When Mumbai couple Dinesh and Minal Vazirani established the auction house Saffronart in 2000, the market was inching towards the much-talked-about boom. Now, 16 years hence, and post the historic rise, fall and plateau of the Indian art market, the couple can claim to be a close witness to the various altercations. Their business, though, has expanded manifold with several auctions through the year of art and collectibles. Less than a year after Saffronart opened its 10,000 sq ft space in Mumbai, the auction house has a new 3,000 sq ft space in Delhi as well.
Last year it was Mumbai. Now, you have opened another space in Delhi, which is bigger than your earlier outlet at The Oberoi. Are you considering entering the primary market?
We wanted to create spaces where we can hold exhibitions and previews for our auctions, where people can come and refer to our library, research and learn about art. It’s more like a meeting place. We’ll be conducting auctions too. Since we started, we have worked with partner galleries to present our shows, so we don’t intend to enter the primary market.
Since you began in 2000 have you seen a change in the profile of the art collectors in India?
There has been a lot more participation from tier-two cities. Professionals from the age of 30-40 are also starting their collection. Some are buying smaller works of the modernists while some are focusing on the contemporaries. Of course, the top-end is ruled by people who are really successful, and have that kind of an income. Almost half our sales come from international buyers, people from New York, Hong Kong and Singapore, London among others; 80 per cent of them are Indians. A lot of international museums are looking at collectibles and folk and tribal art seriously.
In 2012, you had an auction with the works of international masters such as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. Would you be doing more of those?
We will do a little bit. But right now there is so much as far as Indian art is concerned. The online auction that we are having at the end of November has Sri Lankan, Nepalese and South Asian art. When we did the impressionist auction four years ago, I don’t think India was ready for it. Most people have not yet built their collection of Indian art, so they are looking more towards that than Western art.
When your business was down, FN Souza encouraged you to continue.
We knew him quiet well. Unfortunately, he passed away a year and a half after we met him. Souza had told us that we should keep going, the thing that we were doing was pioneering. He said do what you want, as long as you are credible, and people trust you, go ahead — that was very encouraging.
Do you think the recent the demonetisation will impact the art market in India?
It’ll not affect the auction market because everything is done through cheque. Maybe, immediately, the sentiment will affect the market but that will be short-term. I don’t think it will affect the top end where there is no issue of paying by cash. The galleries may be impacted, depending on the kind of transaction they do. I don’t think it’ll be long term.
Do you think the government needs to take specific steps to promote the art market? There have been several demands from the art industry to change the existing rules with regard to import duties and antiquities act.
I think to promote art in the country, like China did, you need a drastic overhaul. For instance, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), I don’t know what slab is it going to fall into. If we want to preserve our culture, and keep it in India, there has to be a drastic change in indirect taxes. Otherwise, over time it will all go overseas. Look at what happened with the antiquities, most of them went overseas over the last five-six decades because there were such onerous laws with regard to antiquities. But now that the processes are easier, we already see the market recovering in India.
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