A revival of private investment has been elusive and after the shock November invalidation of high-value banknotes, economic growth has slowed for two consecutive quarters, to a three-year low of 5.7% in the quarter ended June. That hasn’t deterred serious buyers of Indian art, judging from data compiled by Artery India, an art market research firm. Forty-seven Indian artists achieved new world records in prices paid for their works in the secondary art market between March 2016 and August 2017; 27 of those records were set in the post-demonetization period. Four price records were set in the private market post January 2017, including for one of the top five most expensive Indian artworks ever sold, said Arvind Vijaymohan, CEO and founder of Artery India.

At auction house Pundole’s’ 17 November sale, just days after the 8 November demonetization, 19th century realistic painter Raja Ravi Varma’s Radha in the Moonlight sold for Rs23 crore. This was Rs19 crore more than his previous record—Untitled (Portrait of a Young Woman in Russet and Crimson Sari) fetched Rs3.9 crore at a Sotheby’s auction on 15 March 2016. And in May, modern Indian master Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled (Woman on Rickshaw) became his most expensive painting when it went under the hammer at a Christie’s sale for Rs22.9 crore.

“While the overall sentiment is slow, there is adequate movement and exchange activity in the market, for important works in particular," said Vijaymohan.

Payments in the secondary market are made in cheques, so demonetization did not have any impact, corroborated Hugo Weihe, CEO of Saffronart.

In the primary art market, greater caution was practised. This was felt at the India Art Fair, which took place in January, said Amal Allana, director of Art Heritage gallery in New Delhi. “In general, demonetization slowed down the art economy. There’s no real sense of recovery still," she said.

At the auctions, the Modernists are clearly in favour, with collectors willing to dig deep into their pockets to acquire their works. Of the 47 new record prices created in this past year, 29 were set by Modernists. Vijaymohan’s analysis reveals that some buyers at auctions may not have been prudent, and actually overpaid for over a dozen works.

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