The Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time blog asks whether this week will be an important test for MF Husain’s market in the wake of the Indian master’s death earlier this year. There are several works for sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York as well as on Saffronart online next week. However, one of the top works Sprinkling Horses, just made $1.142m at Christie’s. Another, Yatra was bid well above the high estimate to sell for $932,500. But Three Graces was estimated at between $400,00o and $750,000 but sold for near the lows at $482,500.
Here’s IRT’s rationale for the re-evaluation of the prolific painter’s work and the price differentials:
Mumbai-based curator and art critic Ranjit Hoskote says we are likely to see a critical reappraisal of Mr. Husain, starting from now. This could hurt the value of a lot of his weaker work.
He pointed at the cold reception Mr. Husain’s paintings often receive in a non-Indian context, where his work has struggled to gain the same appeal as it does in the Subcontinent or among people of Indian origin. “Part of the reason is that they don’t understand post-colonial Indian art,” the other is whether his art “can really speak for itself,” Mr. Hoskote said. “And I’m not sure it can.”
While he praised some of Mr. Husain’s earlier work, Mr. Hoskote felt that “there is a lot that is, frankly, flimsy.” After the artist’s death, he sees a greater logic of refinement taking hold among Mr. Husain’s collector base. Mr. Hoskote said Mr. Husain was more remarkable as a cultural phenomenon, for his ability to “respond to the slightest tremor in the Indian public sphere,” during independent India’s crucial formative years. This, Mr. Hoskote reckons, is an important reason buyers were drawn to his work. But this may change.
“People who collected Husain were in some ways collecting the aura of Husain… people were buying into his legend,” said Mr. Hoskote, who recently curated the Indian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. “But as the years pass we’ll get a bit more hardnosed about the divergence between his actual works of art, which may be seen in a more pragmatic light, and his legend, which will grow in stature.”
MF Husain’s Work Faces Major Market Test (India Real Time/Wall Street Journal)