Jyoti Thottam has has a fascinating story in Time on the development of professional art establishment in India despite the recent downturn in the nation’s art market:
Swapan Seth, an advertising executive and collector in New Delhi, rents out an empty flat every few weeks to show off his latest finds to his friends, curating the shows and hanging the pieces himself. He spends at least two hours a day reading about art, educating himself about the artists he likes and how they fit into the world’s larger artistic community. Seth buys most of his art online, but when he wants to see something in person, dealers in London and New York City will go to him. “They have an acute sense of the Indian collectors,” he says. “A lot of gallerists want to get to know you.”
It’s not just the galleries that are finding a steady market in India. The auxiliary professions — everything from archivists, curators and critics to conservators and technicians for lighting and hanging — are also seeing growth. “At one point you couldn’t find people who were doing restoration,” says Priya Paul, who buys art both for herself and for her family’s chain of boutique hotels. These days, she and some other collectors are allowing their collections to be used to help people who would otherwise have to seek training abroad. Paul recently worked with the staff of digital archive Tasveer Ghar, who had received funding from Heidelberg University to catalog her collection. Poddar went even further and opened his entire collection to students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who then curated the foundation’s latest show. “They’re going to be the curators and critics of the future,” he says. “They need a place where they can make mistakes.”
The push to professionalize art in India is also shaking up the old guard. Pramod Kumar, associate director of the private collection of Ibrahim Alkazi, says the biggest change is a new effort to catalog old collections that have been gathering dust or simply deteriorating for years. Without rigorous record-keeping, it’s impossible to set rational prices or establish the provenance of a piece for sale. “It gives a reference point,” Kumar says. “What are the origins for whatever has come before?”
Even the royal collections have come to see the necessity of modern methods. Udaipur’s City Palace recently archived more than 18,000 photographs in its collection that date back to the 1850s, and in April opened them to tourists for the first time. Kumar believes that the current maharaja is all too aware that the palace’s financial viability depends on making it a world-class attraction, and a museum is part of the package. The proliferation of new galleries, and the increasing profile of the art market, is forcing Indians to think about how they value the art of the past, present and future — and perhaps appreciate all of it more. More Indians are certainly being exposed to art than ever. “It’s almost becoming like a way of life,” says Mumbai painter Papri Bose. And you can’t put a price on that.
Buyer’s Market (Time)