Indian art needs a discerning market

What is the new buzz about the art auctions? asked a non-arty friend of mine last evening when he found me thumbing through a couple of auctions catalogues. What about them, I wondered? Considering the whole premise of an auction is that there should be more than one buyer for any work, who in turn are willing to compete to acquire those works and the highest bidder finally bags the work in question. Simplistic? Yes. Over simplistic. And illogical too.

For every gallery owner tells me that the business of art nose-dived during the recession and is yet to pick up. There is little interest in art buying for the moment, and in this scenario holding an auction is to my mind, completely illogical. I mean why go through the angst of collecting the works, getting provenances, printing a catalogue – a huge exercise in itself by any stretch of imagination, holding a physical auction – with all the related nitty-gritty of the event, getting audiences, media et al. I know hope springs eternal in the human heart, but hoping against hope is hardly business sense.As I was waxing eloquent, my non-arty friend continued to look at me in a very perplexed manner. Unable to bear it any more, I halted mid-diatribe and said: What is so mystifying? He retorted: I thought you all were the art types, not concerned about the business of it. You should be glad that at least someone is willing to put in money for art if not in art to let it remain in the news, if nothing else.
He had a point. And a big one at that. Almost within a span of a month, five big auctions of Indian contemporary art have been held in New Delhi, London, Kolkata and Mumbai. Insiders tell me that nothing much sold at these auctions and makes me wonder if it was a mere tax write off. And at the same time, it makes me wonder if people across the cities had the same thought or was there something else at play apart from valiant attempts to give art markets a boost? Like off loading works for instance?
I know I sound like the proverbial broken record when I go on about the need for an educated and discerning art market that comprises art critics, buyers, cognoscenti, media and not merely its creators who must have a sense of historicity and must be able to position Indian art globally. It is just the correct time to do this in a sustained and organised manner when the buying and selling is not so brisk, we should use this time to tom-tom our wares correctly.
But whatever the commercial fate of these auctions, the one thing that I personally am delighted about is the fact that Indian abstract art is finally coming into its own, both nationally and internationally. Gaitonde’s work is being positioned
correctly. Some other works that one may not see anywhere are being dragged out of the closet and shown off!
The other news doing the rounds is the story of Sheetal Mafatlal allegedly replacing originals with photographs on canvas and blaming her friends for the switch. I read the whole story and wondered how on earth can digital photographs printed on canvas replace paintings even for the absolute layperson? Then of course there are others who actually practise this style: Of printing photographs on canvas and then painting on top of it as a matter of personal technique. What I think of it is another matter, but of that another time!
Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on alkaraghuvanshi@ yahoo.com
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