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China and India dominate art world headlines
Despite adverse global conditions, the Indian and international art auction scene gradually gathered momentum, to maintain its positive bias thus far in 2012. Top market players are focusing on quality in order to target discerning buyers. However, this is not a market for those looking to make quick money, but ideal for committed collectors, ready to pick precise works at attractive prices. Here’s a quick round-up of the art scene as recently reported by top news publications and agencies:

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the Telegraph, marks five years since the financial crisis began when it became clear that housing debt would become a liability for banks. Much of the debt will have to be written off - whether this done by inflation (1945-1952) or default (1930-1934) will be the great political battle of this decade. Marion Maneker writes in The Art Market Monitor: “For our purposes, the interesting question is not which history but whether art can come through this process unscathed. If inflation is the solution, art will appreciate (eventually) along with inflation though there will be a lag when cash is scarce to devote to buying art.”

Meanwhile, The Forbes carried an explosive piece of story by Abigail R. Esman that focused on China's alleged $13b art fraud and what exactly it means to markets. The storey mentioned: “If you pay attention either to China or the art market, you’ve probably heard the story: China last year became – according to art industry experts – the world’s largest market for art and antiques, surpassing the USA. Well, here’s a shocker: it isn’t. Not even close…”

According to art market expert Clare McAndrew, many of the key purchases at Chinese art auctions that stand for the vast bulk of its market activity, were going unpaid. Poly Auctions, a Government-owned auction house, forms part of an organization that incidentally manufactures weaponry. It’s a large-scale defense firm authorized by the Central Government. As a Beijing-based art lawyer, Nancy Murphy, pointed out, Poly serves as the People’s Liberation Army’s the auction arm. Manipulated sales and artificially-inflated prices have so impacted the values for art and antiques in China that their true value is often unclear. In other words, Chinese art, antiques and antiquities buyers worldwide are much more likely to pay higher for things than they are actually worth. (And that’s even before we take into account the growth of fakes.)

China continued to be in news again with The New York Times covering a major exhibition of Indian art that made ‘a rare stop’ in the country. Clare Pennington mentioned in an elaborate news report: “For the past half-century, China and India, the world’s most populous nations, have been uncomfortable neighbors. There is no quick fix for these deep-seated problems, but there are murmurs of a widening dialogue between the two nations, at least on the cultural front. And as with the Buddhist scriptures millennia ago, paintings covered in bindis, sculptures crafted in the furniture markets of Mumbai and miniature cities bent from the metal of India’s scrap heaps have traveled east and moved into the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, one of the most prominent contemporary art museums in China.”

A traveling exhibition, ‘Indian Highway’, was produced in conjunction with the Serpentine Gallery in London. It features 29 artists and 130 individual pieces. This is the largest show of art from India to ever make it to China, where any display of culture from India is rare. From 2006 to 2008, the Arario Gallery here and the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art each held a group exhibition of Indian artists. Between those years Arario sold 30 Indian works valued at a total of $2.5 million to Chinese buyers, but interest from Chinese collectors then appeared to dissolve. Artists and museums hope that “Indian Highway” will rekindle the flame. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones, directors of the Serpentine Gallery in London, said the exhibition was not meant to showcase differences between the strengths of India and China. But perhaps that was inevitable in any dialogue about the two nations.

In spite of the art world’s enthusiasm for such cultural exchanges, the exhibit provoked mixed reactions in the country. Relations between the world’s most populous autocracy and its largest democracy are marked by competitive anxieties. In parallel to an economic fight, a military arms race is also occurring. The media in respective nations weigh in quite vocally. Some in China were concerned by the fact that the Ullens founders, Guy and Myriam Ullens, were apparently shifting their interests to Indian from Chinese art.