The year began on a positive note with the India Art Fair (IAF) garnering good response from national and international buyers. Then came a gloomy period of the rupee weakening against dollar. What followed was a cracker: Christie's India debut at which Vasudeo S. Gaitonde's 1979's painting fetched Rs.23.7 crore ($4 million), indicating renewed optimism in the Indian art market.
The London-based auctioneer's entry into India was definitely the highlight of the year and the inaugural sale raised Rs. 96.6 crore - double the pre-sale expectations.
"Over the past 10 years, our Indian client base has increased four-fold. Indian clients have shown interest in a diverse range of collecting categories. This is in addition to continuing to buy Indian art, a trend we have seen repeated in other growth markets," Christie's international director of Asian art Hugo Weihe told IANS.
"We believe India is a dynamic growth market with great potential and believe that India, Indian collectors and Indian art will increasingly become a significant contributor to our future growth internationally," he added.
Even though this development lends cheery optimism, London-based independent art market researcher ArtTactic has a different take altogether.
"The confidence indicator in the Indian art market decreased by 13.6 percent in the last six months. This decline comes after 18 months of steady increase in positive sentiments.
"However, the economic situation in India has taken a turn for the worse in the last six months, with a significant drop in the value of the rupee," ArtTactic contends.
But Arun Vadehra, director of Delhi and London-based Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) hasn't lost hope. He says that the latest annual figures peg India's art market at $400 million against the worldwide figure of $65 billion.
"The weakening of the rupee has not affected the art market at all. It is a unique market, an asset of passion. Therefore, outside influences do not affect collectors' decisions (here)," Vadehra told IANS.
There was a blue period in art post 2008 when prices plummeted, directly affecting the buying capability of art connoisseurs.
Earlier this year, sales at the IAF registered a healthy growth - nearly 25-30 percent - with more collectors and institutional and corporate buyers from around the world looking to invest in art.
"This is the great renewal that people were hoping for after the last three years - a great boost to the Indian contemporary art market," IAF founding director Neha Kirpal had told IANS.
But the two-edition-old United Art Fair wasn't that lucky.
The artist-driven fair, had on display works worth Rs.25 million, of which only Rs.1.5 million converted into sales.
"People are hesitant. Perhaps it is the economic downturn that is pushing buyers back. I am clueless. There have been very limited sales," fair director Anurag Sharma had told IANS.
This middle-struggling phase of the year has somehow been overshadowed by Christie's sales results with 79 of the 83 lots sold.
"It has been a good year, and Christie's entering the domestic market will only accelerate the growth," Vadehra pointed out.
"The most important thing for an artist is for his or her work to beviewed by as wide an audience as possible. It is also vital that the artist and gallerist share a close relationship and a common vision while exploring the best and most creative way to promote an artist's work," he added.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)