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February 28, 2016

What Kind of Art Are Indians Passionate About?

Text by Huzan Tata

Paintings by masters like V S Gaitonde and creations from around the world are selling in India for record-breaking prices…. Discover how the Indian market is seeing an unprecedented passion for art

Ask anyone to describe India and one word that they’re most likely to use is ‘culture’. Painting ateliers, art galleries and artist studios have been patronised by kings and queens, and rulers and leaders all through our country’s rich history. But apart from the mansions of the gentry, one probably didn’t see artworks anywhere but at an art space — until a few years ago.

Indian art collectors, more so now than ever before, are beautifying their homes and offices with paintings and sculptures, building their collections along the way. So what’s changed in the recent past? Why are international auction houses and art festivals reaching out to the Indian art aficionados?

Adeline Ooi, Asia director of Art Basel, says, “There’s an emerging market now. Artists were making art a long time before there was a market for it. They were only on the international stage in the form of biennales and curated shows. I think it’s very interesting where we are now. Everyone knows the value of modern masters…but a lot needs to be traced back to relearn who these people are and to appreciate them. I think the market is in quite an interesting place because you look forward as a collector to works of an artist whom you know.”

So, if Jitish Kallat and Shilpa Gupta are renowned names, so are Nainsukh and S H Raza. People are waking up to these masters’ talents today and, last month, at Christie’s annual Mumbai auction, a V S Gaitonde artwork was sold for 4.4 million dollars, a record amount for the late artist’s works. “It’s been a very exciting seven to eight years,” says Deepanjana Klein, international head of the Department of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art at the auction house. “If you look at the way things were going till 2008, lot of new buyers and collectors came into the market. Then everything crashed with the Lehmann Brothers’ collapse…there was a huge adjustment that art as an organism had to go through. I’m now seeing a healthy, robust, and an educated group of collectors, artists, patrons, and museums. Everything is in sync and alignment.” Now, art in India isn’t just limited to the four walls of a gallery. It’s at annual fairs, international auctions, and a part of people’s daily conversations too.

FOR THE LOVE OF ART
Indians aren’t exploring creations just within the country’s boundaries, but are travelling globally to the Venice Biennale and Art Basels to get their extra fix of art as well. “I’m definitely aware of Indian collectors who have a strong focus on local artists and, at the same time, are also open to international names. I think it’s happening all around Asia. As the world becomes smaller, it feels natural that you have this sort of crossover…. Collectors go where the art goes,” explains Ooi, about the modern Indian art lover.

But what is it that we’re buying? It’s not just Husain’s horses and Raza’s bindus that people love — from miniature paintings to contemporary creations and indigenous artworks, buyers are investing in a pure appreciation of the aesthetic. “The contemporary market went through a correction after 2008…people recognise and understand how rare it is to come across a masterpiece,” says Hugo Weihe, the newly appointed CEO of Saffronart, an Indian auction house. The company, that took shape around 15 years ago, raised 2.4 million dollars at their last auction in the financial capital, with a Parvati sculpture going under the hammer for close to a whopping 982,000 dollars.

Ultimately, what counts is the growing interest of Indian artists and collectors in the local art scene. Klein, who believes that it’s only the beginning when it comes to the country’s initiatives towards art, aptly puts it thus: “Collectors have to be passionate and obsessive. They should not just desire an artwork but have the energy and time to dedicate their lives to be caretakers of it. It’s about culture and heritage, and about capturing the zeitgeist. A collector can come from any walk of life, with any kind of budget. It’s just about the passion he has to have.”

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