Booming Times

The Jakarta Post

The Indian art market is reaching new heights. Pavan Kapoor visits the subcontinent to find out what is fueling the boom.
Indian art has formally arrived in its role as a financial asset. This is apparent as I walk into the pulsating Habitat Center, the 5000 sq feet complex in New Delhi which has become the center of contemporary cultural, economic, business and social events since the last decade.
Artists have become brand names, coveted and consumed with the same zeal as the newly rich snap up Chanel and Jimmy Choo. The galleries mushrooming in Mumbai and Delhi are as swank as anything you'll see in New York or London -- exhibitions open to the clink of champagne glasses, with delectable hors d'oeuvres and loads of press.
The boom in Asian/Chinese art can be denoted to foreign buyers but that of India is surprisingly coming from Indians, or people of Indian descent, who are the main players in their own art scene. It started with non-resident Indians or NRIs who were initially nostalgic about Indian art but then began to recognize its potential as an investment.
Rajiv Chaudhri, a New York-based Indian hedge-fund manager, set off ripples in the art world in late 2005 by paying US$1.6m for a Mehta work. The amount paid for the Mahishasura, depicting the buffalo-demon of Hindu mythology, was a milestone as the first contemporary Indian painting to cross the million-dollar mark. Other significant NRI collectors include New Jersey-based Umesh and Sunanda Gaur, Kent Chitlangia and new age guru Deepak Chopra.
Officials from Sotheby's who were in Mumbai for a road show [WHEN?] for auctions of Indian art in London and New York confirmed the company's sales of Indian art enhanced over US$375 million in 2007, compared to $62 million in 2004.
India has seen an unprecedented growth in the art market since 2005.. The upward spiraling prices made the whole world turn around and look at Indian painters in a fresh light. Today the Indian art market is worth US$350 million, which is only 1 percent of the world art market. But with rising disposable incomes and current economic situation the Indian contemporary art market in the coming years will drive both prices and growth.
The market’s future potential also lies in the burgeoning disposable income of the middle class coupled with unprecedented awareness and access to art information.
Artist Atul Dodiya is feted at galleries in New York and London where his paintings sell for six-figure sums. But it’s in Mumbai where he chooses to create art reflecting the tumultuous changes in his homeland. Dodiya is riding a wave of success. His Three Painters sold for US$541000, more than triple its pre-sale estimate, at a Christie’s auction in New York last year. The sale confirmed Dodiya’s reputation as a leader of a generation of contemporary Indian artists whose canvases are filled with the colors of a country on the boil,
Structuring the boom back home is the massive initiative taken on by the pharmaceutical mogul, Ranbaxy. The Religare Arts Initiative is a 360 degree point of view, an effort to bring art closer to people and to reach out to lovers and patrons of art the world over. It will have various initiatives and outreach programs planned in conjunction with art institutions, museums, galleries and curators. The collaborations with such esteemed institutions/individuals will help in enriching public awareness about art, with the hope that art will become an inherent part of their lives. It is a holistic approach for the growth, development and business of art.
“The Religare Arts Initiative will ensure that all the diverse dimensions of art are nurtured and given the right exposure, so that art assumes a greater role in societal fabric and enriches a wider consciousness, at the same time become a positive driver for wealth generation in a free market economy,” said Sunil Godhwani, the CEO of Religare Enterprises Ltd.
Dr Alka Pande, probably the most respected authority in the India art scene today. Is the Consultant Arts Advisor and Curator, Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, has been responsible for curating some of Delhi's most unusual and perceptive shows in recent times. She also is the official curator on the board of Religare Arts Initiative and has authored several books on art and art history, and has a special interest in ancient Indian erotic literature and art .
Mr. Mukesh Panika heads the Arts Initiative at Religare. He has been the master mind for this Initiative and has been working hard on putting together its various aspects to establish a transparent and functional institution that is a genuine benchmark for artists, investers and art lovers of a wide spectrum.
“The Religare Art Initiative has recently taken over a 10,000 square feet space in Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi and plans on opening the biggest gallery in India, a café, a resource center,” says Mukesh. “With art taken as such a serious financial asset today it can only grow if the infrastructure is strong and that is when a strong corporate group comes in at that platform,” he continues.
It is indeed a serious job at hand for Religare when we hear of ground-breaking news of the painting Tribute to Hashmi, MF Husain India’s icon of painter broke the US$1 million record. In a historic moment at the Emami Chisel Art Auction in Kolkota. Among some highlights of the evening were Tyeb Mehta’s Kali III which fetched a little over US$1 million and J.Swaminathan’s Bird & Mountain which fetched almost US$4 million.
Besides works of Husain and Mehta, pioneering painters F N Souza and J Swaminathan also fetched over US$250,000 for their paintings.Souza's Manor House, whose reserve price was fixed at US$1 million, was sold for US $412,500. Amrita Shergill's two untitled charcoal paintings were sold for about US$55,000 and US$37,000 while S H Raza's 'Landscape' cost US$230,000 for a bidder.
At the Sothebys auction in Feb 2008, speculators who swooped on the Chinese market have moved in on the Indian art scene and are now eyeing artists from the subcontinent such as Jitish Kallat and Subodh Gupta and so many others.
Heady days these might be but the rapid commercialization of the art scene has prompted some soul-searching.
"Being an artist is not what it used to be," confesses a member of the art frat. "It has become about churning out work and making money." Amid the dross lurk the gems - canvasses filled with the colours of an India on the move, an India grappling with complex issues like the cost of rapid development, societal tensions and the growing gap between rich and poor.
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