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Over a million and half dollars for a Tyeb
- Rich Art

Calcutta, Sept. 22: For the first time, an Indian painting has fetched a price of over a million dollars.

Tyeb Mehta, the 80-year-old Mumbai-based artist, bettered his record on Wednesday in New York when his painting Mahishasura was snapped up by a collector of Indian origin for $1.58 million at a Christie’s sale. It was the highest price ever paid for Indian art.

In 2002, the Gujarat-born artist’s Celebration had gone for $317,500, the highest till now.

The price for the strong red, black and white painting far exceeded the pre-sale estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. The US-based collector bid over the telephone.

The other senior artist who held a surprise was Ram Kumar who went for $385,000. The highly visible and voluble M.F. Husain went under the hammer for a comparatively low $486,000. The other Mumbai-based artist who was on a high was Akbar Padamsee who was sold for $420,000.

Another Mumbai-based artist, who made the mark but belongs to a much younger generation, was Atul Dodiya. His work fetched $180,000.

In comparison, the only artist from Calcutta whose performance was anything to write home about was Jogen Chowdhury. His work based on the wounds left by the Gujarat riots netted $900,000.

A Christie’s press release attributed the exceptionally high prices to India’s “burgeoning economic power and expatriates”.

But the global art market seemed to fluctuate like the stock market. Whereas the Christie’s sale grossed $11.32 million, the Sotheby’s Indian sale a day earlier totalled $8 million.

As Jogen Chowdhury commented from Santiniketan: “Not very long ago Indian miniatures were the rage. Now they are not in the must-buy category. Stockbrokers want the market to fluctuate this way.”

Little wonder that Bikash Bhattacharjee attracted as little as $54,000 at Christie’s and even earlier hot favourite Gaitonde got $240,000.

Calcutta-based art dealer Prakash Kejriwal, who has been observing the market from its formative stage, said: “NRI clients have realised that Indian contemporary art is worth investing. Hence the high prices.”

At Tuesday’s Sotheby’s auction, the focus was on Ram Kumar when $396,000 was paid for him. The fickleness of the market was reflected in the prices that the record-setting artists had attracted a day earlier ' Tyeb had gone for $273,000 and Husain for $216,000.

At the Sotheby’s sale, Calcutta artists sprang surprises ' Rabin Mandal went for $66,000. Mandal has been in the news in recent times.

Even more surprising was the sale of Kartick Pyne for $12,000. Despite his talent, he had never been a favourite with collectors. Kejriwal, who has promoted this Calcutta-based 1937-born artist, said: “People have become appreciative of his Indian surrealism that was ahead of its time.”

Of the city-based artists of the younger generation, the only one who made it to the charmed circle was Chittrovanu Mazumdar. Two of his works went for $72,000 and $42,000.

Indian contemporary art has come a long way since the days when Christie’s organised its first sale in New York in 2000.

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