An art fair held in Delhi at the end of last week was, by any measure, a success. The organisers of the India Art Summit logged a total of just over 40,000 visitors and said that sales totalled Rs260m ($5.4m, £3.3m).
Sceptics have inevitably queried the figures, but the visitors’ seem genuine because they were based on a count at the entrance gates.
The sales figures are less reliable because they are based on what the galleries told the organisers, and no doubt include potential sales and a bit of optimism – negotiations are still in progress on many works around Delhi as I write. One contact has suggested the figures may also have been under-stated because of large cash payments that are likely to have been made.
But whatever the eventual sales, there was enough buying activity to indicate that the market for Indian modern art – and maybe contemporary art too – has bottomed out in the past two months and that serious collectors are now buying at prices that are often 30%-40% below the peak levels last year, and sometimes far more.
Friends tell me that serious collectors buying at the fair included Preeti Ambani of Tina Ambani’s Harmony Art Foundation (who paid a record $2.5m for an F.N.Souza oil at a Christie’s London auction in June last year at the peak of the market); Malvinder Singh, who must be flush with cash after selling his family’s Ranbaxy pharma company to Daiichi of Japan and owns the Religare Arts Initiative and gallery (and is in the news today buying ten hospitals); and Kiran Nadar, wife of Shiv Nadar who controls the HCL IT company.
I also saw Rajeev Sethi, Delhi’s arts doyen who runs the Asian Heritage Foundation, and Suhel Seth, an irrepressible marketing personality who’s on the board of British Airways, clinching deals.
For an entrance fee of Rs200, people had direct access to the stands of 55 art galleries, including 17 abroad – from the US, UK, Germany and elsewhere including even Latvia and the Philippines. And there was more than just the galleries. There were shows by young artists and children, and more exclusive seminars.
“There are good vibes, things are happening,” said Anders Peterson of ArtTactic, a London based analysis firm, who believes the market has bottomed out.
At the seminars, the successes as well as the fault lines of the Indian art market were discussed. Why is it for example that India has so many art investment funds – more than 12, and probably more than any other country, suggested Maithili Parekh of Sotheby’s. The Indian stock market watchdog SEBI is supposed to regulate them, but has done little, despite questionable links between funds and some galleries and auctioneers.
Amrita Jhaveri, an art consultant, talked about such conflicts of interest, saying “it’s an extremely cosy world based more on co-operation than competition”.
Other speakers included big collectors such as Anupam Poddar (left) of the Devi Art Foundation, gallery owners such as Peter Nagy of Nature Morte, and top artists such as Subodh Gupta, all of whom who were accessible walking round the exhibition halls.
Galleries are shy about revealing exactly what they had sold, but everyone I spoke to was happy with the outcome, and several from abroad said it far exceeded their limited expectations.
London’s Lisson Gallery was rumoured to have reported sales of £1m (nearly Rs80m), which included one, or maybe two, works thought to be priced at £400,000-500,000, by Anish Kapoor, an Indian-born British sculptor who has an exhibition opening in September at London’s Royal Academy (pic with two of his works above).
Beck & Eggeling of Düsseldorf had a striking oil on canvas (below – and trimmed upside down above right) by Viveek Sharma of Barack Obama standing on his head on a chess board, supported by the Hindu monkey god Hanuman – presumably a metaphor for Obama taking on the problems of the world with the help of Hanuman, who once carried a mountain on his shoulders to help save the life of his master’s brother. The gallery sold that work for approaching $15,000 (Rs730,000) and also a small Picasso drawing for $25,000.
Among Indian galleries, the Delhi Art Gallery said it sold 15 works priced between Rs50,000 and Rs50 lakhs ($1,030–$103,000) including works by leading artists such as Souza, S.H.Raza. and Sohan Qadri, while the Dhoomimal Gallery sold works by H.A.Gade and Satish Gujral.
There were, of course, no M.F.Husain works available – they were excluded from the show for fear of vandalism.
The event was organised by Mumbai-based Hanmer MS&L Communications, which has no connections with the incestuous art world (that must be a good thing!).
It was a success beyond the figures and sales because it opened up India’s art market to people – young as well as old – who would be reluctant to walk into the forbidding arena of many art galleries. Many of them will be future buyers.
The exhibition halls were packed, especially on the last day, and looked, said Ashish Anand of the Delhi Art Gallery, “more like a trade fair’s public day than an art event”.
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