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A Booming Indian Art?
Let’s start with some numbers and facts:
(a) The global art market is worth about US$ 40 billion (Rs 1,70,000 billion).
(b) The art market in India is worth more than US$ 0.24 billion (Rs. 1000 billion).
c) The Indian art market has grown from US$ 2 million to US$ 400 million in the last seven years.
d) Since the benchmark year 2003, the Indian art market has been growing at an average of 20-30 percent per year.
(e) A recent Fortune report claims that the Indian art market has grown over 485 percent in the last ten years, making it the fourth largest art market in the world.
(f) In addition to the auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, about ten galleries in New York, London and Singapore now deal regularly and exclusively with Indian art – in addition to hundreds of galleries in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
(g) Works by an Indian artist that sold for perhaps $2,500 in the late 1980s can now fetch more than $1 million.
(h) The average income of a resident of India is US$ 440 per annum (Rs 1727 per month)
There is a phrase floating around in Indian art circles, especially the hangouts of young artists, that somehow reflects the current status of the Indian contemporary art scene. The phrase is that an artist who cannot sell his work today will never be able to sell any work in his lifetime. The meaning is clear enough. The current Indian art market has achieved tremendous growth and is not showing any reverse trend even after the Indian economy has been hit by record inflation numbers. According to Minal Vaziran, director of Saffron Art, buyers of Indian art today are different from regular buyers of mainstream goods because their money comes from accumulated wealth, not income. Therefore, the current high inflation does not affect their purchasing power.
This mainly money-driven art scene is currently cultivating artists of different classes. In order to achieve the greatest mileage of the time, these artists produce their art quickly, with no real artistic cred, trying to compete with their contemporaries who may have recently managed to sell their art for a generous sum. There is another tendency to forge the visual imagination of a prestigious and dignified senior artist, as modest buyers and galleries prefer these pretend works because they are cheaply available. The third is the most raw: just forge the artwork. Commercial galleries are primarily interested in sales. They can sell anything for profit.
Prices for young artists had gone up too much and too fast. Indeed, for the bubbling young geniuses quietly breeding in the dim chambers of this country’s various art schools, it’s a damn good time. They can easily earn money now by drawing something on paper or canvas without much effort of their seniors in their early days. Today there is a class of foolish buyers who do not know what they are buying, but they expect the value of their purchases to be high in the short term.
However, they can distinguish very little between good and mediocre art; It is also difficult for them to distinguish between fine art and mere decoration. They are not aware of the general art history of India, may not even know the name of pioneers like Abanindranath Tagore or Nandalal Bose. Most of them are aimed at art such as real estate or stocks, which have the added possibility of a glorifying opportunity to get into the upper echelons of society. The media is also part of the hype and has actively promoted this notion of investment and huge percentages of annual returns. India’s leading media group ABP Ltd has had an art business house CIMA operating for a similar purpose since 1993.
Indian modern art, broadly defined as art created between 1947 and 1970, used to be priced higher than contemporary art, but the scenario has changed very rapidly in recent years. The prices of the works of some contemporary younger artists are approaching those of the worthy masters. Largely Indian collectors or collectors of Indian origin had fueled the boom in contemporary Indian art. As for today, the buyers are mostly Indians, but the new crop of non-Indian buyers is also fueling sales.
But there’s another problem, and it’s real. Amin Jaffer, Christie’s International Director of Asian Art, recently commented in an interview (seminar, October 2007) that “…artists may be forced to create works because they have achieved commercial success and no longer take risks or risks when they have did. I found the formula and that’s when you start to see the jobs being developed to meet the high demand.” This observation by someone like Jaffer establishes the nature of successful living artists as a trendy seller. They consciously stand to sell themselves. They continue to have a high price and therefore do not want to get out of this vicious circle after entering. Younger artists will obviously stay the same way. In this rotten age where money corrupts the creative impulse, it’s very hard to find a buzz right now. An artist must earn money in order to live and work, but under no circumstances must he live and work for the purpose of making money.
Let us conclude with the observations of eminent artist and scholar KG Subramyan:
“…in recent years, in the so-called postmodern world, the old divisions have lost their influence or importance. This is due to the forces released by the communication industry, which chronologically or geographically separate the forms of cross-lace. In a sense, its techniques have even changed the essence of artistic practice, gradually towards collaboration and multimedia work and reducing the importance of individualized autographs.
It has brought art to the production line and given the art object the profile of a commodity, be it a privileged commodity.
On the other hand, our growing economy has created a whole host of speculators who want to trade this commodity through art galleries and auction houses in the same way they trade stocks. They generally have no idea of (or interest in) the aesthetic values of the work; their main concern is their resale value. Even the more informed and sensitive prefer to keep mum and submit to market trends. In the overall picture, artists have a better deal. They are no longer thin and hungry. They attend lavish parties and are featured in the society columns of dailies and periodicals.
Is this part of the cultural recovery we’ve been talking about? Or what some of these pioneering thinkers of pre-independence India had tried to visualize? Unfortunately, it is not.”
KG Subramanjan continues:
“But the winds of change we’re riding don’t seem to be taking us in that direction. But it’s important. The new economic prosperity of certain sections of our people who are willing to be cyber-slaves of some advanced society. In a globalizing world, we shouldn’t be diverted from this main goal. Officials and leaders can move around, but artists and cultural workers need strong ties to their root space to establish authority and voice.
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