India, China are new faces of Asian art in the globe

August 24th, 2008 - 1:23 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 24 (IANS) India and China are the new faces of Asian art in the global market with works of artists from the two countries commanding high prices, according to experts analysing the commerce of art at an ongoing summit here.Panellists at the India Art Summit Saturday said that the two Asian economic giants were indeed calling the shots in terms of prices. The average price of individual works of high-end Chinese contemporary art was in the range of $19 million, whereas top-of-the-chain Indian artists commanded around $5.5 million.

“China has been quick to catch up with India and surpass it in terms of art prices despite paying attention to art post 2004. Bulk of the buyers of Chinese art are Westerners, who started looking to quality Chinese Art in galleries spread across Hong Kong. The Indian market, on the other hand, is homegrown,” said Henry Howard Sneyd, deputy chairman of international auction house Sotheby’s.

The three-day India Art Summit 2008, which began Aug 22, is the country’s first official art fair modelled on international art events in Miami, Venice, Basel and Hong Kong.

The subjects being discussed at the meet include business of art, development of art and interface with buyers, artists and industries. Works from over 400 national and international galleries are also on display during the event at Pragati Maidan here.

A comparative estimate of Chinese and Indian art prices shows that there is still a formidable gap between the two, but Hugo Weihe, the international director for Asian Art at Christie’s feels that it will close every soon with Indian art prices racing north in the global market.

The Christie’s summer sale of Chinese art in Hong Kong in May grossed one of its highest-ever earnings from the region to the tune of HK $2.4 billion.

Explaining the growth and the popularity of Chinese art, the Stanford Business Magazine, in a report this year, said an European connoisseur had once scoffed at Chinese contemporary art in the mid-1990s, saying “few people were interested in Chinese artists and their art”.

But last October, a painting by Chinese contemporary artist Wang Guangyi sold for $1.59 million, which was at least 63 times more than what its American seller had paid for in 1996.

The story is almost the same for India. Several Indian contemporary artists, who till a decade ago, were relatively unknown to the West, have stormed into the international price ring with new records.

At the recent preview of Indian modern and contemporary art for Christie’s September sale in New York, a painting by Subodh Gupta, India’s top selling contemporary artist, was estimated to go under the hammer for $800,000 to $1 million. Barely two years ago, Gupta sold for around $10,000.

A canvas by Goa-born F.N. Souza, “Birth”, sold for $2.5 million at the Christie’s international sale in London in June, setting a new world record.

The rise in the market worth of Indian and Chinese art has a lot to do with the emergence of a new breed of collectors.

“The global nature of the collectors have changed - most of them have made money on their own which has given an amount of self-confidence. They see good things about Indian and Chinese art on the front pages of newspapers and flock to the global sales,” Sneyd said.

The age of the new segments of buyers has also come down from 50 to 35 years. The younger buyers, mostly collectors, are more informed about what are they buying.

The panellists felt internet had a major role to play in taking knowledge of Indian and Chinese art to the West.

Arun Vadehra, owner of the capital’s Vadehra Art Gallery, attributes the crossing over of Asian art to the West to high-profile buyers.

“Now, you have celebrities collectors like Charles Saatchi and Frank Cohen buying Indian art. I am sure we will cross the Chinese market in the next three to four years,” Vadehra said.

Describing the growth of the Indian art industry in terms of size, Vadehra said it would soon become the third largest industry after information technology and tele-communications. But its growth is likely to be driven by private-public partnerships.

According to Weihe, the Asian markets were more matured now. “They are more focused on quality and only the best are being picked up - it has never happened in the art market before,” he said.

But the flip side of the market boom, warned chief executive of the Fine Art Fund Philip Hoffman, was that only 10 to 20 artists would continue to dominate while the rest will be forgotten.

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