Art show for India's boldest buyers

By Moska Najib
BBC News, Delhi

Image caption,
Teddy Universe lit up an art show in Delhi this month

In Teddy Universe, a large black teddy bear lit up from within hangs from the ceiling of an art gallery in Delhi.

It is part of an exhibition by edgy duo Sorens Pors and Aparna Rao - the first time they have displayed their work in the city.

Promoting new art remains a challenge for many Indian galleries who believe the country's art market is still nascent.

"The value of the Indian art market is estimated to be $400 million (£250 million) while the value of the world art market is $40 billion (£25 billion). We are just 1%," says Roshini Vadehra, owner of Delhi's Vadehra Art Gallery.

A number of private galleries have opened up in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay) in recent years. But Ms Vadehra says many of them are playing safe by only displaying the works of reputable artists.

Image caption,
Galleries and dealers are descending on India's art scene to attract wealthy buyers

"It's a challenge to show an artist whose name doesn't ring a bell. But it's a safer brand to put your money in a name like Hussain or Picasso."

She argues that private galleries should be bold and showcase the works of new, less established artists.

Without a vibrant museum culture, art fairs are playing a vital role in bringing foreign works to India.

Now in its third year, the annual Indian Art Summit is the country's biggest such show. It attracted 128,000 people this year and it has become an important platform for the art fraternity to do business.

By featuring some 500 artists and 84 galleries, the summit has become bigger and more important. It is also now a platform for international galleries, who feel India's booming economy is minting a sizeable pool of wealthy buyers.

"India has grown dramatically in the last five years and is a huge potential market for us," says Michelle D'Souza, director of the London-based Lisson Gallery.

It recently put on a solo exhibition of Indian-born Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor. Now it is hoping to attract Indian buyers to more foreign art.

"We are interested in Indian collectors building international collections and have them buy other artists of prominence. Indian collectors are now travelling abroad to other summits and are becoming more knowledgeable and exposed. With the prices of Indian artists going up, they now want to buy art of equal value that is not necessarily Indian."

Participating for the first time at the Indian art fair is the Swiss-based Gallery Kashya. Its owner, Kashya Hildebrand, says the local art scene is thriving.

"Europe and the west seem very sleepy, sluggish and less entrepreneurial right now. But here, you feel the passion and energy and there is a lot of intellectual curiosity. I think the opportunity here is incredible," says Ms Hildebrand.

Image caption,
The Indian Art Summit is the country's biggest art show

But foreign galleries still have a lot of work to do in educating buyers - Indian collectors are conservative and prefer to collect established artists.

"We found there was a bit of insecurity that if a print or drawing wasn't signed, it wasn't really a Picasso. So we really had to talk to people and explain a bit," says Katja Ott of the German gallery, Beck & Eggeling.

"Most of them expected paintings not prints, and they felt that prints weren't valuable".

"Indians tend to put money into real estate, gold and art as an investment," says art critic and curator, Gayatri Sinha.

But galleries and dealers scouting for new buyers around the world are still eager to enter young markets like India to lure the country's burgeoning art collectors.

But, Ms Sinha, says galleries need to do more to "educate the influential and wealthy".