The New Raj: The Rise Of Indian Artists And Their Collectors

As an art adviser and avid collector, I keep my ears perked for rumblings of what’s trending and ‘what’s new’ in the market. With that in mind, I attended a panel discussion last week in NY at Christies on the subject of Contemporary Indian Art. The event was co sponsored by Barron’s Penta magazine editor Richard Morais , who had just featured a lengthy article in Penta on the subject. There were two Collectors of Indian art on the panel as well as the South Asian art expert from Christies.  One of the collectors , was an all around American , from the heartland, Nebraska, and the other collector was an expat, originally from India and now living  in San Fransisco. Everyone was very excited and enthusiastic about the sunny horizon of what is coming up  culturally right now in India. 

India’s booming economy is also producing  innovative and unusual art, even by Western standards. As we all know, social  and cultural churning is what propels good art. 

The budding of a sexual revolution and new gender politics, are surfacing onto the canvases and performances of today’s Indian artists. Previously, any public display of affection was to be kept as a private matter,  ( think of how Bollywood’s expression of sexual urge is couched in singing and dance routines ). Well, overt sexuality is now creeping onto the center stage of India’s contemporary cultural scene and into the frequently narrative nature of their arts. 

There is a high level of intellectualism and personal expression in artists such as Bhupen Khakhar who’s colorful paintings transmit an erotic fantasy. In the 1970’s ,  Bhupen boldly gave up his career as an accountant at age 38 and began painting.  He used this platform to openly declare he was gay. He is considered to be the back bone for every young Indian artist today. The Tate Modern will be mounting a major retrospective of his works in the spring of 2016. 

The modern/contemporary Indian art scene has had its starts and bumps since the country’s independence in 1947.  Initially, the Bengal region produced a sensual, expressive pan Asian style of painting that moved away from the traditional miniatures, and any British cultural influences.  Instead, the ‘Modernist ‘ movement was informed by Japanese art as well as Western influences. The poetic greats of this period were lead by the painter Tagore, and artists such as  Jamini Roy and Gopal Ghosh are well known and well treasured internationally today. After the the country’s independence in 1947,  Indian artists sought to further assert their new nation’s culture into ever more untraditional styles and explore new idioms. A wonderful band of artists emerged. They became known as the Progressives. Abstract painting in India flourished.  

Today, new media reigns. There is performance art by Nikhil Chopra, who dresses as different characters centered on India’s colonial past. He blurs the lines of theater and merges the performer with the audience in an audacious immediacy. He is also a painter. Raqs Media Collective formed in 1992, employ their background in film, in installation works that have been exhibited in Documenta and applauded globally. 

While prices skyrocketed for the nations new modernists and progressives during the 1970-2000, they also fell in the secondary market auction sales by 3/4,in 2008 when the bubble  finally burst. Ironically, and unlike China, there are only 25 major blue chip art collectors living in India itself. The Modern and Progressive secondary market is now bouncing back with an economic growth in India, it’s diaspora, and consumers in the Mid East region. But, it is happening slowly. 

Today, however may be a tipping point and the dawn of a healthy verve for the contemporary Indian art market. There is much interest and investment coming from outside India. Outsiders see something that the native culture, who have it under their nose, don’t see.  Collectors from all over the world now go to India and snatch up works by the dozens! Collectors, such as Marc Le Baron , from Nebraska , visit India with keen interest. Guided by an expert in the field, Birgid Uccia, Mr Le Baron along with another top American Collector visited artist studios as well as galleries in India. They bought over 25 works in one trip. One interesting fact, and a head’s up for buying painting directly from an Indian artist’s studio : the rainy season and extreme heat can pro long the oil paint drying on the canvas for up to two years! There is also a heavy surcharge in tax when taking art out of the country. That hasn’t seemed to stop anyone.  

An International audience goes beyond the native Indian market that previously collected with a sense of nostalgia. Christies is excited about the new Indian art movement. They too are scouring the region looking for young talent ready to launch. Christies is planning an emerging and very contemporary primary Indian art auction in early 2016. Their auction will include art works well under $10,000. The art world is looking to see who will tell the visual story of India  today. 


See Lizanne Merrill’s new website here 

Words: Lizanne Merrill © artlyst 2015 Photo via Twitter

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