Just before the auction house was forced to close most of its salesrooms to the public as officials work to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Sotheby’s held a modern and contemporary South Asian art auction held on Monday in New York. The auction’s results show that, even in spite of economic uncertainty across the world, collectors are still hungry for buying art. Achieving a total of $4.8 million and surpassing its pre-sale high estimate of $4.7 million, the auction carried a 91.1 percent sell-through rate, marking a 69 percent uptick from last year’s sale at this time.
The 2020 Art Basel Global Market Report showed that young collectors were increasingly buying art online, and the Sotheby’s sale stands as proof of that. According to representatives for the house, one third of the sale’s lots were bought by online bidders, around a quarter of whom were younger than 40 years old. Manjari Sihare-Sutin, Sotheby’s head of modern and contemporary South Asian sales in New York, said in a statement that the results confirmed “strong demand from international collectors and institutions—many new to auction—and reinforced the health of this market. And, in keeping with hype around emerging wealth and new clients, Sotheby’s reported that 20 percent of the sale’s bidders were first-time transactors.
The sale was led by a 1963 untitled painting by Indian modernist V. S. Gaitonde, which surpassed its $1.5 million high estimate and ultimately sold for $1.8 million. The work was made as the artist, who had a retrospective in New York at the Guggenheim Museum in 2014, was transitioning from figuration to abstraction, making it especially desirable to collectors of his art. Gaitonde’s paintings are rarities in the secondary market, as the artist only produced a small handful of works each year throughout his career..
Meanwhile, the auction set a new record for Nasreen Mohamedi, who rose to prominence in post-Independence India. The artist’s market has been bolstered by recent institutional backing—her minimalist oeuvre was the subject of a major retrospective at the Met Breuer in 2016 that was underwritten by renowned Indian billionaire philanthropists—Nita and Mukesh Ambani, whose wealth comes from the oil and telecommunications conglomerate Reliance Industries. Her 1960s painting, just one of 10 by her ever to come up at auction, reached a total of $437,500, beating its high estimate of $300,000.