ArtTactic releases their annual South Asian art market report, noting an exciting upturn in the region’s sales of modern and contemporary art.

While much of South Asia’s market success has been driven by commercially-valuable work, the report suggests an increase in not-for-profit initiatives and socially-conscious collecting. Art Radar unpacks the report’s key findings.

Bharti Kher, 'Mother of Anything Possible, Anytime', 2006, Bindis on aluminum sheet; triptych, 243.2 x 365.8 cm overall (3). Price Realized: USD 209,000. "South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art" on 14 September 2016 at Christie’s in New York. Image courtesy Christie's.

Bharti Kher, ‘Mother of Anything Possible, Anytime’, 2006, bindis on aluminium sheet; triptych, 243.2 x 365.8 cm overall (3). Price Realised: USD209,000. “South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art” on 14 September 2016 at Christie’s in New York. Image courtesy Christie’s.

ArtTactic narrates market histories

The ArtTactic report has been a fundamental source on South Asian art for ten years, tracking the booms and busts of the region’s market as it became a global contender in the commercial art world. The research firm provides detailed accounts of this financial rollercoaster, highlighting its miraculous resilience and transformation from an economically-driven market championed by for-profit institutions to a series of culturally-driven initiatives with diversified success.

ArtTactic Founder Anders Petterson claims that the 2009 crisis and subsequent market downslide was a “blessing in disguise”, built on the fragile foundations of the 2004-2008 upturn. He states:

Without any supporting art infrastructure in the form of museums, non-commercial institutions, and artist-led initiatives supporting the emerging art scene, the art market and its economic value became the dominant context and the main arbiter of quality and cultural value. However, when the market collapsed, a number of new initiatives rose from the ashes, most of them not-for-profit and with a strong focus on the cultural rather than the economic value of art.

For this past year’s assessment, Petterson and his team have constructed a report that illustrates the recent structural changes in the market and the South Asian artists and art institutions that similarly value the edifying worth of visual culture. They stress that, while the South Asian market still lacks government support, private foundations, like the Samdani Art Foundation in Dhaka, are beginning to fill the gaps in funding.

54.6 x 45.7 cm, signed and dated ‘RAZA ‘65’ lower right. Countersigned, titled, and inscribed with the artist’s inventory reference ‘p604 65’ on the reverse. Image courtesy Vadehra Art Gallery.

S.H. Raza, ‘Contre Jour’, 1965, oil on canvas, 54.6 x 45.7 cm, signed and dated ‘RAZA ‘65’ lower right. Countersigned, titled and inscribed with the artist’s inventory reference ‘p604 65’ on the reverse. Image courtesy Vadehra Art Gallery. © Raza Foundation.

The goal of ArtTactic’s comprehensive, 18-page report is to feature those arts institutions, initiatives and professionals that recognise the importance of diversity in a well-functioning art ecosystem. The art scene in South Asia is persistently on the rise, both with regard to the number of exhibiting artists and growing appeal of their work on an international scale. For the first time since 2008, Petterson claims, there is an overarching sense of “optimism” regarding South Asian biennials and festivals, and a more enthusiastic desire to absorb the region’s art history.

2017 Report Key Highlights

The birth of a new art ecosystem

The first, and perhaps most significant, finding in the report is what ArtTactic refers to as “the birth of a new art ecosystem in South Asia”. In reference to the market downturn in 2009, the report suggests an ongoing and persistent enthusiasm around budding commercial and non-commercial art enterprises. The growth is most noticeable and news-worthy amongst the latter category, non-commercial institutions driving the region’s art quality and content to a more accessible and urgent subsistence. Such new platforms, the document reports, are opening the market to public conversations about contextualising and promoting artists’ work within the region.

Anish Kapoor, 'Untitled', 2005, Stainless steel, 140 x 109.9 x 30 cm. Photo: Dave Morgan. Image courtesy the artist. © Anish Kapoor. All rights reserved, 2018

Anish Kapoor, ‘Untitled’, 2005, stainless steel, 140 x 109.9 x 30 cm. Photo: Dave Morgan. Image courtesy the artist. © Anish Kapoor. All rights reserved, 2018.

Rapid rise in Indian antiquity

When the arts throughout Asia are paralleled in market terms, comparisons are usually made between a buoyant Chinese antiquity market, driven by an ever-expanding group of wealthy, domestically-based Chinese collectors, and a largely latent Indian antiquity market, driven by a “seemingly apathetic domestic Indian population”. ArtTactic, however, relays recent data suggesting that works of Indian antiquity, specifically paintings, suggest a situation that is slowly changing. Further, 2017 showed Indian galleries dominating the commercial South Asian primary art market with fast-growing cities like Chennai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Hyderabad accounting for a large percentage of the country’s modern and contemporary work on display.

The artists F.N. Souza and Bharti Kher, for instance, have both made it to ArtTactic’s Top 5 Auction Results charts for modern and contemporary Indian art, respectively. Though the report notes a slight decline in public interest in Modern Indian art in the last 12 months, such artists maintain high “confidence rankings”, signalling a positive outlook for the coming year.

S.H. Raza, 'Untitled', Signed and dated 'RAZA 1982' (on the reverse), 1982, Acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. Image courtesy Saffronart.

S.H. Raza, ‘Untitled’, 1982, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. Signed and dated ‘RAZA 1982’ on the reverse. Image courtesy Saffronart. © Raza Foundation.

South Asian biennial fever

Since the latest market crash, the South Asian art market has seen the emergence of eight new biennials and commercial festivals. From the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (scheduled for 12 December 2018) to the non-commercial research programme, the Dhaka Art Summit, artists have found new platforms to relay their projects to an international arena.

India has also seen the blossoming of the Pune Biennale and the Serendipity Arts Festival, their contributions to the field of contemporary art, architecture and educational programmes setting the stage for established and emerging artists. Petterson additionally notes two biennials in Lahore and Karachi that will return for a second run in 2019.

Boom in private patronage

The aforementioned lack of public funding has led to a surge in private patronage in the South Asian market. Private institutions like the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), the Swaraj Archive and the Inlaks Sivdasani Foundation are playing a central and increasingly active role in building a sturdy infrastructure for contemporary art and artists.

Nonetheless, the region’s top selling contemporary artists of the year have come as no surprise. Anish Kapoor, Ravinder Reddy and Bharti Kher have pulled in a collective USD1,225,012 in sales through the facilitation of Saffronart, Asta Guru Mumbai and Christie’s.

F N Souza, ‘Head’, 1953, Oil on board, 56.8 x 40.9 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffron art.

F. N. Souza, ‘Head’, 1953, oil on board, 56.8 x 40.9 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffronart.

On opposite ends of the market spectrum, Petterson claims, are different types of collectors: one being driven by emotion and the other by investment. In writing the report, ArtTactic has suggested a collision between the two, with most collectors constantly changing the priorities that emotion, passion, and social and financial returns play in their pursuit of collecting art. This fine balance cannot be achieved through commercial arts institutions alone, but is the result of a burgeoning market that values its not-for-profit and artist-led initiatives. Petterson and the ArtTactic research team thus foresee an increase in alternative spaces, which will foster collaborations between artists, galleries, buyers and connoisseurs in the coming year.

Megan Miller


Related Topics: South Asian artists, Indian artists, auctions, market transparency, market watch, reports

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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