Compound Interest

Vandana Kalra

Auction houses and galleries from the West talk about the Indophilia that has gripped them

While Arun Vadehra will tell you how it took him five years to convince Christie’s to hold an auction of Indian works in the early 1990s, Anjolie Ela Menon will recall with a grimace her interaction with European artist and curator Timothy Hyman in the 1980s when the latter shrugged off Indian art as “far too aesthetic”. Menon’s total recall happened at the India Art Summit on Saturday — and listening to her were representatives from auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the UK-based Fine Art Fund Group, and Robert Storr, dean of the Yale University School of Art. Between that day sometime in 1980 and this August morning in 2008 lie the years that changed Indian art.

“The interest in Indian art has grown radically over the past couple of years and the summit is just one indicator,” says Hoffman, as he moves between the stalls at the fair. He is surely making a note of the artists he might consider investing in as part of his Indian Fine Art Fund that was launched in 2007 with a target of raising $25 million to purchase art from the country. “A small amount has been invested, but in the coming years we will put more money in the region,” says the entrepreneur, who spent over a decade in Christie’s, before he set up the Fund in 2000.

While Hoffman plans to aggressively pump money into the subcontinent, Oliver Barker, senior international specialist, contemporary art, at Sotheby’s, hopes to cash in on India’s growing interest in international art. Unlike Christie’s, Sotheby’s does not hold regular previews in India, but they are looking at the country with new interest. “In the international market, there is a great future for Indian art. We want to develop this market and bring a high level of client service to buyers and collectors based in India,” says Barker, as he looks forward to a preview of Damien Hirst’s artwork in Delhi. “We will continue to hold exhibitions in India and provide advice on collecting works in the international market,” he says.

The exchange, however, isn’t solely dependant on the biggies. Anil Bhimjiyani of London-based firm Emerging World Art is scouting for young talent from the country that can find place in the UK galleries. Robin Dean of the UK-based Rob Dean Art Ltd, meanwhile, is looking for alliances with Indian galleries to hold exhibitions. Enjoying the attention that British artist Will Martyr’s canvas Mallya is grabbing at his stall, Bhimjiyani says, “The boundaries in the art world are gradually vanishing and where it comes from should not matter as long as it is good art. As far as India is concerned, the interest will only increase.”

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