. London describes Vasco Da Gama's journey to India and had previously been owned by art collector Edward Cheney (1803-1884) of Badger Hall, in England's Shropshire county.

Internationally, French painter Claude Monet's 1890 work "Mueles" sold for a record breaking price of $110.7 million (Rs 789.15 crore) at Sotheby's 'Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale' in New York.

Regarded as the finest example from Monet's acclaimed "Haystacks" series, the artwork not just set a new world auction record for any work by the painter, but also became the ninth most expensive work ever sold at an auction, as well as the first Impressionist work to cross the $100 million threshold.

The year for the art world ended in a pandemonium like situation with a banana duct-taped to a wall up for sale at a booth in the 2019 edition of Art Basel Miami.

Of the three editions of the artwork titled "Comedian", created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and presented by gallery Perrotin, two sold for $120,000 and one for $150,000.

Before being removed, the banana was eaten by a visitor at the fair who claimed the act was part of a performance.

"This morning, following recommendations, we removed the installation at 9 am. We want to thank the organizers of the fair for their help and continued support. Art Basel collaboratively worked with us to station guards and create uniform lines.

"However, the installation caused several uncontrollable crowd movements and the placement of the work on our booth compromised the safety of the artwork around us, including that of our neighbours," gallery Perrotin said in a statement.

"Comedian", with its simple composition, ultimately offered a complex reflection of ourselves, it added.

"We would like to warmly thank all those who participated in this memorable adventure, as well as to our colleagues. We sincerely apologize to all the visitors of the fair who today will not be able to participate in ‘Comedian’," the statement added.

(Published 31 December 2019, 08:15 IST)

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