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Indian artworks see rise in collector interest

The Indian art market, which got mauled during the economic slowdown of 2008, averted a similar fate last year as an increased number of collectors looking for quality work, and willing to pay a premium, came to the fore.

mumbai Updated: Feb 02, 2012 02:08 IST

The Indian art market, which got mauled during the economic slowdown of 2008, averted a similar fate last year as an increased number of collectors looking for quality work, and willing to pay a premium, came to the fore.

While Christie's continued to lead the auction market for Indian art with sales in excess of $20 million (Rs 100 crore) in 2011, Sotheby’s was second with its Indian art sales at $9.5 million (Rs 50 crore). At an online auction conducted by a Mumbai-based firm last year, paintings by Indian artists, including big names like Syed Haider Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Jehangir Sabavala, fetched more than US$14 million (Rs 70 crore).

“The Indian contemporary and modern art market has grown. The fact that we have added more sale locations for this category shows the increasing global demand for modern and contemporary Indian art,” said Sonal Singh, associate director, south Asian modern + contemporary art, Christie’s. The auction house has three international sites — New York, London and Hong Kong — where Indian art is auctioned.

“Top quality art with stellar provenance and in good condition finds buyers in India and world-over. In the past 18 months, we have seen record prices for artists such as Raza and Akbar Padamsee,” said Maithili Parekh, director, Sotheby’s.

Raza’s painting ‘Saurashtra’, which was auctioned for US$34,86,965 (around Rs 17 crore) in June 2010, is the most expensive Indian artwork ever sold.

While demand for established artists remains strong among premium collectors, artwork by names such as Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher and Anish Kher are also top ranking in terms of demand. At the recently concluded India Art Fair, artist Rashid Rana's works were among the first to be sold out.

The fair, where individual artworks were available from Rs55,000 to Rs60 lakh, saw 80% of the galleries report sales and bookings. “While there are a smaller group of buyers for works over $1million (Rs 5 crore), the market is now very discerning and masterpieces and top quality works have growing demand while reaching high values,” said Singh.

As the growing affluence of Indians has instilled a new confidence and growing appreciation of art among collectors, what remains to be seen is whether the prices the works fetch are reflective of the market size.

“Auctions are not a true indicator of the price of an artwork, as the bidding process raises the price,” said Sahar Zaman, art critic and curator.

It is difficult to evaluate the value of artworks traded in India, outside of auctions, simply because a majority of transactions are in cash, added Zaman.

“Most deals are either between two individuals or between a collector and an art gallery, which refuse to share their log sheets for transactions unless, of course, there is an income tax raid,” she said.