India may be a mere drop in the vast ocean of the global art business, but over the last three years, the major auction houses have found the country a brighter prospect, especially in view of the slowdown gripping most of the world.
India witnessed a 13.5% increase in art sales in 2015 from previous year, to about $60 million, and it was driven mainly by domestic auction sales, according to a report by ArtTactic, a global art market monitoring agency.
Sales in China saw a 41% drop in the same period, to about $100 million — which the report termed a “free fall” — while the combined sales at New York and London saw a 3.3% fall to $2.81 billion.
The ArtTactic survey of market experts, published in January, found that about 50% respondents expected the Indian art market to grow in 2016, even when they were pessimistic about the US, Europe and Chinese markets.
The report, which identified ‘increasing economic uncertainty’ as the biggest risk in 2016, said that “(There are) signals that low oil price, and stock market volatility and slowdown in China could weigh on global growth prospects in 2016.”
Christies saw a 20% growth in its India revenue, raising $14.67 million from its Mumbai centre. “In 2015 we set again the highest total for any auction held in India (previously established in 2013) and set new auction world record prices for nine artists, by selling 74 out of 100 lots above their estimates,” said Sonal Singh, director, Christie’s India. “We are (also) working constantly on new ideas to expand our business.”
According to the report, in the past three years, sales of modern and contemporary Indian art are shifting to India from New York and London, and domestic players like Saffronart and Pundole — they had a combined market share of 61% in 2015 — strengthened their market position in 2015.
Till the economic crisis in 2009 the global art prices were exceedingly high.
“I think the lesson from 2009 is that art as an investment is a very risky business unless you understand the art market and the art itself,” said Anders Petterson, CEO of ArtTactic. He said art as an investment works in a long term, a period of 10 to 15 years, else “you are likely to be caught on the wrong side of a fashion cycle”.