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Cues for art market and artists to watch out for
In the backdrop of India’s rich and ancient cultural history, there is also now a growing and deep appreciation of a new era in Indian art. Working with ideas, which are highly personal, simultaneously representing the shifts and complex changes occurring worldwide, highly talented artists from the country are treading new paths that blend the historical past with the present, strike a balance between fact and fiction, fuse old and new identities, and raise socially relevant issues during a challenging period of societal flux, evolving a new visual and thematic idiom, in the process.

Young talents such as Vivek Vilasini and Vibha Galhotra deftly allow dismaying elements to seamlessly act. Those like Akhilesh and Manish Pushkale explore latent emotions by way of linear contours whereas George Martin P.J. and Chandra Bhattacharjee let elements of Pop art skillfully intermingle with super-realism and expressionistic abstraction. Today internationally renowned artists from India like Bose Krishnamachari, Riyas Komu, T.V. Santhosh and Iranna G.R. depict are rooted to their own culture, yet their work is of universal nature. They strive to act as a link between what constitutes Indian-ness in the context of contemporary art and today's 'global' community.

With prices having reached attractive levels, most market participants expect a positive development in the second half of 2012, indicating the overall optimism that prevails in the Indian art market. In this context, it is advisable to go for a mix of artists - the modern and contemporary, established and emerging ones - as each segment has its own strength and potential.

Besides Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Akbar Padamsee, Badri Narayan, Atul Dodiya, TV Santhosh and Jitish Kallat, several others like NS Harsha, Jagannath Panda, Baiju Parthan, Rashid Rana, Shilpa Gupta, Paresh Maity, Tejal Shah, Jayashree Chakravarthy, Arpana Caur, and Jayashree Burman have carved a niche for themselves. Works by the second generation moderns including Manjit Bawa, Ganesh Pyne, Laxma Goud, Prabhakar Barwe, Nalini Malani, and Gulamohammad Sheikh can be considered for investment, as they hold immense value and importance, both historically and also in terms of the market.

You may reserve part of your portfolio for the young and emerging contemporaries in the form of George Martin, Nitish Bhattacharjee, Hindol Brahmabhatt, Jagannath Mohapatra, Rahul Chowdhury, Jagdish Chander, Prasanta Sahu, Nikhileswar Baruah, Amarnath Sharma, Rahul Arya, Inder Vir, Prajjwal Choudhury, Anu Agarwal, Heeral Trivedi, Jignasa Doshi, and Meetali Singh. There are a host of other names like Suhasini Kejriwal, Chitra Ganesh, Susanta Mandal, Rahul Chowdhury, Suryakant Lokhande, Viraj Naik, Justin Ponmany, Thukral & Tagra, worth a consideration. In essence, look for artists who have gradually built their reputations, backed by renowned galleries - local and international.

Even as we provide attention to each individual artist and his or her growth trajectory, we must also pay attention to the overall scenario and how it’s shaping up. In spite of a promising future, for now the rather narrow and constrained collector base remains a cause of concern for Indian art market, which still has some way to go compared to other emerging markets. Sale totals of Russia and China are almost 4-5 times more than what art sales here are generating. The two have had a massive state investment in building cultural infrastructure like something India lacks.

Though our art scene has vast potential and scope, what it requires is both private and government support. Also, people need to be made more knowledgeable and better informed about art processes, and philosophy, themes and mediums. This cannot happen overnight; it will take time. Highlighting this aspect, senior artist Atul Dodiya feels lack of serious discourse is sad, though he is heartened by the fact that the increasing curiosity about art is encouraging, which can be met with programs that will involve the masses for education, awareness and appreciation. Thankfully, a more mature and aware collector base is coming to the fore, slowly but surely.

Much of the growing interest can be attributed to eclectic influencers at the international level, three of them in particular. The reclusive billionaire ad guru Charles Saatchi, who incidentally made Damien Hirst a global icon, has vehemently promoted Indian art with major collections showcased through grand presentations, such as 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Greek businessman Dimitris Daskalopoulos, a patron of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, is known to have picked up the major chunk of collection in ‘Indian Highway’, a grand showcase of Indian art of the new-generation artists. Francois Pinault, a flamboyant Frenchman, who formed the amazing avant-garde Palazzo Grassi Museum. Considered one of Subodh Gupta's staunch patrons, the art aficionado incidentally bought 'A Very Hungry God', a skull-shaped installation by him. Several prestigious galleries and art institutions in America, the UK, Europe and other parts of the world are holding curated shows of Indian art.

Astute collectors back home are fueling the boom as well. Anupam Poddar and his mother Lekha, have hosted their elaborate private collection at the Devi Art Foundation located in Gurgaon. Their comprehensive collection includes works by some top practitioners like Sudarshan Shetty, Bharti Kher, Subodh Gupta, A. Balasubramaniam, and Mithu Sen among others. Kiran Nadar, another veteran collector, has chosen to display her own eclectic compilation gathered over two long decades at one of India's first ever private museums in New Delhi.

Internationally acclaimed curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist, stated in an interview: “People talk a lot about India arriving on the global stage in the last five years. Actually, Indian art has been exciting for many decades. However, this is an important moment for Indian art since it is getting international recognition. It’s very important to take the local into account but it is also equally important to look at what artists are doing globally. It’s not an either/or situation but an also/and kind of approach, where it is important for both to grow simultaneously. It is great when an artist succeeds in bringing the two together.

To conclude, Indian market is in a nascent stage compared to other developed art markets. However, it’s only a matter of time before it grows and attains its own unique identity.