Collectors, archivists upbeat about South Asian art

Last Updated: Feb 03, 2013, 12:33 PM IST

New Delhi: The spotlight is on archivists and collectors of art in a reviving South Asian market after the 2008 financial meltdown, when collection had slowed down because of the unrealistic prices.

Prices of art are more realistic now after a correction in the rampant escalation during the run-up to 2008 crash.

A cross section of collectors, promoters and art market analysts at the fifth edition of the India Art Fair 2013 in the national capital said new segments of collector-archivists are emerging, from among young corporate professionals with high disposable income, and even international museums like the Tate Modern and Guggenhiem, looking to put together South Asian collections.

The buying pattern has seen a slow shift, from the demand for the top-of-the-rung masters in the last two years by wary collectors, to talented contemporary and emerging artists at bargain prices.

Analysts say India, with an estimated annual art market turnover of more than Rs.2,000 crore, is central to the growth of the collectors` market in South Asia.

"Nowhere else in the world is there so much money to spend as in India. This year is one of real collectors and real sale," Neha Kirpal, founding-director of the India Art Fair, told IANS.

"Nearly 20 booths sold out completely in two days at the fair. There were 23 museums and some of them chartered planes to arrive in India... We have been working for the last two years to build a collectors` base with an initiative, Collectors` Circle," Kirpal said.

The Collectors` Circle launched by the India Art Fair has a membership base of 100 in "tier 1 and II cities of India, international institutions and nearly 70 member countries, where there is a phenomenal interest in Indian art," she said.

"The lack of hype in the market has made people feel that art is not selling. But I think very important collections are being built, with several serious collectors in Mumbai. I see more private museums opening in the next few years," art writer-curator Kishore Singh, head of exhibitions and publications at the prestigious Delhi Art Gallery, told IANS, pointing out that "collections were increasingly built around themes".

Collectors are buying with a certain focus - around a style, movement or medium". Harsh Goenka, for example, collects only portraits and self-portraits of artists, Singh said.

The spurt in serious collection has led to the creation of several new private archives like the Devi Art Foundation, the Harmony Foundation, Kiran Nader Museum of Art, the Floodlight Foundation, the Samdani Foundation of Bangladesh and private collections by regional auction houses.

Parul Vadehra of Vadehra Art Gallery says: "A lot of old collectors are back in the market, and the frenzy of pre-2008 is gone."

The real conflict collectors face is "between passion and collective need," says Hameed Haroon, CEO of the Dawn Media Group, Pakistan.

"A painting, if it`s nice, is what a collection needs; not what I want for my walls," Haroon explained.

His personal collection, built over 30 years, include "nearly 800 paintings chronicling modern art in Pakistan, 300 pieces of textiles, few dozen sculptures, 40,000 books and a large library of hand-printed travel documents", Haroon said.

"Younger artists and students have to be involved to adopt a forward looking and positive approach to collecting to be able build collections of utility and dialogue, accessible to all practitioners of art," Haroon told IANS at the India Art Fair.

Salima Hashmi, art educator, writer , artist and curator, collects younger works by younger Pakistani artists to encourage them. "Sometimes, I believe in a work nobody is buying. If I have no money, I exchange it for one of my works," Hashmi, the daughter of poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, said.

"Collections should not be treated like a piece of land. They have to be nurtured," Hashmi said, adding that given the climate of the subcontinent, preserving paintings is a special challenge.

IANS / Madhusree Chatterjee