Global palette, Indian hues

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Apr 3 2011, 08:58am hrs
Indian modernists have been the flavour of the art season. And the record price of $1,426,500 (Rs 6.3 crore) notched by Akbar Padamsees work at Sothebys recent New York sale is just a testimony to the growing popularity of modern Indian art.

While a small group of key artists such as F N Souza, S H Raza, Tyeb Mehta, V S Gaitonde and M F Husain still have a dedicated following, industry experts do observe a number of other artists gaining popularity. Moderns, whose works did not peak up like the other popular names, but are still quite senior in their fields, are drawing collectors now, says Sunaina Anand of Delhi-based Art Alive Gallery. Padamsees auction topperan untitled work (a reclining nude) was painted in 1960.

Modernists have enjoyed this popularity for quite some time, simply owing to the quality of their work, says Anand. The overall total for the three recent sales (Sothebys, Christies and Saffronarts) came to about $14,224,930, more than 20% below the lower pre-sale estimate of $17,908,500 - $24,748,265, and 9% below last Septembers result of $15,570,881. But, despite the poor overall performance, there were glimpses of strong bidding for specific lots (see Top 10 Prices below), which supports the view that buyers are in the market searching for rarity and quality and are currently bidding extremely selectively, reports ArtTactic Ltd (a London-based research house on the art market) in its March 2011 Auction Analysis.

The report attributes the trend to the lack of quality supply, and the presence of material which is too familiar to the market. A symptom of this phenomenon can be seen in M F Husains Cobalt Horse, which went unsold at Sothebys. This work has come up for auction now three times in the last seven years, says the research.

However, the contemporary market still proved to be a dampener as it disappointed with total sales of $1,096,217, against a presale average estimate of $3,391,425. This was a 65% drop compared to the total in September 2010. Subodh Gupta in particular failed to match his strong performance in September 2010, with three of his four works on sale being bought in. His untitled 2005 painting sold at a hammer price of $182,000, a notch above the pre-sale estimate of $181,820. This is in sharp contrast to last autumn when works by Gupta accounted for almost 50% of the total value of contemporary art sold, states the analysis.

Sharan Apparao of Chennai-based Apparao Galleries believes that its not only reliable modernists, but also new age artists who are drawing buyers and collectors. The market is not showing the buoyancy similar to the phase before the global meltdown, its not unnaturally high. But the discerning collectors are showing interest, says Apparao.

Growing collector base

And it is this steady growth in the collector base that has been one of the reasons for the slow, but steady growth of the Indian art market. While there is cautious buying and the collector base has become wary of speculative buying, a number of trends are visible in their growth pattern as well, inform industry experts. The collector base is becoming younger with people in their mid-30s also getting into collecting art, informs Anand. She also points out that this growing group does have a lot of interest in the younger artists that sell at about Rs 1 lakh and above, apart from the established artists. Apparao further categorises them into groups with buying interests ranging from modern, contemporary to new media contemporary. A larger population of this base is definitely interested in the new media contemporary as it gives them a more affordable option of owning art, says Apparao.

While the growing collector base has been a boon for the growing Indian art market, curator Alka Raghuvanshi feels that the age group of collectors has seen a paradigm shift as younger people have far more liquid income. Earlier, it was only collectors who had reached a certain economic comfort level that also meant a certain age bracket, who indulged in art buying. Their tastes are also not so developed and therefore tend to acquire funkier or so-called cutting edge art, which they tend to get bored with quickly, says Raghuvanshi.

Mohit Dhoomimal Jain, director of Delhi-based Dhoomimal Art Centre, says he has seen an increase in the number of international collectors. People who are not of Indian origin are also buying Indian art, which indicates Indian art is reaching a global platform besides the NRIs, adds Jain.

And with the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee (Union Budget 2011) exempting duty on imports of artworks and antiquities for exhibition and display in India, industry experts see more change coming in this growing base of collectors.

Aparajita Jain of Delhi-based Seven Art Limited gallery is optimistic that more collectors will be willing to get such artworks because of this overhead cost going down. I am sure with more and more people getting to know about the exemption, there would be more people willing to add collections of Indian artists based abroad or foreign artists as well, says Jain. She does not see it happening immediately, though.

Delhi-based artist and independent curator Amit Jain also believes that this move will give a lot of relief to collectors and encourage them to buy more. I have seen the collectors being adventurous and buying art not only from India, but also from Pakistan and Iran, says Jain.

Bhavna Kakar, director of Delhi-based gallery Latitude 28 believes that this move will help give galleries a bigger global feel. Since Indian artists are constantly showing abroad in places like the US, the UK, Singapore and Germany, this exemption will further their cause, says Kakar.

Ajay Seth, chairman of Copal Art, an art promotion platform, who is is planning an exhibition of Rabindranath Tagores art in 2012 believes that this move will help bring heritage back to the country and also encourage display of good foreign art in India.

With the palette of Indian art growing global, the contemporary and the new age artists can surely hope to break new ground in the global auction arena.