Indian art mart churned – and moved on

Flashback 2009

New Delhi, Dec 15 (IANS) Art has always been an enduring bet. The Rs.2,000-crore (Rs.20-billion) Indian art market managed to hold its own despite a 30 percent drop in prices in the first and second quarter of 2009.

Purging mediocre art and small-time investors, the market corrected artificially inflated prices, found new ways to reach out to buyers and distilled itself to cater to serious collectors and dealers with quality works by modern masters and established contemporary artists.

The handful of new artists who managed to survive the churning were the ones whose works showed promise.

Even the nature of art exhibitions in Indian metros changed by showcasing the works of leading artists in groups instead of solo shows.

Asian art experts at Christie’s and Sotheby’s said the market started picking up post-Diwali in November and hopes to be on a stable track again by March 2010.

But at the end of the volatile swings and transformation of the market, investors are cautious, buyers more discerning and the internet has made deeper inroads in educating buyers about art.

Art magazines and publications, a spate of which has flooded the market – like Artetc, Art India, Art & Deal and India Art Summit Newsletter India ArtConnect – are also playing an important role in informing buyers about “good and unusual art”.

“Till early this year, no big ticket art was selling. It was a shock after a three- year boom that began in 2005 and lasted till the middle of 2008, till the markets woke up to a downslide,” Vikram Bachhawat, director of leading Kolkata-based auction house Emami Chisel Art, told IANS.

Works by younger artists with start-up prices of Rs.2 lakh shot up to Rs.1 crore in six months “because of inflated bids by some galleries in auction houses,” the auctioneer said.

The meltdown ripped the lid off.

Mahesh Chandra, a leading Delhi-based collector, said: “The prices of contemporary art fell by at least 50-60 percent while those by modern masters fell by 30 percent”. He quoted estimates by ArtPrice, an art market chronicler.

“Money was flowing freely and the same artists – 15 to 20 of them – kept appearing in every auction commanding high prices,” he said.

The price and the hype bubble have burst, said entrepreneur-author and art connoisseur Pavan Malhotra.

“But for Indian art to carve a niche for itself globally, the top 10 collectors will have to seriously start collecting Indian art. Most of them collect Chinese art,” Malhotra said.

Ashok Vajpeyi, chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi, feels the financial meltdown has made art affordable for buyers. But several galleries also shut down, he said.

The Mumbai-based Bodhi Art Gallery, for example, closed down its Delhi, London, Berlin and New York branches.

Maithili Parekh, the country head of Sotheby’s which partnered the India Art Summit 2009 in New Delhi, said the market had seen a period of exponential growth over the decade.

“Indian artists were represented by top galleries and renowned museums across the world curated exhibitions of Indian art. Every new auction set price records till the recession brakes were applied and the market was forced to re-adjust its values,” Parekh said.

“However, it allowed us to step back, recalibrate, separate good art from the less than good art and regroup,” she said.

The art market, Parekh said, has “moved on at the close of 2009″.

There was a steady flow of quality and cheaper art like video art, digital works, mixed media art, sculptures, installations, serigraphs and digital prints of works by masters which were authenticated and signed.

“Artists, especially the younger ones, devoted more time to their work to improve quality during the lean money patch,” artist Anjolie Ela Menon said.

The exhibitions became interactive – inviting community participation in public domains to engage people in art rather than sell it upfront to consolidate a long-haul market base and opening up Indian mindsets to “latest trends in Western contemporary art”.

The high point of the year was perhaps the India Art Summit that traded art works worth Rs.26 crore (nearly 50 percent) with a display hamper of 400 art works from across the globe by 57 galleries.

Neha Kirpal, associate director of the India Art Summit, said “The Indian art market has redefined itself -

post-meltdown – with a “new lot of young and first time buyers, revival in art by high-end collectors, realistic prices and the entry of Korean and Chinese buyers and investors into the market.”

Article by Madhushree Chaterjee
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