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The Art Mart: On A High
After a promising first six months, investors and art aficionados are hoping that the rest of FY2023 too would prove golden
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The market for art had been among those that had defied the despondency that a disease had wrought on the world and the downturn that followed. A report by Art Basel and UBS indicates that the art market is on a high the world over. The year 2021 saw the global art market clock USD 65.1 billion (aggregated sales of art and antiques), a 29 per cent increase since 2020.
The US maintained its lead, with a 43 per cent share of the global art market, followed by China with a 20 per cent share. The UK came in third, with a 17 per cent share of the global art bazar. The 2022 numbers are positive too. Artprice data suggests that in the first half of 2022 global Fine Art auction revenue reached USD 7.49 billion, an increase of 8.8 per cent compared to the same period the previous year.
India is no exception. The home art market has shown consistent growth, with FY2022 recording a turnover of USD 137 million and FY2023 taking off to a good start.
*What do the numbers say?
The Indian art market is showing signs of a steady increase in sales. Reports say that the first six months of FY2023 have been extraordinarily good. According to Indian Art Investor's ‘Indian Art Market Report’, the first half of the FY2023 saw an increase in the number of works sold and also of course, turnover. The period saw a turnover of USD 75.8 million and a 19 per cent increase in the number of works sold.
The Indian art market also witnessed a 75 per cent increase in the overall average in the price of artworks, compared to the first half of FY2022. Online sales contributed to 81.6 per cent of works sold. The report goes on to explain how the auction market is in fact a seller’s market. The auction market shows an upward movement when highly anticipated works by the Modernists, Pre-Modernists and Contemporary artists show up.
Interestingly, art works priced over Rs 1 crore contributed to 67 per cent of the turnover, while works priced below Rs 5 lakh brought in 56 per cent of the buyers. Of course, the months ahead will complete the picture, but indicators suggest that a growing base of buyers coupled with important artworks have set the stage for 2023 to be a good year for the Indian art market.
A leading family office manager tells us on condition of anonymity that the key driver for these positive numbers is demand because Ultra HNIs are looking beyond private equity, distressed debt and real estate for their portfolio allocation to alternatives. The trend could continue for a few years, as art is being perceived as a relatively better bet right now compared to high yield debt or early stage investing, especially when it comes to the liquidity factor.
Did the pandemic dampen the spirit?
We catch up with Siddhanth Shetty, Senior Vice President, Business Strategy and Operations, AstaGuru Auction House, to understand how the auction house fared during the pandemic years. “Our total revenue recorded over Rs 60 crore in FY2020 and peaked to over Rs 285 crores in FY2021,” he says enthusiastically, pointing to a positive growth. The auction house, he says, expanded its auction categories to cater to the needs of new-age collectors who want to expand beyond art and explore other genres such as watches, jewellery, and collectibles.
“Moreover, the fact that AstaGuru has always conducted online auctions since the start also contributed to our uninterrupted success. So, one can safely say that the Indian art market has smoothly sailed through in the last two years,” he says, adding, “It continues to stride forward in the current year, which also validates the unhindered spirits of our collectors in expanding their collections.”
Curator Pooja Singhal recalls that the pandemic years saw her team customise Pichvai artworks for customers. For renowned artists Thukral and Tagra, the pandemic was a time to take in the stillness and immerse themselves in their creative process. Acclaimed artist Paresh Maity points out that the pandemic gave people time to appreciate art and the period saw the art market growing in a unique way. “Looking at history, in crisis situations like world wars, art never stopped, it kept growing immensely; Picasso painted Guernica after World War II. No crisis can deter it,” says Maity.
*Traditional & Contemporary
If you happen to be among those who perceive Indian art as investible assets, here’s a peek into some of the trends of the day. Much loved by art collectors, Pichvai is a traditional art form that originated in the town of Nathdwara in Rajasthan in the 17th Century. These are artworks on cloth or paper that celebrate the life of Lord Krishna and were originally hung behind the idol of Shrinathji in temples. Over the years, Curator Pooja Singhal has worked hard to familiarise buyers with this art form.
Asked how the market for Pichvai was doing, she says contemporary versions of the traditional art form that her studio experimented with originally, had found favour with buyers. However, of late, she has noticed that buyers are also gravitating towards traditional Pichvai artworks. She emphasises that the studio had witnessed unprecedented sales at the last edition of the art fair, when they saw a number of buyers from tier-2 cities.
AstaGuru held 12 auctions in 2022. Asked which artworks stood out at the auctions, Shetty tells us that in the Modern Art Category, the highlight of their ‘Masters Legacy’ auction held in April was a work by artist F.N Souza. Titled ‘Girl In A Yellow Sweater,’ this work appeared in an auction for the first time and was acquired at a price of Rs 14,38,39,392. The ‘Modern Treasures’ auction held in September saw a work by Tyeb Mehta from his famous Diagonal series, acquired at a whopping Rs 25,29,41,062.
In the contemporary art category, at their ‘Present Future’ auction held in February, a work by artist Subodh Gupta emerged as the highest selling lot and was acquired at Rs 1,79,08,605. The second auction in the category was held in September. A work by artist Anish Kapoor was sold for Rs 6,95,58,792.
In November AstaGuru held their ‘International Iconic’ auction that presented a medley of works by world famous artists such as Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall, among others. At the auction titled ‘Baigneuse Assise,’ a work by Pierre-Auguste Renoir was acquired at Rs 5,44,14,608.
All in all, positive signs for the Indian art market. The months ahead, however, will complete the picture. For now, investors and art lovers are gearing up for the India Art Fair slated to kick-off in February.