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The art revolution of India, a rising phenomenon
“The expanding art market of India is fueled by an expanding middle class of the country with money to invest and a greater awareness of interior design in a country largely indifferent to aesthetics,” so mentions a 1990 news report (Hungering for Art in New Delhi) by Barbara Crossette in The New York Times, putting a question mark over the art market boom. Some of the questions still remain unanswered after two decades, even as the growing affluence of the people along with India’s rapid rise as a major power has led to a new-found fascination for art in terms of its cultural and investment value. No surprise that the world-renowned curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist of London’s Serpentine Gallery, proclaims Indian art’s emergence as a major force on the international art scene! It's not just young artists, but those from the 1960s right up to now are stirring interest at a time when many other non-Western countries like China are in focus. The talented artists from India have received acclaim internationally for their ability to alloy the traditional art forms with Western styles and approaches. After a sharp correction that has virtually eliminated the speculators, the art market is now on a more solid footing. The ArtTactic Indian Art Market Confidence Indicator (November 2010) has staged a remarkable recovery since May 2009 largely backed by the improved secondary and auction scene for Modern Indian art. More importantly, art investment as a theme is back! The last couple of years have witnessed a smart recovery in values. The top artists especially are quoting at the pre-crisis price levels again. Behind this rebound mostly are rich Indian buyers - some permanently settled in the US and the UK - who are evincing keen interest in the art of their native country. It was since the 1990s that the ‘NRIs in Dubai, London and New York, flush with their new-found wealth, joining the rush to buy art. The trend continues until today and is one to last for the years to come, considering the vast potential of Indian art. Stan Sesser of The Wall Street Journal mentions in a news report (Running of the 'Bulls': A $2.8 Million Record): “At the recent auction at Christie's in New York, many of the collectors bidding in person were ethnic Indians, not many older than their 30s. The interest is now seen building around a talented younger generation in the country. Margherita Stancati in The Wall Street Journal new report (‘Who Buys Indian Art?’) echoes the view: “As India’s economy is growing, so is the portion of the population that can afford to invest in art. This means many buyers are actually new to the art market. As a result, the profile of collectors is changing too.” Dr Hugo Weihe, Christie’s Senior Vice-President & International Director (Asian Art), points out in a recent essay that the classical arts & miniature paintings have been collected for a long time in the West. But now the interest is awakening in India itself- something long overdue, in many ways. The values still look ‘very reasonable’, looking at the longer term and taking into account the relative scarcity of the material still available, the expert feels. On the other hand, Holly Brackenbury, Sotheby’s deputy director (Islamic and Indian Art), says it will take 5-10 years for India to catch up with China and Russia in terms of art sales. A recent BBC News repot pegs the value of the modern and contemporary Indian art market at an estimated $400 million (£250 million) even while the world art market value is said to be about $40 billion (£25 billion). So the country represents just a percentage of the global share, which is not very encouraging. But that also leaves immense scope for growth and expansion. But how to make this happen in real terms…that’s the real challenge! One obvious ingredient is to set up more world class art institutions. Several private museums are coming up and that’s a promising development, but they won’t be able to keep up the good work without the necessary support from the Indian government in terms of tax benefits and import restrictions. India needs more private public partnership in the arts sector. Painting a positive picture in this regard, The New York Times columnist Somini Sengupta notes: “Apart from Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), at least two other private museums are in the planning stages, one in Coimbatore, the other in eastern Kolkata. And there is already one devoted to new, often unknown contemporary work from across South Asia (Devi Art Foundation), which reflects the interests of its backers, the mother-and-son duo Lekha & Anupam Poddar.” Clearly, awareness of art and art practices is a vital aspect that demands a greater emphasis even as an increasing number of collectors are queuing up. The recent Deloitte art & finance global conference with a focus on the increased importance of art & collectibles, covered a range of topics like Lessons learned from the art market crash of 2008, recent developments in art & law, new directions in art investment, a vision for the art markets, a new art from emerging markets, art philanthropy , growth of art market research firms and databases etc. India needs similar such initiatives to highlight value of art as a mirror to society and self-introspection, apart from the investment angle and sheer decorative purpose. Most gallerists, curators and art practitioners point to a general lack of understanding. They also concede that the task of creating conducive culture will demand resourcefulness. Yet a section of them are optimistic that things will change. As the financial dimension of art gets institutional backing, it will capture the attention of the masses as an investment opportunity. Once the importance of art as investment seeps into the public psyche, it will set in motion the economic triggers to reaffirm our broader artistic and cultural infrascape like never before. Popularizing regulated art funds with the general public also holds the key. Utilizing the power and transparency of online auctions is another vital constituent. Once a sustained flow of factual data and credible valuation criteria are established, the framework of institutionalizing the art asset will gather momentum, hastening the nascent art revolution of India driven by the momentum of public participation.