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At the art of the matter

A maturing and vibrant art market is crucial to the protection of our cultural heritage

Published: July 31, 2013 12:17 am

A maturing and vibrant art market is crucial to the protection of our cultural heritage

The news of Christie’s holding its first-ever auction in India this December signals the remarkable growth of the art market in the country. This shift may also be indicative of Indians’ understanding that it is not just personal aggrandisement that comes with building a great art collection,but that it is also crucial to protect our tangible cultural heritage,thereby sowing the seeds for future generations’ enjoyment and understanding of our artistic treasures. Christie’s sale in India will draw attention from the international art market to the resources concentrated here. It will reinforce Mumbai’s reputation as the country’s commercial capital,as well as a key hub of art and culture.

The Mumbai art scene has been evolving over the past 10 to 20 years,and we all stand to benefit from its growth. The burgeoning market for art is visible around Mumbai as scores of new art galleries get off the ground. Numerous public art festivals continue to emerge,and the city’s museums have been awarded patronage,by both local sources and from outside India,to present ever more diverse exhibitions.

Playing a role to foster and encourage art education in India,the Asia Society India Centre hosts a range of cultural programmes,from lectures and guided exhibition tours to conservation workshops,all of which elicit great interest and demand. Christie’s recently,over the past year,sponsored a new programme that allows interested audiences the chance to visit artists’ studios and spend time in their work spaces. Artists including Atul Dodiya,Shilpa Gupta,Reena Saini Kallat and Sudarshan Shetty have participated in this programme so far. This year,the Asia Society India Centre also organised a guided visit to the Sharjah Biennial,and has received requests to host similar art focused international tours to Lahore,Dubai and Dhaka. The Asia Society is working diligently alongside various museums and galleries to provide forums to nurture greater insight into the art world.

Returning to the matter at hand,to pinpoint the strength of the Mumbai art market in particular,patronage from collectors with deep pockets is one of the driving forces behind such a healthy art scene. Ultimately,greater individual purchasing power in India and throughout much of Asia will also propagate increased interest in foreign art. Paul Hewitt,Christie’s managing director of growth markets,has observed that the increasing interest in art is a stepping stone for the industry’s growth. Appreciation,according to Hewitt,leads to a good collection,which could perhaps turn into a good investment. And the acknowledgement that art is worthy of investment further spurs its demand. A strong caveat is well heeded,however: Hewitt advises against investing in art solely for monetary gain. Instead,he suggests buying what you like. The most passionate collectors are,inevitably,also more likely to be excellent caretakers of their works of art. They often feel the urge to own,enjoy,and care for something with the hope of passing it on to future audiences by donating it to a cultural institution where resources for acquisitions may be meagre.

It is my hope that the December sale organised by Christie’s is a huge success,and that the many highly knowledgeable collectors in our midst are able to make new acquisitions to their liking. I also hope that two other things happen soon. One,an increase in the frequency of Indian collectors donating works to the permanent collections of local museums to enable the broader public to share in their passion. Second,it would be wonderful to see a broadening of interest in cultures outside our own,to see a strong enough market for a Christie’s sale of foreign art to be held in Mumbai. I cannot help but want to see a growing interest in contextualising our own nation’s art within a broader historical and geographical purview. Indian art is part of a broad continuum,it shares its history with many other cultures; because art never recognises national borders,it travels just as easily as one artist sparking the creative mind of another.

The writer is executive director of the Asia Society India Centre

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