Saffronart’s Summer Online auction, which opened this morning, is a landmark event. This will be the global Indian auction house’s 200th auction. The figure 200 is not just another number but almost a measure of the distance that the Indian art market itself has traveled since it first started experiencing some kind of a flutter — to develop into a full-scale boom later — around the same time that Saffronart was born. The two — Saffronart and the Indian art market — have traversed this journey together, riding the crests and troughs of the market almost simultaneously.
“It’s been an exciting journey,” says Dinesh Vazirani, CEO and co-founder, Saffronart (he took over as the chief executive after the end of the three-year-term of Dr. Hugo Weihe recently). “In the year 2000 (when Saffronart was born), the Indian art market
was pretty much non-existent. It was valued at around $2 million. The years between 2000 and 2007 were incredible as the market saw a growth of as much as 65 percent and touching the figure of $ 150 million. Then came the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the slump, which hit the art market too. The past three-four years have seen a steady rise again. What’s important is that the Indian art market is maturing along with rapid expansion and there is an increased emphasis on quality and provenance of an art work.”
The slump that Vazirani talks about hit the Indian art market as badly as it hit various other sectors of the economy, but came with an inbuilt blessing at least for the arts — it sifted the grain from the chaff, helping stabilize the market and putting it firmly on the road to maturity. “The best thing was that it helped speculation disappear from the market,” says Vazirani. Though the Indian art market has since then got a better grip on its own fortunes, that reflects in the way prices soar only for very good art with the right credentials. It has a long way to go compared with the global giants, most notably China. The latter’s success story — especially in its rise as a global art power house — is well-known and is the stuff that dreams are made of.
What has China done that India hasn’t, because the two were almost nobodies in the world of art at the turn of the last century; China, then took the escalator to scale heights, whereas the Indian art market is a small fraction of the former’s strength? Quoting the approximate worth of the two markets — China at $5 billion compared with India’s $200 million — Vazirani says, “The art infrastructure that China built over the years, and continues to build, is unprecedented. The scale of the two markets is totally different now because of this widespread infrastructure that China boasts of. But I see the bright side of the picture in India too. Look at the way private museums are coming up all over the country. The change is evident in the way a career in arts is perceived in our country today. Twenty years ago, there was no way a parent would agree to his child taking up arts as a career but now, there is definitely a change. Look at the way so much of organized art activity is taking place in the country now. The India Art Fair, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa... all these have a huge role to play in bringing about a change, and these are also a reflection of the change.”
While he does not get into the argument whether private entrepreneurship in India is doing more or less compared with the government’s efforts for the arts and culture, he does add that private entrepreneurship in India is “incredible.”
As Vazirani and Saffronart prepare for the landmark 200th auction, the chief executive is looking beyond. Drawing on the 18 years’ experience of his auction house, he says that the future belongs to the convergence of technology where each individual will be connected with more devices — for buying art or otherwise — than is possible to imagine now. He must know because he was the first to explore the virgin space of online art selling in a country of million possibilities, at a time when technology was not as well embedded in the social fabric as it is now.
As for the auction, watch this space for buyers have already begun bidding for some of the most seminal and iconic works of art by Indian Modern and Contemporary masters in a field featuring 150 works in all. Leading the table is Tyeb Mehta’s rare and iconic “Kali” (1989), one of only three standing figures, estimated at $3 million – $4 million (Rs 19.5 crore – Rs 26 crore). This painting was once part of the art collection of the eminent and influential theater director Ebrahim Alkazi. According to Saffronart, “Art, drama, theater, and compassion come together in this powerful painting of a blue “Kali,” which embodies Mehta and Alkazi’s shared sensitivity to the human condition.”
Besides, there are seminal works by other leading masters such as Vasudeo S Gaitonde (“Untitled,” 1965, $800,000 – $1.2 million/ Rs 5.2 crore – Rs 7.8 crore), Raja Ravi Varma (“Untitled (Shiva),” 1903, $461,540 – $ 769,235/ Rs 3 crore – Rs 5 crore), and Sayed Haider Raza (“Paysage Provencal - I (Cagnes),” 1951, $200,000 – $300,000/ Rs 1.3 crore – Rs 1.95 crore), among several others. There is a strong sculpture section too at the auction, featuring works by Himmat Shah, Sankho Chaudhuri, Prodosh Dasgupta, Meera Mukherjee, S. Dhanapal and Piraji Sagara.
— Saffronart’s Summer Online auction is being held June 13-14 on www.saffronart.com.
Founder: Louise Blouin