India takes giant stride with first global art fair

August 4th, 2008 - 2:01 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Aug 4 (IANS) Come Aug 22, and the sprawling exhibition hub in the heart of the Indian capital will resemble Basel, a small town in Switzerland which has been hosting the world’s biggest art fair for the last 38 years. More than 200 stakeholders, including 34 galleries, in the art industry will come together at the “India Art Summit 2008″ at the Pragati Maidan fairground to showcase 400 works of art and interact with a new segment of investors for three days.

This is India’s first art fair with global partnerships - one that professes to put the country on par with Basel, Miami, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore and Shanghai, all those places aspiring to become global art hotspots.

According to industry experts, the first step for a country to become an international art hub is to host a fair. And India has taken a giant stride.

It brings us to the moot question: Is our country ready, both logistically and otherwise, that is in the mind, to host a full-scale art fair? Are buyers involved enough to engage proactively with an offline organised art platform for three days?

An art fair in India was long overdue, said Sunil Gautam, managing director of Hanmer MS& L, the company which is hosting the event.

“Somebody had to take the step and we did it. India is poised just at the tip of a phenomenal boom in art trade, one that is likely to sustain for a long time,” Gautam told IANS.

Heavyweights like auction house Sotheby’s are partnering the summit; and art fund guru Phillip Hoffman and international art forums are pitching in with their intellectual and business expertise.

“The response to our initiative has been overwhelming. We have been in touch with 8,000 prospective buyers, 500 galleries and 3,000 artists across geographies,” said Gautam.

“Inquiries are pouring in from countries like Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York, Spain, London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Dubai and Australia, where Indian art is hot.”

India churns out nearly 5,000 fresh art graduates every year who produce an abnormally high volume of art works. The industry is estimated at nearly $400 million annually.

The number of galleries showing works by artists has multiplied more than 10-fold, penetrating even tier two and tier three cities. The client base has expanded like never before to include corporate buyers, institutional buyers, art fund raisers and individual moneyed professionals, who are now armed with more purchasing power, but are not sure about what to buy and where to buy.

These segments are over and above the traditional collectors and the established art houses.

The boom in Indian art is not restricted to the country alone. The world market, as auction and exhibition trends show, is riding high on Asian art that is commanding international price patterns with record-breaking auction sales.

It has added a sizeable volume of foreign buyers to the list of clients - who lap up almost everything that masters of modern and contemporary Indian art have to offer. Not to mention, the rich treasure trove of Indian heritage art like miniatures, temple art, sculptures and even old manuscripts.

Moreover, galleries need a platform to come together under one roof - to know each other, gauge trends and push the medium collectively.

“This is exactly what we seek to do. Artists, galleries, buyers, art critics, writers, fundraisers, movers & packers and representatives of all the allied industries that have art as its core issue can meet in one commercially viable environment to offer variety, transparency and facilities for direct transaction with valid documents. The world is looking at Indian art very seriously,” Gautam said.

Among the problems that put off new buyers are closed-door deals in private shows. Aspiring collectors and investors are often not privy to the kind of art transacted in shows - and have to largely depend on loose words of mouth and gallery owners’ versions.

This practice, admits a section of industry experts, has sparked several dubious practices like touting of art works and fraudulent transactions.

Though most galleries authenticate the works they sell with sale certificates listing the lineage and veracity of the works on offer, the four metropolitan art capitals of India abound in tales of fake sales and nexus of touts, who seal deals between gullible buyers and art traders.

New corporate groups, one largest and the fastest growing art buying segments in the Indian market now, often fall prey to unscrupulous middlemen.

Art fairs, on the other hand, ensure maximum transparency. The new art investor can hope for both quality and educated guidance at India Art Summit 2008.

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