Renowned British auction house Christie’s announced its 2023 year-end results, revealing that their South Asian modern and contemporary art sale back in September shattered expectations, raking in a staggering $11.02 million.
This number is nearly double the estimate, and the auction sold a remarkable 96% of the lots offered. The auction set multiple artist records and marked a significant moment for the South Asian art market.
MF Husain’s ‘Untitled (Naga)’
The crown jewel of that sale was celebrated Indian modern artist Maqbool Fida Husain’s Untitled (Naga) which captivated bidders and fetched a cool $1.26 million, far exceeding its pre-sale estimates.
Sayed Haider Raza’s ‘Rajasthan’
Other top performers included two works by Sayed Haider Raza, the pioneer of Indian abstractionism. His works Rajasthan and Mont-Agel sold for $1.03 million and $579,600 respectively.
Francis Newton Souza’s ‘Untitled (Townscape)’
Besides, two pieces by Francis Newton Souza, Untitled (Church on a Hill) and Untitled (Townscape) brought in $945,000 and $504,000.
Zarina, a master of etchings, saw her Letters from Home portfolio fetch a staggering $252,000, eclipsing her previous record by a significant margin. This poignant collection of evocative lines and textures resonated deeply with bidders, solidifying Zarina’s place as a visionary.
Bal Chhabda’s ‘South Indian Landscape’
Across the Deccan Plateau, Bal Chhabda’s South Indian Landscape soared to $157,500, more than seven times its pre-sale estimate and obliterating his previous record. This vibrant, evocative abstract painting showcased Chhabda’s unique ability to play with color in a barely recognizable way.
Rashid Choudhury’s ‘Untitled’
Rashid Choudhury, one of the most eminent Bangladeshi modern artists, achieved his highest price ever with his untitled artwork at $61,740, surpassing his earlier record, once again set at Christie’s just in March. This dynamic interplay of geometric forms and bold colors cemented Choudhury’s reputation as a force in abstract expressionism.
Ranjani Shettar’s ‘Remanence from Last Night’s Dream’
Ranjani Shettar, whose intricate sculptures weave narratives of memory and transformation, saw her Remanence from Last Night’s Dream fetch $103,320, a personal auction best. The vibrant nodules of the sculpture of a log draw the viewer deeper into Shettar’s dreamscape.
Finally, Sri Lankan master George Keyt’s Untitled (Reasonable Rhymes) set a new record for works on paper by the artist at $69,300. Keyt poured his heart onto paper, in this creation, crafting a luminous illustrated book of 23 poems for his daughter Diana. This intimate treasure, more than just an artwork, offers a glimpse into his soul, where the artist, the observer, the writer, and the father intertwine in a vibrant dance of love and creativity.
The sale’s success highlights the growing international interest in South Asian art, driven by both established collectors and a new generation of enthusiastic buyers. This surge in demand, coupled with Christie’s expertise and curated selection, resulted in a truly remarkable auction which contradicted the trend in overall sales made by the auction house in the year 2023.
The larger report revealed a significant decline in total sales compared to Christie’s record-breaking 2022. Global sales across art and luxury goods are projected to reach $6.2 billion by the year’s end, a 26.1% drop from the $8.4 billion achieved in the previous year.
This decrease reflects the broader economic slowdown impacting luxury markets globally.
While acknowledging the challenging market conditions, Christie’s chief executive officer Guillaume Cerutti in a press conference emphasized the company’s strategic investments in innovation and expansion, highlighting successful online auctions and continued growth in key categories like Asian art and jewelry.
However, within this dip, certain segments demonstrated resilience. Modern and contemporary art sales remained relatively stable, while Asian art witnessed strong growth, surpassing estimates with several record-breaking individual sale results.
For nearly three decades, Christie’s has served as a vibrant bridge between India and the international art market. Since 1994, their presence in the country has flourished, alongside their renowned New York South Asian Modern sales established in 1995. Led by the managing director at Christie’s India, Sonal Singh, the team champions Indian participation across varied categories, with a keen focus on luxury and the captivating arts of the past century.
In 2024, Christie’s will be celebrating 30 years of its presence in India. Seasoned Indian collectors and art enthusiasts will be able to witness the vibrant pulse of South Asian art as Christie’s will showcase the highlights from the March sale of South Asian Modern + Contemporary art in New Delhi, during the much-awaited India Art Fair.
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