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Looking back to look ahead

K S Shekhawat  |  New Delhi 

ART Gallerists say 2009 will mark a transition in the way collectors hedge their choices

The aborted Osian’s auction — it was scheduled to be held at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on November 27 — would have been a pointer to a major trend in 2009: The emergence for collectors of traditional and folk art forms.

For decades now, even National Award winning master artists have languished, while prices for contemporary art have spiraled — unfairly, according to some art impresarios. This widening divide would have gained some recognition at the auction, but already there is a quiet buzz that these art forms will get their due, and that the Osian’s platform is only one of several that will provide a fillip to these artists.

But if these traditional arts — and these include everything from Kalamkari to Madhubani or Mithila painting, from Worli art to Tanjores, from Orissa’s palm-leaf etchings to Rajasthan’s Phad paintings, from the intricate dots of Gond art to the more familiar miniatures — will see a rising interest not only in their form but also content. Often accused of being merely replicative, while some old or even antique prices can summon up reasonable prices in international auctions, their contemporary versions have tended to suffer.

This year, though the international prices will remain steady, or even dip. Expect prices for master artists working in India to rise anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent, and select pieces to finally command a few lakhs.

Another major trend for collectors and buyers will be photography. Photography has been in the news for a few years, but at a very basic scale, with most buyers and gallery viewers unaware of the finer nuances of the art form. Art photography in the West is leap years ahead of what is being attempted in India, and that is because there are still concerns about originality, archival value and limited edition runs, and how these are to be priced.

Last year must have seen a record number of photography exhibitions around the country, and with online galleries (http://www.wonderwall.com) as well as specialised galleries such as Devika Daulet Singh’s Photoink supporting photo exhibitions, it’s likely to become not just more commonplace but also more competitive and more creative.

This was proved too when Saffronart wound up 2008 with an online sale that included, for the first time, a selection of photographs that sold extremely well. Curators say that is now a trend well on its way to maturity, and that photo-art will become one of the more successful segments of the art market in this and the years to come. While the highest price at Saffronart’s sale was Rs 7,00,000, don’t be surprised to see photography command up to Rs 50,00,000 before 2009 is out.

But the big surprise might well be sculpture. This form, despite its long heritage in the country, has never taken off in its modern avatar. Gallerists say that sculptors will see their emergence in 2009 as they spread wings and begin to take off. And they’re betting that this is where punters will bet big prices (after the modern masters and contemporary artists, of course) because sculptural art in India continues to remain largely figurative, which is a form Indians love).

Works in bronze, steel, wood, concrete, fiberglass and mixed-media will all enjoy currency. Prices are expected to rise, and while new records will be set, remember that the base is still quite low, so average prices will remain sub-Rs 10,00,000, with only a few going over that (some exceptions though will command Rs 1 crore plus, as in the case of established artists like Ravinder Reddy).

This year might well mark a growing interest in what was till recently considered maverick: there will be exchanges and news around those who buy and sell old carpets, for instance, or textiles (a huge opportunity says one auctioneer), jewellery (as art rather than as a wearable form), printed works (posters, advertisements, record jackets, book covers…) and so on.

But while these will remain fringe interests for some more time, for those who want to stay ahead of the curve, or are looking at investing small while reaping rich, visits to the Crafts Museum in New Delhi, the Surajkund Crafts Mela in February and at Shilpgrams in some of the cities and towns should acquaint you with the master artists who, though a long way from sharing a platform with Subodh Gupta or Jitish Kallat, could be the big ticket buys when hedging your bets against future returns.

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