Return of the red dots

Written by Garima Pant | Suman Tarafdar | Updated: Aug 24 2009, 04:12am hrs
India Art Summit 2 is over. And relief seems to the overriding expression for the art frat. For Indian art in recent years has rivaled its more glamorous cousins in finan- cial growth, media column inches, and adorning the walls of the upwardly mobile Indian.

Except in 2009. Gallerists agree that the past few months have been tough, with some of them not even receiving a single enquiry in the initial few months. The market has been behaving better since last month or so, says Sunaina Anand, Director, Art Alive Gallery in Delhi. Contrary to apprehensions, the graphs are now pointing upwards, and galleries seem almost trained to chorus prices are down by 30-40% and this is the best time to buy. Creditably, sales have happened, and the voices continue in unison here too as they opine that the last two-three months have seen the return of the buyer.

However as Ashish Anand, Director, Delhi Art Gallery says, There is a marginal improvement of about 10%. However even this is good, for quite a while the buyers have been expecting prices to go even further down. Now at least they are expecting a revival. Well, the institutional or corporate buyers, largely responsible for pushing up the market, are yet to return in full force, but the reluctance of the serious collectors to indulge seems to have abated, especially in the face of lucrative prices. Shalini H Sawhney of The Guild Art, based in Mumbai and New York, feels the old clientele is making a comeback. Buying art is an addiction for them. But yes, the selection has become more disciplined now. The New York art market has been a lot slower than the Indian market, which is gradually picking up.

The Summit has also had the advantage of being in the right place at the right time, feel experts. Sharan Apparao of Chennai-based Apparao Galleries feels the Summit could really enhance the image of the art sector. The economic slowdown did affect the art market. Buyers did have the money but were fearful. But now they are looking at lucrative deals. But its still the prices of artworks that are determining choices, she says. Michelle DSouza, Director of Londons Lisson Gallery says they had no expectations of selling anything leave alone the two Anish Kapoor works on show. One of which has reportedly sold for multiple crores she refuses to divulge the amount. The other is reserved. Most participants at the fair indicated satisfaction with their sales, echoing the sentiment that sales were unexpectedly high.

With artworks worth Rs 400 million attracting buyers and connoisseurs in 4,500 m2 of display space (three times than the previous years 1,500 m2 display area), it was an extensive blend of traditional and contemporary art media. Of the 54 participating galleries, 18 were international, up from three last year, indicating of the huge potential of the Indian market getting acknowledged by the global community.

Prajit Dutta of Aicon Gallery, London and New York, sees a growing potential in the Indian art market. He admits in coming to India for the first time to showcase global art, rather than taking Indian art to the global market. It is a good time to come to India as art is being taken seriously here, which is evident by this art summit. But its still early days for the Indian art market, as it just forms 1% of the global art market. Yet, its an achievement as if you look at the current GDP of the country, says Dutta.

Yet, for some it was purely an experience to cherish and learn about the nuances of the Indian art mart and be part of the growing art culture. Hans Bakker of HB Galerie, Netherlands felt that the Indian market was a good place to showcase art and had specially made works on display. It is better than the US or the UK where people are not buying art, he says.

The economic upheaval has had more than one gallerist recognising that quality will out. Some also acknowledge that more could have been done in the first half of 2009 to try and hold on to the art market. Galleries also started laying low and stopped having launches and parties, were doing less cards which indicates a very short-term approach, stresses Ashish Anand. Mortimer Chatterjee of Mumbais Chatterjee and Lal Gallery was thoroughly impressed with the turnout and the response at the summit. Sales have exceeded all our expectations and the art summit has given the art market a great push. The market has gotten used to the harsh realities of recession and this slowdown has helped the art market lose all the speculative investors and left just the committed connoisseurs, says Chatterjee.

The continued absence of Indian arts rockstar, MF Hussain, continues to irk many, but lack of security assistance from the governments side makes it impossible to have his works displayed, says Associate Director Neha Kirpal.

The role of galleries is also under scrutiny. Ashish Anand feels galleries have not pushed enough. They lay low, thinking we will not sell, so lets not have shows and launches. There has to be a long-term view. Dutta agrees, saying a gallerys main role is to enlarge the ecosystem. Indian galleries have made art a zero sum game, poaching artists from each other. Whatever has happened has been by the way. What we seen are some green shoots, we have to see whether they survive. That is exactly what the organisers hope to take forward. They already have activities planned across different cities going beyond the annual summit.

A priority area is also to get greater participation from government bodies such as The National Gallery of Modern Art and Lalit Kala Academy. While most expect Modern Indian art to be back at its peak 2006 prices shortly, contemporary art, which saw corrections of up to 70% in some cases, may tale a little while longer to reach its 2008 levels.

But with the smiles back at Indian arts biggest jamboree, the fraternity is definitely hoping the fillip will have returned.