When the gavel came down on SH Raza’s oil-on-canvas Saurashtra (image on right) at the London Christie’s last year, artists and auction houses around the world seemed to sit up and listen. Not just because the art work had broken all records, becoming the most expensive Indian painting ever sold, but because the buyer was an Indian — Gurgaon-based art museum owner Kiran Nadar.
While Nadar’s Rs 16.4 crore was an exceptional sum for a single work, she marked just the highpoint of what has become a trend in post-downturn India: Hosts of Indians are now buying Indian art on the secondary market.
The secondary market denotes auctions, while on the primary market, buyers buy directly from galleries.
“The economic growth in India, coupled with exposure to art through flourishing galleries, publication of art books and information has led to an increase in the number of art collectors,” says Maithili Parekh, director of Sotheby’s India. “The Indian buyer is becoming discerning, looking to acquire top quality works, of good provenance, and in stellar condition.”
This is, in fact, a reversal of the earlier trend of Indian art works being bought mainly by Non-Resident Indians.
“Earlier, about 30% of Indian works sold at auctions were bought by Indians, while the rest were bought mainly by NRIs,” says Dinesh Vazirani, co-founder of auction house Saffronart. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen about 60% to 70% of Indian works bought by Indians, and about 30% by NRIs.”
The trend picked up after the recession, with many young Indian professionals, entrepreneurs and businessmen building up art collections — while NRIs and foreign art buyers, based in countries that were hit much harder by the US-led recession, put such expenditure on hold.
The really good news, say experts, is that a large chunk of the new Indian art buyers are not just art investors, but serious collectors.
“Investors burnt their hands during the recession when the art market saw a 30% to 70% correction in prices. They might not return for some time,” says Vazirani. “But young, well-paid Indians with money to spend and a genuine interest in Indian art have begun to step up at auctions. The growing economy has enabled them to buy luxurious homes, cars, yachts… and now art.”
If there is one lingering issue, it is that most of the new collectors, just like the earlier crop of art investors, are still hung up on the Modernists — in other words, works by bankable artists such VS Gaitonde, MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta and SH Raza. Among the contemporaries, Ravinder Reddy and Bharti Kher are the favourites.
It is still only the serious, old-school collectors giving newer talent a chance.
“There are collectors like me who are looking at investing in new talent,” says Pervez Damania, who has 100 works in his art collection, including works by Picasso, Dali, Husain, Jatin Das, Satish Gujral and Paritosh Sen. “But we are in a minority. Most people still want to walk away from an auction with a big name.”