Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Mar 10, 2017
Transforming Indian art market into regional hub

New Delhi recently hosted one of its biggest Art Fairs, attracting over 90,000 visitors. The Art Fair, organised in February, had 72 exhibitors from 23countries and 19 cities. A Basel based company, MCH had a 60.3 percent stake in the Art Fair banking on its success. The Kochi Biennial also helped create and spread awareness in art. But much more needs to be done.

Today the Indian Art market is worth about Rs 1000 to Rs 1200 crore which is a miniscule share of the $64 billion global art market. China has a share of 19 percent in global art business. There are growing job opportunities in the business of art for young graduates in galleries, auction houses and museums. Many young women have specially taken to the art business -- buying and selling Indian modern and contemporary art. Many have started art galleries. There have been many start-ups in the art world also — hopefully they will survive!

There is also a big potential for exporting Indian contemporary art and many galleries are buying Indian art and exhibiting them in Dubai, Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels.  Increasingly, Indian art seems to have arrived in the international art scene and famous auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s have established offices in India. The potential for expanding India’s art market is huge and it can become the art hub of the region.

Last year, however, the art market worldwide had a setback after experiencing a growth of 30 per cent the previous year. This was linked to the Brexit, global economic slowdown, the US elections and the Syrian war crisis that created uncertainty in the minds of collectors. In India, demonetisation has played a negative role in the art business because many people used black money to purchase art and park their funds. Post demonetisation, they seem to be holding on to their money instead of buying art. This adversely affected the art market, especially the lower end comprising less known painters, traders in folk art objects and hand-made souvenirs. However, demonetisation has brought about a transparency that was not there before. Now payments are in white money ( cheques) which will benefit the artists as galleries cannot hide the actual sale price from artists who usually give a huge cut to the galleries -- ranging from 20 to 32 percent. The collections done by top notch buyers, however, was not significantly impacted even though Christie’s in December last year recorded a sale of Rs 72.17 crore which was much less than Rs 97.7 crore in December 2015.

The art market was non-existent till a few years ago when some NRIs started buying and selling Indian art.  Around 99 per cent of the art market in India comprises paintings. There is an increasing presence on online buying. The biggest online auction house portal is Saffronart. The presence of international auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christies, has made a big difference to the Indian art market in recent years. They have manged to sell Indian modern masters at record prices. There is, however, a proliferation of fakes, especially Jamini Roy and Husain. Authentication and provenance are important but these are hard to come by.

 The art market cannot flourish if there is an ostensible vacuum in the awareness about art amongst the general public. School children have to be inducted into art appreciation and taken to museums and art galleries. Municipal corporations can have art promotional schemes and sponsor artistic creations in urban spaces, like in many Latin American countries.  Art is still considered a luxury product and most galleries and museums are usually empty most of the time.

The art market has been dominated by big names like M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Gaitonde, Raza and Souza, whose works have sold in crores of rupees in recent times. But there are thousands of lesser known artists who are trying to make a living by selling their art work. For them, e-commerce business is a good opportunity to showcase their work. The best thing about e -commerce is that it is accessible to middle class buyers and not just the rich.

There are good chances that the art market will pick up as India gains its growth momentum and since it is linked with the world art market also, it is good news that Sotheby’s has recently sold a painting by Gustav Klimt at a record price of 48 million pounds.  It shows that there is a revival in the international art market which has suffered a blow since 2007. The art market can flourish only when there is a ‘feel good factor’ because people buy art knowing fully well that it is an illiquid asset unlike stocks.  But inflation does not impact art but some artists’ work gain in value over time. Many rich and High Net Worth Individuals in India have been ‘investing’ in art and have benefited because prices of paintings of some artists have shot up dramatically over a of few years and they have made huge capital gains.  Tracking valuations of artists’ work is important for investors and galleries can prepare graphs of the price fluctuations of famous artists’ work. In recent times, it is Raza whose works have gone on increasing in value while many other contemporary big names have experienced a sharp fall. But art as investment is still not common among ordinary Indians. Their first preference in India is to put savings in gold, silver and jewellery. Besides, when average painting prices start from Rs 50,000, art is not affordable to many.

In the Indian art market, the buyers and sellers are mostly Indian. There is a big scope for miniature paintings and antiquities to be sold in the market in the future in which foreign buyers can participate but the government forbids the export of any painting or object that is more than 100 years old. This restriction limits the size of the market.

If the Indian art market flourishes, then it will also benefit lesser known artists, who can hope for sustainable incomes.  There can also be a market for folk and tribal art, areas not much explored by auction houses though recently auction houses are selling reasonably priced original art works by folk and tribal artists. These artists’ works need nurturing, otherwise they could become extinct over time.

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David Rusnok

David Rusnok

David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW Germany

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