Indian art market gets a reality check

July 19th, 2009 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, July 19 (IANS) If there were a brighter side to recession, it’s in the Indian art market right now. The bubble has burst, sifting out the investors from the collectors and bringing back that crucial connect between artistic achievements and prices.

Art magazines and publications - a spate of which has flooded the market - are also playing an important role in educating buyers by highlighting “good and unusual art” to a wider cross section.

“Till six months back, no big ticket art was selling after the boom from 2005 to the first quarter of 2008. The period between 2005 and 2006 saw fly-by-night curators and investors throng the market,” Vikram Bachhawat, director of leading Kolkata-based house auction house Emami Chisel Art, told IANS in the capital.

“They created hype in the media about works by a clutch of artists, mostly contemporary ones, resulting in less of collection and more of speculation,” said Bachhawat, who is also director of the Aakriti Art Gallery.

He was in the capital to launch his new art magazine, Artetc. The auctioneer and art promoter said the hype prompted a “unrealistic price rise of young art”.

“Works by younger artists with start-up prices of Rs.200,000 shot up to Rs.2 million in six months because of false bids by some galleries on their own works in auction houses. The meltdown has exposed the fraud and prices are now plummeting to normal. Buyers are cautious,” Bachhawat explained.

Mahesh Chandra, a Delhi-based psychiatrist-turned-leading art collector, said, “The prices of contemporary art have fallen by at least 50-60 percent while those of the modern masters have scaled down by at least 30 percent (quoting ArtPrice.com estimates).”

“The prices of art works by contemporary artists, who were established through auctions between 2002 and 2008, were bid up (increased artificially). Money was free-flowing and the same artists - 15-20 of them - kept reappearing in auction after auction commanding prices as high as Rs.10 million to Rs.20 million. There was a disconnect between artistic achievements and prices. It had to be corrected,” Chandra told IANS.

The collector is now looking at “established contemporary art”.

Collectors, who are flocking to the market to reap the benefits of price correction, are also buying rare works, Bachhawat said.

“We recently sold a work by a not-so-investor-friendly, rare Bengal artist, Dharmanarayan Dasgupta, at twice the estimate,” the auctioneer said. He expects the market to pick up next year.

The recession, said curator Bhavna Kakar, has edged out investors and has turned the spotlight on collectors.

“The price and hype bubble have burst,” said entrepreneur-author and art connoisseur Pavan Malhotra, who has co-authored the high-end coffee table book, “Elite Collectors of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art”.

“I think the stature and market for Indian art globally will grow if top international collectors seriously start collecting Indian art. The top 10 collectors of art in the world collect Chinese art. Only a handful like adman-connoisseur Charles Saatchi (who has a gallery of Indian art in London), American hedge fund manager Steven Cohen, business tycoons Elaine and Steven Wynn and French billionaire Francois Pinault have started collecting Indian art two years ago,” Malhotra said.

“Unless big names like US-based millionaire collectors Elie Broad and David Giffen start collecting Indian art, the market will not grow in terms of quality and we will not be able to compete with China, our biggest competitor in Asia. Collectors will gradually steer the Indian art market.”

Amit Mukhopadhyay, a veteran art critic, says, “It is hazardous like jungle raj. The kind of purchase that went on in the Indian art market was senseless and did not do justice to artists.”

Art publications will play a significant role in educating buyers in the future, said Mukhopadhayay, whose magazine Artetc has a collector’s corner to reach out to prospective buyers.

Concurs senior artist Vivan Sundaram: “Art magazines are very important. But to reflect all aspects of art activity, it has to have criticality. There is so much that goes on in the name of young and new. An art magazine can educate buyers in a larger context.”

India now has a sumptuous kitty of art magazines like Art India, Art & Deal and the online India Art Summit newsletter India ArtConnect.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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