In the early 1900s, the prime concern of Indian artists was to preserve and revive India’s cultural identity which at the time, was being repressed by the British Raj. The Bengal School, a major art movement in the early 20th century supported nationalistthemes, as seen in the works of Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganedranath Tagore, Asit Kumar Haldar and Kalipada Ghoshal - with a focus on Indian mythology and religion.
It was only in the 1930s, 40s and post independence that modernism seeped into Indian art with the post-impressionistic palette of artists like Amrita Sher Gill, the Calcutta Group (Subho Tagore, Paritosh Sen, Gopal Ghose and Nirode Mazumdar) and the Bombay Progressive Artists’ (BPA)Group. To a large extent, the BPA changed the way art was practised in India, taking a more apolitical stance and using an international artistic approach. Artists like F N Souza, S H Raza, M F Husain and V S Gaitonde created artworks influenced by avant-garde, European movements including cubism and expressionism. The BPA led the way for contemporary artists to break away from ‘an extremely Indian style of painting’ and include global techniques and themes in their work. They gave Indian art an international voice while maintaining‘Indianness’ in the work. Tyeb Mehta, for example, depicted horrific scenes he saw on the streets during a riot on his canvas and though the story was Indian, his forms were cubist.
From the 1950s through to the 80s, the M S University in Baroda became the centre of modernism in India and artists of the Baroda Group - like Bhupen Khakhar, Jeram Patel and Gulammohamed Sheikh – experimented with abstraction, Pop Art and New Dada.While the artists of the first-half of the century focused on nationalism and then experimented with European forms, with the onset of globalisation in the 90s, the tone of Indian art changed completely and its language became contemporary – artists like Atul Dodiya, Anju Dodiya, Sudarshan Shetty and Subodh Gupta expressed themselves through new media like installation and digital art.
Before independence, art in India was bought for its own sake and not as an investment. The concept of spending money on Modern Indian Art was absurd and in the late 70s, the Jehangir Art Gallery and Gallery 7 were among the few places one could visit for modern Indian art. In the 1980s, a handful of galleries cropped up across Mumbai and Delhi but it was only after liberalisation in the 1990s that the Indian art market, which until then was almost non-existent or very low scale, opened up, flourished and evolved.
The opening up of the market and the rise of the global Indian gave Indian art a new audience, one that could afford to buy art, and from being just an aesthetic investment, Indian art became an investment with very high commercial value.In the late 90s, the number of art galleries in big cities like Delhi and Bombay went from a handful to over a 100. A major factor responsible for this boom was the involvement of international auction houses that started selling Indian art: Christie’s held its first auction of contemporary Indian art in 1987 and Sotheby’s followed suit in 1989, and by 2000, the prices of modern and contemporary Indian art grew twentyfold.
This trend continued between 2000 and 2006 and reached its peak in 2007 when market size was valued at Rs 2,000 crore but in 2008, the economic recession slowed things down and auctions held in New York and Hong Kong showed dismal sales. The dip continued for two years and even established auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, struggled to sell modern and contemporary Indian art.
By 2010 however, sales of modern and contemporary art picked up and the market began to recover but prices remained at an all time low, and the gap between modern and contemporary art sales widened with modern art (by artists like V S Gaitonde, M F Husain and S H Raza to name a few) having more takers. After three years of decline though, the market levelled in 2012 and since then, sales and prices have soared - in 2013, an untitled 1979 work by VS Gaitonde was sold for over Rs 23 crore at Christie’s first auction in India, setting a new record.
According to ArtTactic (an art market and research firm based in London), confidence in the Indian market rose to 42% in 2013 and is expected to rise as experts predict a positive outlook for the Indian economy. There is also an increase in the number of art buyers from India, China, Russia and the Middle East (who until a decade ago weren’t even part of the playing field) and these new buyers have come in and increased demand resulting in soaring sales for Asian contemporary art: in 2014, the combined sales (of just one auction) at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Saffronart were valued at Rs 86 crore. In addition to the NRIs, who until the 90s constituted 90 per cent of buyers for Indian art, even the local population (owing to an increase in disposable income) is looking to buy art as both an aesthetic and commercial investment. In fact, the number of Indians (46%) buying art has surpassed the number of NRIs (36%) and non-Indians (18%) purchasing modern and contemporary art.At present, the Indian art market has completely recovered from its setbacks of 2008-2010 and is now worth over Rs 1,000-1,200 crore.
In addition to new buyers, increased demand and auctions, another important factor responsible for a boost in the sales of Indian contemporary art is global exposure through art fairs in India and abroad: Indian artists are now participating in global art fairs like the Venice Biennale and Art Basel Hong Kong, and artworks by the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group are in high demand at auctions and fairs in India and abroad -works by S H Raza, F N Souza, Tyeb Mehta and V S Gaitonde are being sold at record-breaking prices (starting at Rs 5 - 8 crore). So whether you’re looking to give the empty walls in your home or work place a do-over with Indian art or just want to invest in Indian art for its commercial value, now is the right time to enter in this highly lucrative market.