Spotlight on MF Husain at India Art Fair, price consciousness

New Delhi: A surge of interest in icon MF Husain`s art, curiosity about new media work, price consciousness and the realisation that European modern classics can be a viable investment were the dominant trends at the fourth edition of the India Art Fair 2012.

The marginal slowdown in business compared to previous years was made up by the visitors` enthusiasm at the five-day fair which closed Jan 29 at the NSIC Ground in Delhi.

Works ranging between Rs.55,000 and Rs.100,000 sold the maximum, which is less in terms of prices last year.

But gallery owners and art analysts expressed confidence in the market, comparing it favourably to Europe which was witnessing a fresh slump.

In a break from trend, institutions like Grosvenor Gallery (Britain) and Hauser & Wirth, (Zurich and London) exhibited Indian art.

"We saw a great demand for MF Husain`s art resulting in sharp rise in prices. We had brought three of his works and sold all at huge prices," Grosvenor Gallery director Conor Macklin told reporters.

The gallery exhibited art by S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, Husain and a painting by Olivia Fraser.

"We sold around six works by Souza but all of them were below $100,000. We could not sell much of Raza. Business was slow though it was a buyers` market," Macklin said.

The renewed interest in Husain`s art was a reversal of the 2011 `farce` when his art was removed by the organisers after protests and then re-installed.

The international section of the fair, represented by galleries such as Hauser and Wirth, White Cube, Robert Bowman and Everard Read (South Africa), became a guided walk for visitors through modern and contemporary art by legendary names like Damien Hirst, Salvador Dali and Picasso.

As many as 26 museums, including the Tate, Guggenheim, New Museum and the Singapore Art Museum, visited the fair to make acquisitions, the organisers said.

"The response has been great, the Indian art market is more vibrant than Europe now," Peter Femfert of Frankurt-based Die Galrie told reporters.

"Indians are looking at more and more European modern classics as investment options".

"Indian art is priced very high. One can buy three Marc Chagall paintings for the price of one Raza work. So why should one choose Indian art," Femfert added.

The modern European classics have always shown to be very good in the international market, he added.

The gallery presented a niche European collection by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Claudio Massini and several others.

It was a great opportunity to meet new people and expose them to our international programmes, said James Lavender, associate director of Hauser & Wirth Gallery.

The gallery presented works by 18 international artists, including Henry Moore, along with a high-end Indian contemporary collection.

"The Indian market is familiar with Indian artists, who sold more. India was a learning experience for us. We have not participated in any other fairs in Asia earlier, barring Art Hong Kong," Lavender told reporters.

Sharan Apparao of Chennai-based Apparao Gallery said: "The art at the fair had started talking new language."

"There has been a movement towards the new media and unusual art from classic and modern art. The buyers are also conscious about quality and price which is a post meltdown phenomenon," Apparao told reporters.

Mumbai-based Sakshi Gallery, which brought an art work by Anish Kapoor to the fair, lamented the lack of new buyers.

"There was lot of intent, asking and looking, but we sold to our old buyers. The organisers have to be more exclusive about selecting the galleries...the standard of the fair is very high," Usha Gawde, deputy director of the fair, told reporters. The gallery did not find any takers for Anish Kapoor.

Hosting over 90 galleries from over 20 countries, over 1,000 art works, back-to-back education programmes, 14 collateral projects, a video lounge, a sculpture court, an art book store, curated walks and a collectors` circle, rough estimates say some 50,0000 people visited the fair.

It exhibited art worth nearly Rs.70 crore.

An interesting new trend was that many galleries reported sales and commissions to Indian corporate houses while one of the biggest buyers of the fair was the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi, the organsiers said in a statement.

At least 50 international level collectors, including Sheikh Hassan Bin Mohamed Al Thani from Qatar, attended the fair while some 400 journalists covered the fair.