Christie’s is down-playing the stakes for tomorrow’s sale of Indian Modern and Contemporary art in Mumbai but local observers are see the event as a potential turning point for the market. Here’s commentary for an Indian gallery owner:
The questions on everybody’s minds are, “Will this auction herald an improvement in the sale of Indian art and improved prices? Will it open up the market for international buyers and can we expect this auction to lead to a season of improved prices”? These questions are being asked for a very good reason, since over the years, it has been established that Indian art fares far better abroad than in India. So much so that a leading art gallery owner ruefully stated, that art sales in India have reached rock-bottom stages and many are resorting to auctioning the works of important artists abroad, to keep their businesses going.
Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy would prefer to keep the scope of this sale small bore, according to Bloomberg:
“The objective for Christie’s is to be on the ground,” Murphy said. “The sold total for this week’s sale is not the most important thing by any means.”
The sale is seen as an important bellwether of the health of the local art market, which went into steep decline after the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, said Girish Shahane, a Mumbai-based curator and art critic.
“Everybody who bought got their fingers burned, and a couple of art investment funds had trouble paying back investors,” he said. “A lot is riding on this sale. It’s really a marker of whether the market can move forward.”
The Financial Times offers some important historical perspective:
Christie’s is not the first to test India’s market for its own art. In 1992, rival auction house Sotheby’s held an Indian art sale in New Delhi, and sold works worth £1.2m – a hefty sum at the time. But the auction faced stiff bureaucratic resistance, while then still strict foreign currency restrictions hindered profit repatriation. Subsequent auctions of Indian art by Sotheby’s – like Christie’s – have all been abroad.
The newspaper also spoke to a few old India art hands:
But Suhel Seth, a brand adviser and art collector, said some wealthy Indians may hesitate to participate in an auction at home, amid the pervasive gloom over India’s faltering growth. “Given the economic mood of the country, a lot of people may not want to be seen in public bidding,” he says. […]
Mr Seth expresses scepticism, saying art is seen as elite preoccupation in a society still struggling to deliver basic services like education and clean water. “Companies won’t want to be seen splurging on things considered elitist,” he says.
Art consultant Javed Abdulla, who organised Sotheby’s 1992 sale, says India would need years to develop a genuinely informed, and committed art collector base that might also support public access to the arts.
“The bulk of buying is driven by people who feel they have arrived,” he said. “They have a big house, a German car and they feel they have got to have a contemporary Indian master. It’s a symbol of their status, and a cipher for their wealth.”
Christie’s India auction to rekindle nation’s art scene? (MyDigitalFC)
Christie’s takes maiden Indian art auction to Mumbai (Financial Times)