Has the Indian Art Market Hit an Inflection Point?

Some Indian artists already have a global market. Now, India is ready to develop as a global hub for art

Published: Dec 31, 2013
Image: Vikas Khot

Wherever I travel, I find that the interest and audiences for art continue to grow, and with that we see new collectors engaging in the art market at all price levels. This is equally true in India, a country with such rich artistic heritage. Spending time with our team in Mumbai and meeting clients over the last few days, I am more certain than ever that the time is right for us to be holding our inaugural auction.

We held our first online-only auction in December 2012, and have followed with over 40 online-only auctions where almost 40 per cent of buyers are new clients. In addition, the website continues to see a growth in visitors, and almost one in three of our clients now chooses to bid at a traditional auction via Christie’s LIVE. [Christie’s auction in Mumbai was broadcast on Christie’s LIVE for bidders from around the world who were able to bid online.]

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We have had offices in both India and mainland China since the 1990s. In both countries, we have seen evidence of the global trend whereby more and more people are showing interest and enthusiasm for art, be it at museums, art fairs or the art market. We believe that the auction is not only our heritage but our invitation to new clients. So, our inaugural auctions in China, and now in India, serve to convene the art community and collectors, and allow us to showcase both the art and our services, and connect these communities through Christie’s to the rest of our global network.

The combination of the surge in interest in art, combined with the new connectivity available online, has opened the door to a vast population of new collectors globally. This surge far outstrips any modulation in sales that macro-economic trends would affect. In fact, 2010, 2011 and 2012 all saw record levels of sales for us, and while we won’t announce results for 2013 until the New Year, it has continued to show growth.

In the last few years there has been a fundamental shift in the art market which has developed and evolved during this time probably as much as it ever has before; the cultural appreciation for art has boomed, and technology, and the internet in particular, has made us even more transparent and accessible to collectors anywhere in the world.

We have witnessed the coming of age of a truly global art market. We have never before had exposure to so many collectors and our client base is deeper than ever before as people from around the world are attracted to engage in the art market.

Thanks to the worldwide cultural growth of art appreciation, we are benefitting from these boom years. And while prices are increasing, that encourages art, and in fact, masterpieces, to be offered for sale, which in the end, is very good for the collectors.

We look forward to offering collectors in India more direct access to Christie’s, and concomitantly offering Indian art to the world through the Christie’s network. The two complement and enrich each other. With a permanent presence in India, we are making a long-term commitment to the future development of this market.

This is already a global category of Indian artists, and these artists are not only included in our sales held around the world but are increasingly shown in major museums and institutions there. For example, there will be a major retrospective of VS Gaitonde’s work at the Guggenheim in New York in 2014. In February [this year], I had the honour to meet Syed Haider Raza, and that extraordinary experience has led me deeper into an appreciation of his work.

The artists represented in the Mumbai sale are the same names you would see in the sale catalogues for New York in March and September and London in June, and actually, I believe that Christie’s can play a role in developing that hub here as we invite our clients and collectors from around to consign their works and also to join us here in the coming seasons.

Illustration: Sameer Pawar

I think the biggest challenge is already overcome: The logistics of putting on our museum-quality exhibitions in New Delhi and Mumbai have involved hours of planning and hard work. We are incredibly fortunate in this, our inaugural sale, to have great works from leading artists of the modern art movement in India, many from the personal collection of the highly respected gallery owner Kekoo Gandhy. Some of these works cannot be exported and we are very privileged to be able to provide an environment where they can be exchanged domestically and their importance recognised by an international group of collectors. As for a more thorough analysis of the differences in each region, perhaps this would be best answered after the sale when we have had a chance to analyse the results.

Our role is to present Western art and other objects and genres here as we do around the world, and frankly, let the art speak for itself. It will find its own connection to India’s sophisticated buyers. We have also increased the ease of access for collectors based in India who wish to engage with Christie’s in other global selling centres.

Our experience in other parts of the world where the art market is in its relative infancy, the marketplace needs to work together collaboratively to provide the best environment for artists and collectors to meet and share their interest and passions. Initiatives that provide these opportunities, whether they be gallery openings, exhibitions, art fairs or auctions, help to provide a sustainable, nurturing atmosphere in which the art business can only benefit and continue to thrive.

We all have a part to play and education and accessibility here is key which is why we were so keen to support ‘Homelands’, the touring exhibition organised earlier this year by the British Council. Their education programme was one of the critical reasons behind our decision to take part.

The auction and pre-sale exhibition has also given us an opportunity to bring the very best of Indian art to Mumbai and New Delhi. In New Delhi we hosted an art forum discussion focused on cultural stewardship with Kiran Nadar, chairperson of the Kiran Nadar Museum, Pooja Sood, director, Khoj International Artists’ Association and Bharat Wakhlu, resident director, Tata Services.

We believe India is a dynamic growth market with great potential, and that India, Indian collectors and Indian art will increasingly become a significant contribution to the future growth of Christie’s internationally.

(As told to Kishore Singh)
 

Dream debut

Kishore Singh

Christie’s inaugural auction in India couldn’t have had a better start as lot after lot went under the gavel. The auction achieved an incredible 98 percent sale with a total value of nearly Rs 97 crore.
 
And, oh, the records!

VS Gaitonde claimed India’s most expensive tag at Rs 23.7 crore (including buyer’s premium and VAT), Tyeb Mehta bested himself at Rs 19.7 crore, Manjit Bawa at Rs 3.8 crore, Ram Kumar at Rs 3.5 crore, and Ganesh Pyne at an amazing Rs 2.3 crore.
As the two auctioneers announced the paddle numbers, the buzz could not have been more incredible, starting with a palm-sized Gaitonde fetching over Rs 90 lakh and Ramkinkar Baij winning Rs 42 lakh.

The National Treasure artists—works that cannot be exported—did considerably less well, with Amrita Sher-Gil matching her lower estimate at Rs 3.6 crore, Rabindranath Tagore at Rs 2.9 crore, and Nandalal Bose mostly selling under estimates. (All prices exclude a buyer’s premium of 20-25 percent, 12.5 percent VAT, and 12.36 percent service tax on the buyer’s premium.)

Its success scripted through strategic networking, prices for the masters will continue to consolidate, providing a leg-up for Indian art, which has been in the doldrums ever since 2008.

(This story appears in the 10 January, 2014 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Sankalp1989

    Good Article. i agree with you. Indian Music and culture has always been growing and has been recognized well in the west as well. there are many form with in the culture itself, the main being hindustani and carnatic

    on Apr 11, 2014
  • Sankalp1989

    A good article. Indian art and culture has always grabbed the attention of western audiance. there are many variants in the forms within the music culture itself the main being Hindistani and carnatic for more insight of this you get it in Music Store Online there are many artists who has a great fan following around the globe ,especially the instrument artists.

    on Apr 11, 2014
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