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​India Art Fair and the Indian market

[31 Jan 2017]

For its 9th edition, the India Art Fair in New Delhi (2-5 February 2017) has linked up with an important new investor, the Swiss firm MCH Group, owner of the Art Basel franchise, the most powerful Modern and Contemporary art fair in the world with annual editions in Basel, Hong Kong and Miami. This powerful new partner could inject a growth impetus to the India Art Fair commensurate with the ambitions of the Indian art market as a whole. But in spite of these ambitious projects, the Indian government has not provided much support for trade in art and many foreign exhibitors have already experienced India’s heavy customs bureaucracy and taxes on the import of artworks. We also note that this year a number of major Western galleries will be absent including the Lisson, the White Cube, Hauser & Wirth, Lelong and Continua. However, the India Art Fair has already shown remarkable resistance since its untimely inauguration in 2008 (Lehman Brothers… sharp contraction of the art market) which was clearly not the best moment to initiate a major new artistic and commercial rendezvous.

In any case, the project is still very much alive with the India Art Fair playing a major role in the outreach of South Asian creativity and proving the advantages of a big fair with a dense and culturally stimulating program. The fair’s organisers, Angus Montgomery and Neha Kirpal, have opened the program to fifteen projects curated by artists (including Joel Andrianomearisoa, Mithu Sen, Thukral and Tagra, Anila Quayyum Agha, Sudarshan Shetty, Reena Saini Kallat and Francis Limérat), a program of films on art (Art on film), a series of lectures and debates involving highly qualified guests, including Richard Armstrong, Director of the Guggenheim museums and Leonard Lauder from the Metropolitan Museum in New York (among others).

The primary objective of the India Art fair is to promote Indian and Southeast Asian artists and particularly those represented by the platforms Britto Arts Trust (Dhaka), Theertha International artists Collective (Colombo), Nepal Art Council (Kathmandu) and Blueprint 12 (New Delhi). It also welcomes international galleries including London’s Grosvenor gallery (specialised in Indian art), the UAE’s Grey Noise and 1X1 galleries, Madrid’s Sabrina Amrani and Vienna’s Lukas Feichtner. In New Delhi, the offer must be tailored to the specific tastes of the Indian public that are not so easy to predict…. but there is no shortage of purchasing power. And while many Indians still purchase works abroad, the India Art Fair is actively involved in the construction of a local market.

The Indian art market…

Judging by auction activity alone, India is still emerging. Christie’s only opened its Mumbai auction room in December 2013, becoming the first international auction firm to set up a permanent outlet in the country. Indian art collectors are indeed enthusiastic, as wee saw when Christie’s held its inaugural sale dedicated to South Asian Art (an impressive 98% of lots sold). Today, collectors still have an excellent appetite and there appears to be a healthy match between supply and demand. Indeed, 85% of the Fine Art auction lots offered in India during 2016 found buyers, one of the world’s highest sold rates (versus an average of 70% in the United States and 56% in France). India is now the world’s 13th marketplace in terms of art auction turnover, with an annual total of $59 million, but it is above all the 4th marketplace in Greater Asia behind China, Japan and South Korea. India therefore has real weight on the global art auction market and the India Art Fair therefore has enormous potential over the coming years.

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