It has been an active season this summer with auctions that contradict the general opinion that the art market has slowed down over the summer months— mostly due to the stultifying heat. The last few months have witnessed the auction hammer coming down on some fine pieces of art setting new records for some artists— and it’s all for a good cause—charity! This means quality artwork is now considered a guilt-free indulgence for the buyer.
Case in point being the two recent auctions held by Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) and one that was supported by saffronart.com India’s biggest online portal for art. While DAG put some of its fine, rare works up for auction from Ashish Anand’s collection including an early abstract landscape by S.H. Raza, a vigorous recumbent nude by the late F.N. Souza and the late maverick M.. Husian’s canvas from his Mother Teresa series, that sold for INR 1, 60, 00,000 clocking in as the highest bid of the auction. Titled ‘Smile’, the DAG auction was held in collaboration with the Kushii Foundation for Development and Education and Empowerment of the girl child.
“The owner of such an art work can feel less guilty about indulging in an expensive canvas because part of the proceeds is going to charity,” says Anand, who intends to hold more auctions, in Bangalore, Bombay and other first tier cities. The charity auction raised approximately INR 50,000,000 and sold 40 lots, more than 50 % of the total lots offered for sale.
This is a changed scenario from the point in time when artists were constantly being pressured to give to charity auctions where they donated the work gratis, bearing the entire cost of their philanthropy; as a result the work that came up for charity auctions was often uneven and not their best. About five years down the line things have changed with the collectors putting up works for the secondary market at charity auctions. “Once an artwork comes into the secondary market, it is no longer incumbent on the artist to donate. Usually auctions like the DAG auction are a result of many years of collecting, which is why these are quality artwork,” says Dinesh Vazirani the director of saffronart.com. “Currently the market is much stronger, though people are a lot more selective in what they buy these days, which is how it should be,” he adds.
Recently saffronart.com supported Zarine Screwvala’s Swades Foundation behind the scenes. Swades hosted a charity auction of significant works of Modern and Contemporary Indian art on April 10, at the Palladium hotel. The Swades Fundraiser Auction aimed at inspiring people in joining its cause to empower and uplift a million people by reaching out to rural Indian villages. Saffronart is known to do charity auctions on an annual basis and has raised funds for the flood relief fund in 2008 for Bihar, with artist Subodh Gupta, taking a personal interest in his home state. “I had been planning to do something to help the flood victims of Bihar for a long time. So I picked up the telephone and called old friends in the art fraternity who agreed to put up their works for auction,” said Gupta.
This August Vazirani will act as auctioneer for the fundraiser benefit for the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) and Outset India, a foundation headed by Feroz Gujral. The auction that was held last year put up 11 artwork for auction, by leading contemporary artists like Anju Dodiya, Jitish Kallat and Shilpa Gupta that were valued between INR 3,00,000 and INR 5,00,000. “We are thinking of making this an annual event, since last year it was a big success and we raised funds for FICA and Outset says Vadehra. “While FICA is a platform for supports emerging artists and projects like the Kochi Biennale and individual non-commercial art projects. This year we plan to go a bit bigger on scale,”
Art with a conscience has been and continues to be an endearing and market friendly method of fund raising. According to most young aspirants like Naina M Sachdev the Governing Board Member of Khushii, “Art for a cause is one of the most sustainable forms of Corporate Social Responsibility, philanthropy and giving, because it gives on both sides,” she says.
It is in fact what one might call a global trend, where an auction house like Christie’s has raised $38,827,000 million with the 11th Hour Auction, for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation that supports diminishing Wildlife. The sale included 33 works by today’s most prominent artists, many of which were created specifically for this cause. An edition of Delhi-based artist, Bharti Kher’s dying elephant, The Skin Speaks a Language Not its Own went for $1,785,000 setting a new world-wide record for the artist.
Funds raised will benefit innovative conservation projects that will help guard the last wild places on earth, the endangered species that inhabit them, and the surrounding communities whose welfare depends upon them.
These sale figures reconfirms that art is not just something pretty to hang on the walls but it packs a punch as a tool for socio-political change that benefits the marginalized sections of society, bridging the gap between the haves and the have nots. As Lewis Forman Day rightly said, “The scope of art is practically boundless; it does not begin and end with the painting of pictures and the modeling of statues.”