Delving into India as a bourgeoning hub for luxury art collectors and shows. By ARUSHI SAKHUJA
Art, a word that can be depicted in a plethora of ways through visuals and performances, has come a long way in the country. The rich cultural heritage of the nation has always emphasized performing arts with a focus on the multiple folklore and crafts of the individual states, but visual art was a rare commodity in India. While art enthusiasts - also known as an aesthete – have manoeuvred their way and transgressed global borders to collect art, the trend has made its foray into the Indian market only very recently. New galleries, art fairs, and a new class of buyers are propping up the Indian market.
It was in the late 1990s when Indian art first emerged on the global scene with major international auction houses including Christie's and Sotheby's auctioning both modern and contemporary Indian art. Between 2000 and 2007, the Indian art market grew at an unprecedented scale with the market size growing from $5 million to $350 million. Several of the Indian artists' works were sold for more than $1 million. The art scene in the nation too was also witnessing a revolution with activities being undertaken to propagate and popularize Indian art. Thus, leading to an increase in the number of exhibitions, participation in the art fairs across the world and collaborations with international auction houses and galleries. “India always has had a love for collecting, it just becomes more public with events taking place more regularly in the country and this development is great to see. At Christie’s Mumbai, we held our first preview in the early 1990s and have done so throughout the decades by welcoming an ever-growing group of interested people. You do not need to be a collector to appreciate art and to attend any preview or exhibition – art is there to be shared and admired by all.”
Photo Courtesy: © Christie’s Images Limited 2023 ( L - Souza - Townscape, R - Raza - Mont-Agel)
Following the period of boom, the market suddenly hit rock bottom in 2008 as the economies world over collapsed due to the global financial crisis. Many critics and analysts believe that post-2008 Indian art almost disappeared from the global market. After a 5-year slump, in 2013 Indian art was revived again.
About a decade ago, art was a luxury for wealthy industrialists and businessmen with deep pockets who were able to get their hands on pieces from blue-chip artists, including M.F. Husain, Raja Ravi Verma and Raza, at auctions or through connections. However today, the market is more diversified and indeed wider encompassing a wide range of individuals some of whom are just beginning their investment journeys. The exponential growth of social media and technology has provided further impetus for untraditional art investors to foray into buying art. Mumbai and Delhi remain the bigger hubs for art buying. But there is a growing market in cities like Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chandigarh. The profile of buyers in the former two cities, prefer buying fewer works of art, but focus on an extremely qualitative collection or very rare works with great provenance. While some others collect art for pure patronage, and investment some decorate their homes with beautiful works of art.
As the Indian art market is growing, it is also a barometer of the growing wealth in the country as well as a fresh outlook that has changed drastically. In sharp contrast to the days when individuals would question the hefty price tag of art pieces, today, “The biggest change is that people are paying disproportionately higher prices for the best of quality, which shows the maturity of the market,” accurately says Puneet Shah, Founder & Director, Akara. Adding further, Christie’s spokesperson believes that India has always been a country of great and important collectors.
They further enlighten individuals about a few key aspects to keep in mind while purchasing art. “The motivations for collecting are multiple but there are some things one should know before starting to collect. The most important thing is to train your eye by attending as many fairs, galleries and museum shows as possible. The second thing is to ask as many questions as possible about a work of art that inspires you. This should be followed by a little homework to read as much as you can about the artists and their works you like, and how these perform on the art market. All of this will help you to buy the best work available on the market for the budget you have assigned for this purchase. And most importantly is to enjoy the work of art!”
However, the change goes hand in hand with increased globalization and access to the internet which has helped to create more awareness and accessibility. “With the rise of social media online programming has increased a lot, and people can be involved and educate themselves without being physically present, be it for an acquisition or learning, “ elaborates Shah. A great example of this is online art auctions and Indian buyers purchasing from platforms like Christie’s and Sotheby’s amongst many others.
The Growing Art Culture
The bourgeoning art culture can be attributed to a variety of factors including the flourishing of visual art galleries, the coming in of internationalised artists with widespread globalization and liberalization policies, and the uptick in Art fairs across India. Art Fairs are a prominent concept in the West, but it took a while to arrive in the country. The India Art Fair (IAF), conceived in 2008 by Neha Kirpal, was the first of its kind to kickstart the art fair and art collector's era in India and the rest is history. With an overwhelming response to the slow influx of art in India, the community grew stronger and today visual art is an indicator of wealth, creativity and social status in the Indian market. "Art Fairs are a one-stop shop for buyers of all kinds, be it collectors, one-time buyers for their homes, architects and interior designers buying for their projects as they witness a large showing of galleries from around the world, and thus it becomes an interesting proposition," shared Puneet Shah, Founder and Director, of Akara. For him, the growing demand for artworks and increase in patronage, with a focussed model of collecting has allowed for exhibitions and art fairs to flourish. “The modern and contemporary Indian talents have been recognized by a wide and international audience for decades already and have received the acknowledgement by major museums around the world. The participation of Indian galleries in international art fairs is steadily growing and all of these positive developments are now paired with local engagements in the arts and its business,” said a Christie’s spokesperson.
The recently concluded Mumbai Art Days was a real success and further proved that the market in India is growing vastly. New museums by private collectors are opening throughout the country with every passing day.