Thursday, August 27, 2009

Art market looking up - India Art Summit proves it

After a year that saw a price drop of at least 30 percent across all segments of modern and contemporary art and a purge of inferior products, the Indian art market is looking up again, say organisers of the India Art Summit 2009 in a post-fair review.

According to Neha Kirpal, associate director of the India Art Summit, galleries raked in nearly Rs.26 crore ($5.2 million) from sales --about 50 percent of the Rs.50 crore worth of art on offer. The footfalls, said Kirpal, stood at 5,000 on day one and touched 40,000 by the last day.

"This is similar to last year. In 2008, we sold 50 percent -- Rs.10 crore out of exhibits worth Rs.20 crore on display. Globally, art fairs sell around 20 to 30 percent of art shown," Kirpal told IANS.

Collectors and amateur buyers are once again looking for the best deals in a market distilled by credit squeeze, free of dubious galleries that inflated the prices of young artists and repeated sale of art works at auctions for greater profits.

An analysis by organisers of the art summit - a four-day mega fair in New Delhi's Pragati Maidan Aug 19-22 - shows that the nearly Rs.2,000-crore (nearly $400 million) Indian art market had redefined itself with a new lot of young and first-time buyers, revival in the purchase of high-end art by collectors and the entry of Korean and Chinese buyers and investors in the market.

The summit featured 54 galleries, including 17 foreign ones, and nearly 500 art works.

The focus was on contemporary and interactive art - with a special video lounge and an installation park, education sessions with lectures on markets and aesthetics by an international forum of curators, collectors, market watchers, analysts, artists, historians and auctioneers.

"Call it the churning in the market in the last quarter of 2008 and the first eight months of 2009 in the run-up to the fair, but the business and sale dynamics of art have changed. After the tough economic environment last year, all the galleries looked at the summit as a place for collective investment, and not as a place to transact direct business," Kirpal said.

"What they got in return was a new understanding of the potential of the Indian art market. It was a collective realisation. Earlier, our source of information was individual submissions by one gallery."

Even the 17 foreign galleries sold international artists like Anish Kapoor, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, Salvador Dali and Picasso.

German gallery Beck & Eggeling, which displayed eight original etchings by Picasso dated between 1930 and 1968 priced at $104,000-105,000, sold two. Works by Laura William sold out completely, Kirpal said.

Sunil Gautam, managing director of Hanmer MS&L, which organised the show, said: "The biggest problem with the market is poor awareness. Not many people are comfortable with quality art because they don't know much.

"So this time, we organised curated walks by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University who enlightened viewers and even first-time buyers about the art on display and the artists.

"There was a new buzz. And I realised that there were many people - especially youngsters - who were willing to buy provided they were tutored."

Kirpal said: "Delegations from 11 museums from across the world attended the summit to check out the wares."

China was represented by the prestigious Arario gallery. Several top Indian galleries showcased artists from other Asian countries.

"We managed to create an environment that is conducive to buying art and there has been a shift in sentiment towards buying. Even school children purchased photographs at Rs.500-1,000 with their pocket money - along with regular buyers across all price bands from Rs.40 lakh to Rs.2 crore," Kirpal said.

Bolstered by the response, the fair next year will focus on content - with diverse showcases - and more international representation. "We expect 75 foreign galleries," Kirpal said.

Explaining the dynamics of the market over the last decade, Maithili Parekh, the country head of Sotheby's which partnered the summit, said the Indian art market has gone through a period of exponential growth over the decade.

"Indian artists were represented by top galleries and renowned museums curated shows of Indian art. Every new auction set price records till the recession brakes were applied and the market was forced to re-adjust its values," she said.

"However, it allowed us to step back, recalibrate, separate the wheat from the chaff, good art from the less-than-good art, regroup and move on."
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