The Indian art market

[29 Jan 2019]

Despite Christie’s suspension of sales in Mumbai, the Indian Art Market is still dynamic with strong domestic demand and the India Art Fair, whose 11th edition opens this week in Delhi, is taking lots of new initiatives.

Remarkable domestic growth

The Indian Art Market has posted strong growth in recent months. Its 2018 annual auction turnover was up 29% versus the previous year, a faster pace of growth than any other Asian country, except South Korea. Just over 1,400 artworks sold in India in 2018, which – with an unsold rate of just 7% – was clearly insufficient to satisfy domestic demand (the global average is above 30%). The country’s annual Fine Art auction turnover total came to $72.5 million in 2018, giving India 12th place in the global Art Market behind Australia.

Artists well placed in the global ranking…

Demand for Modern & Contemporary Indian art is not confined to the county’s domestic market. Its is international for such famous signatures like Sayed Haider Raza, Maqbool Fida Husain and Francis Newton Souza, among others. There are collectors in London and New York, and the demand extends to Hong Hong and even to the United Arab Emirates. Support from the international market has lifted nine Indian artists into the world’s Top 500 artists ranked by auction turnover during 2018. The top three are Sayed Haider RAZA ($16.2 million including a work that fetched over $4.4 million in 2018), Tyeb MEHTA ($15.4 million including an annual record of $3.9 million) and Maqbool Fida HUSAIN ($12.3 million). The other top names on the Indian market are Anish Kapoor, Akbar Padamsee (1928-), Manjit Bawa (1941-2008), Ram Kumar (1924-2018), Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002) and Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924-2001).

Mumbai, India’s auction capital…

Aware of India’s excellent growth potential on the global Art Market, the West’s two major vendors, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, both chose Mumbai to develop sales in the country. Indeed, Mumbai’s flourishing artistic scene (with artists like Shilpa GUPTA a and Jitish KALLAT) and its already structured art market (with auctioneers like Asta Guru and StoryLTD) made the city an obvious choice for Christie’s first Indian auction sale in December 2013. Dedicated to South Asian Art, it was a huge success with 98% of the lots finding buyers. However, since then, the firm has considerably slowed its activities in India. Following Christie’s, Sotheby’s opened an office in Mumbai in 2015 to develop stronger relations with Indian buyers who are already very active in Western sales. Their first sale, Boundless India, was held in November 2018 and focused on Indian artists, the only signatures really sought after inside India. It will take time for major collectors in Mumbai, Delhi or Calcutta to invest in Western art with the same passion as they do in Indian art.

Delhi, India’s art fair capital…

In the heart of the Delhi megalopolis, the art market is essentially driven by two key players: Saffronart for the secondary market, and the India Art Fair for the primary market. Founded by Neha Kirpal in 2008, the India Art Fair provides a superb panorama of Modern and Contemporary Asian art and is contributing much to the development of the local market. Indeed, the fair seems to have such potential that the company MCH Foire Suisse (organiser of Art Basel) announced in 2016 the acquisition of 60.3% stake in the company Seventh Plane Pvt. Ltd (organiser of India Art Fair). The powerful Swiss group firmly positioned itself on the Indian market while denying any desire to launch a new Art Basel in India. But recently, MCH made the decision to sell its stake (and its stake in the Düsseldorf Art Fair and in its emerging Art Stage Partnership in Singapore). Frank Lasry, Managing Director of MCH Design & Regional Art Fairs, insists that the decision to withdraw from the India Art Fair does not in any way reflect the fair’s lack of success… on the contrary, the attracts about 40,000 visitors each year. MCH has apparently decided to reposition itself on new strategic investments, but has announced that it will not disengage from the first Indian art fair until a new suitable partner has been found. The comments are clearly meant to be reassuring.

Delhi is preparing to open the 11th edition of its India Art Fair (IAF) from 31 January to 3 February 2019, with all the energy we have come to expect: carefully selected exhibitors and a highly stimulating programming, led by conferences and seminars. Guided tours through the fair such as Indian Modern Art (with the Akara Art galleries, Archer Art Gallery, Chawla Art Gallery, DAG, Dhoomimal Gallery and the Grosvenor Gallery) and Photography.

Among the 75 exhibitors, Indian galleries are in the majority. The show also attracts participants from all over Asia. A small number of European and American galleries are making the trip, including David Zwirner, once again present this year. However, overall, the fair hosts relatively few foreign galleries, discouraged by heavy import taxes. The artistic ambition of the Indian Art Fair is, this year again, the promise of discoveries and meetings, including via the museums and galleries of the city, with a specific program: IAF Parallel. The vitality of the event is also reflected by its ability to mobilise all of Delhi’s cultural players and institutions.