At $3.7 mn, Gaitonde's painting is the most expensive modern Indian art

Art auctions have a reputation for being daunting, boring places. A bunch of very rich people twitching occasionally to show that they're bidding enormous amounts on a painting or sculpture — this doesn't seem particularly exciting.

But don't trust those depictions of art auctions. Yesterday evening at the Crystal Ballroom in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, Christie's held its first sale in India and it was anything but boring. In the course of the evening, record prices were reached and the total earnings added up to Rs 96,59,37,500 (that's US$ 15.4 million).

 At .7 mn, Gaitondes painting is the most expensive modern Indian art

Christie auction.

Not just that, a new record was created when an untitled painting by Vasudeo Gaitonde was sold for Rs 23,70,25,000 (US$ 3.7 million). Previously, the most expensive work of Indian art was Saurashtra by SH Raza, which was sold for a little less than US$ 3.5 million in 2010.

There was an enormous interest in the selection of works that Christie's had put together for the first auction in India. The Crystal Ballroom was packed with collectors and enthusiasts, and bids also came in swiftly from the phone lines as well as the website. If anyone was expecting buyers in India to be conservative and cautious, given all we hear about the state of the Indian economy, they were in for a surprise. Indian bidders were as enthusiastic and ready to part with cash as international enthusiasts of Indian art. Practically every work earned more than its pre-sale estimates.

A large number of the pieces in the sale came from Khorshed and Kekoo Gandhy's collection. Among the high-earners out of this section were a hauntingly beautiful painting by Ganesh Pyne, which was sold for Rs 2,30,25,000 to an Asian private collector. This is a record price for Pyne's work. An untitled watercolour by Bhupen Khakhar (not from the Gandhy estate) was sold for Rs 4,82,25,000, which is also a record high for the artist. The auction also saw the sale of Mahisasura (from a prominent private collector), the iconic painting by Tyeb Mehta and it was the second highest earner of the evening at Rs 19,78,25,000.

The star of the auction, however, was an untitled painting by Vasudeo Gaitonde. It's a delicate painting that uses earthy shades of yellow and oranges. Surfacing through the colours are abstract patterns that urge the viewer to weave different interpretations out of the lines and curves. Highly regarded as one of Indian art's finest talents, the appreciation for Gaitonde in terms of auction prices has taken a while to build up. While his fellow Progressive artists like SH Raza have held international collectors' attention for the last few decades, Gaitonde's distinctive experiments and abstraction perhaps made his work feel less accessible.

Last evening, there was tense bidding for the untitled painting that would become the most expensive Indian artwork. The price rose quickly into the crores and slowed down only once it hit Rs 18 crore. Some coaxing from the auctioneer and an obvious determination to own this Gaitonde painting resulted in the work being sold to a private collector in America.

Here's a list of the top earners from yesterday's sale:

Vasudeo Gaitonde, Untitled, Rs 23,70,25,000 (to a US private collector)
Tyeb Mehta, Mahishasura, Rs 19,78,25,000 (to a US private collector)
Tyeb Mehta, Untitled (Falling Figure), Rs 9,86,25,000 (to a Asian private collector)
Bhupen Khakhar, Untitled, Rs 4,82,25,000 (to an Indian institution)
Manjit Bawa, Untitled (Gaja Lakshmi), Rs 3,86,25,000 (to an Asian private collector)
Amrita Sher-gil, Untitled (Hungarian Village Church), Rs 3,62,25,000 (to an anonymous buyer)
Ram Kumar, Untitled (Family), Rs 3,50,25,000 (to an anonymous buyer)
Rabindranath Tagore, Untitled, Rs 2,90,25,000 (to an Indian institution)
Ganesh Pyne, Untitled, Rs 2,30,25,000 (to an Asian private collector)
SH Raza, Untitled (Matheran), Rs INR 1,82,25,000 (to an Asian private collector)

Updated Date: Dec 20, 2013 15:42:32 IST