If the heated prices at Pundole’s debut auction in Mumbai were any reason to start making predictions of a hardening art market, a recent survey has shown precisely how insignificant India is in the global stack-up. Compared, of course, with China, which in just a few years is in sight of grabbing top slot by value. Already, as the second-most powerful art market in the world, it has a 33 per cent share and as its appetite grows, it should displace the United States (at 34 per cent) sooner rather than later.
India’s share? At approximately Rs 700 crore, it’s still standing up to be counted at under 1 per cent of a global art market that is currently worth Euro 43 billion.
Chinese buying power seems to have been impacted the least by the recession, and in 2010, according to art economist Dr Clare McAndrew, it doubled its art buying capacity to Euro 9.8 billion. Chinese art contributed only a part of it, a large chunk coming from its purchase of Western masters. For the Chinese, it’s their way of announcing their arrival on the world stage, pretty much as the Japanese did in the eighties. In its wake, it has led to an incredible surge in the prices of Chinese masters — according to an Artprice survey, Chinese artist Qi Bashi has become the second-most influential artist in terms of value (Rs 1,500 crore based on auction house sales in 2010), next only after Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (Rs 1,600 crore). In the top 50 list, there are 15 Chinese artists, the highest group from any country, while there is none from India if one discounts the India-born but British-resident Anish Kapoor (number 10 at Rs 45 crore). Stretch that list to the world’s top 500, and even then only four Indian artists manage to make it: S H Raza (Rs 106 crore), F N Souza (Rs 50 crore), M F Husain (Rs 37 crore) and Subodh Gupta (Rs 13 crore).
With Indian billionaires and millionaires making it to various clubs and rich lists, it seems that their buying power is not yet spilling into art sales, even though the high prices of Indian art have become conversation points. Yet, if the experience of the American or Chinese or even the British (19 per cent of global market share) is anything to go by, we ain’t seen anything yet. Typically, when the rich have exhausted all the toys they can spend money on — business jets, yachts, country homes, foreign universities, designer luxury — then art steps in for its assumed connoisseurship, as the differentiator that separates the men from the boys.
This also means that the Indian art market has to stop its incestuous love affair with only Indian artists. Those such as Vijay Mallya, of course, are already known for their dalliance with Picasso, Andy Warhol and the like, but as a group Indian art buyers have so far ignored Western or, for that matter, other Asian art. This, of course, opens up a huge window of opportunity for the marketplace, for sooner rather than later art will evolve its own brands (artists) without whom no billionaire status will be complete, as essential as a Bentley or a Jaguar in a crowd of Mercedes and BMW cars.
Recently, Picasso’s highest-priced work at an auction, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, was picked up for $106.5 million by a Chinese collector. In the case of India, two catalysts are likely. Either the Chinese will train their sights on Indian masters, or the next big buyer of Western (or Chinese) art at record price will turn out to be an Indian (any guesses who that might be?). Whichever way the coin flips, one thing is for sure: it’ll send the prices of art in general, and Indian art in particular, soaring.
Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which he is associated