Chitra Vaidya, an artist and art teacher, has sold scores of her art works and participated in four group exhibitions. But she has had only one solo show in her 15-year career. And she waited five years for that slot at Jehangir Art Gallery in 2006.
Now, Vaidya, 46, no longer waits for slots at museums. Instead, for a small fee, she sends images of her art works to an online gallery, which then displays selected works on their home page for up to two months. Vaidya, who has had her works featured on IndiaArt.com, is one of a growing breed of online Indian art galleries. “While galleries such as Jehangir get a lot of footfalls and I did sell 27 of the 35 works on display there, no physical gallery would allow me to show my works for so long. Plus, online there is no waiting list,” says Vaidya. Websites claim between 5% and 33% of proceeds, against a flat 33% claimed by most galleries, since online galleries have fewer overhead costs. “Even in terms of the proceeds, the online medium works better,” says Vaidya.
Over the past five years, India has got about 13 such portals, including BreatheArts and ArtMela.com (launched in 2010), AuraArt.in (2009), IndianArtIdeas.com and ArtFlute.com (2008) and SamsaraArt.com (2006). Elsewhere, artists are also setting up their own showcase sites and Facebook pages to showcase their art, make sales and get valuable feedback from senior artists, peers and buyers.
“The internet is everywhere now, and in the art world, it is helping us get art from all over onto one platform,” says art entrepreneur Sapna Kar, who is currently organising India’s first-ever online art fair, India Art Collective. Scheduled for November 19 at indiaartcollective.com, the fair is offering global galleries a chance to buy a ‘booth’ and post online 10 to 20 of their best Indian art works.
Collectors can take a virtual tour and buy art works right from their homes. So far, 40 galleries have signed up, including the Chemould Prescott Road, Sakshi and Tao galleries in Mumbai, Nature Morte in New Delhi and Gallery SKE in Bangalore. “A virtual booth costs a tenth of what it would cost to participate in an actual fair,” says Kalpana Shah of Tao. “It helps potential buyers consult friends and family online,” she says. At nine-months BreatheArts.com, there are 600 art works on display at any given time, reaching the site’s 50,000 visitors, including in countries such as the UK, US, Australia and Dubai.
“We often have curated art shows on the site too,” says founder Durva Gandhi. “To my surprise, a strong online market for Indian art has emerged in South Africa. People from Chandigarh and Amritsar, where the art scene is not very vibrant, are also buying art online.”
For Prerana Joshi, founder of SamsaraArt.com, accesibility to distant markets led her to set up an online gallery. “There is a growing interest of Indian art abroad,” she says. “I now have an office in Nigeria and an international section on the website that promotes art from south-east Asia, including countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan, at prices ranging from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 25 lakh.”
There are drawbacks, of course. “The experience of seeing an actual art work is lost online,” says Dinesh Vazirani, co-founder of SaffronArt. There is also a higher risk of copycat artists lifting concepts from the images of real artists’ works.Watercolorist Prashant Prabhu is a prime example of how both the advantages and dangers of the medium work. Prabhu has been selling his works on online galleries for five years and, in 2009, also began uploading works on Facebook. “Unfortunately, plagiarism is a very real problem. A junior artist copied one of my works and priced at Rs. 4,000 what I had pegged at Rs. 28,000.” Nonetheless, he says, the medium has helped him. Prabhu has sold 20 works online so far, priced between Rs. 22,000 and Rs. 80,000.
Driving such sales online are art lovers, like 38-year-old, London-based writer and art collector Chinmaya Mehta (name changed) who fork out lakhs for major works. Mehta, recently bought a Husain, Souza and Atmanand Chauhan on BreatheArts.com.“I did my research thoroughly, checked the provenance of the paintings and verified all the documents to confirm that the works were originals,” he says.