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Indian modern and contemporary art market booms amid growing global demand

Nithin Belle /Pune
Filed on October 11, 2021

An untitled painting of MF Hussain that will be auctioned in Mumbai.

Amrita Sher-Gil's painting titled Portrait of Mother

Dinesh Vazirani, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of Saffronart

Mumbai gallery to host auction of 40 exceptional works by modern Indian masters

A live auction of 40 exceptional works by modern Indian masters will be held at Saffronart’s Mumbai gallery on Wednesday.

This will be followed by an online auction on Wednesday and Thursday, which includes 14 of the 80 works of modern and contemporary South Asian, folk and tribal art forms.

Khaleej Times spoke to Dinesh Vazirani, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of Saffronart, about the vibrant Indian art landscape.

Excerpts from the interview:

What has been the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on art auctions in India?

It seems strange to think that the onset of a global Covid-19 pandemic would drive up purchases of fine art, but that is exactly what happened as we went into a lockdown to keep the contagion at bay. Though there are several reasons for this, two major factors stand out.

First, people were confined indoors and as a result were more involved in their living spaces. Many were enthusiastic about decorating walls with fine art.

Second, buying art is a highly involved exercise and collectors had more time during their work-from-home schedule to focus on what to purchase.

We conducted three auctions between April 2020 and April 2021, as compared to the preceding year. Besides, the number of lots sold last year was nearly double that of the preceding year.

What are the reasons for the revival in art auctions?

Saffronart amped up its auctions during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, many auction houses scaled down their operations because of the raging viral outbreak.

The past couple of months have seen a surge in the number of auctions that were held. Many are following the hybrid-live model that has been in vogue for over a year now. This is probably due to a realisation that the market is primed for more auctions. An increased number of art enthusiasts and bidders are looking to add to their collections amid a bid to return to normalcy and win over the Covid-19 pandemic challenge.

How many auctions did Saffronart host over the past 18 months and what was the buyers’ response?

Saffronart believes in making art accessible to people, where physical presence may not be needed.

The Covid-19 pandemic pushed us to modify our business to suit the need of the hour and come up with innovations to engage with our audience. This included conducting webinars — under the banner of Dialogues in Art — as well as weekly no reserve auctions every Tuesday and Thursday, which are entitled Absolute Tuesday and Friday Five, respectively, featuring collectibles across the categories of art, jewellery, rare books and more such items.

We’ve also modified our main auctions to a hybrid model, including a live auction with the auctioneer and essential personnel in a room. Bidders can join virtually on saffronart.com over a 24-hour period.

We’ve been able to record some of our most successful and notable sales of modern Indian art during this period. Our first hybrid virtual-live auction in September 2020 saw an untitled oil on canvas by V S Gaitonde being auctioned for 355 (Dh17.35) million – the fourth-highest price achieved for a work of Indian art.

The Spring Live Auction in March 2021 saw another Gaitonde selling for $5.5 (Dh20.20) million, which is an all-time high as far as an Indian artwork is concerned.

This was followed by the sensational sale of Amrita Sher-Gil’s In the Ladies’ Enclosure (1938), at our Summer Live Auction in July 2021, which fetched 378 (Dh18.48) million — the highest for the celebrated artist and the second-highest by an Indian painter.

Saffronart’s share of the art market stands at 46.1 per cent.

What are the reasons for the good international demand for modern Indian art?

The figures cited above are a clear indication of the critical point at which the art market is positioned. The value of works by modern masters such as Gaitonde or Raza or Sher-Gil are a few steps short of the level they were at when the art market was at its peak in 2007-08 because there is a growing international demand for their works.

However, the Indian art market is yet to peak. Modern and contemporary Indian art has sold for $77 (Dh283) million in 2021 in auctions and is likely to further increase before the year draws to a close.

Is there good interest in Indian art from Dubai and other parts of the Arabian Gulf?

We’ve observed enthusiastic bidding and interest in our auctions from across the world, including the Middle East.

Nithin Belle





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