India is falling behind China as an emerging powerhouse on the global art scene because it rarely turns up at international art fairs or invests in new museums to promote its artists, an official at auctioneer Christie’s said.
Mainland China and India are comparable markets, with Christie’s holding its first auctions in both countries last year, but Beijing has recognized the power of art as part of its soft diplomacy.
Amin Jaffer, Christie’s International Director of Asian Art, said the Chinese government, unlike India, participates in the art market and is actively enhancing its museums while providing a conducive environment for exhibitors.
“In China, they have taken that big leap. So if Delhi had six fabulous new museums full of contemporary art, (and) people started to go, the whole market would be transformed,” Jaffer told Reuters.
India was also hampered by its failure to attend global events like the 2013 Venice Biennale, the world’s premier non-commercial art fair. It had put up a national pavilion at the 2011 event after years of skipping the fair.
“India is not represented (at Venice). This is a very major setback for the visual culture of India,” said Jaffer.
Other problems that plague the art market in India include currency regulations and import duties, but Jaffer lists a lack of emphasis on cultural policy as its biggest worry.
“(In a) country with so many priorities – health, primary healthcare, education, infrastructure – art isn’t perhaps the most significant thing,” he said.
Still, Jaffer said he was confident about India’s potential, with an annual Art Fair, events and galleries sprouting, as well as more Indian artists featuring in global exhibitions.
New York’s Guggenheim Museum is currently exhibiting the works of modern Indian artist Vasudeo Gaitonde, one of whose works sold for a record $3.4 million at Christie’s inaugural India auction last year. The 2013 auction in Mumbai doubled pre-sale expectations with total sales of $15.4 million.
A May report by art market analysts ArtTactic said confidence in the India market is at its highest since Oct. 2007.
Christie’s second art auction in India, to be held in Mumbai on Dec. 11, showcases Indian artists such as Tyeb Mehta and Gaitonde, as well as a clutch of contemporary artists and items like a pocketbook belonging to Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore that are considered non-exportable national treasures.
Mehta’s 1999 painting with a central figure of a falling bull is the highlight of the Mumbai auction, with a target price between $1.3 million and $1.9 million.