That the Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) needs funds is no secret. Yet the recently concluded biennale, held from 12 December-29 March, managed to host 94 artists.

Curated by Jitish Kallat, the second iteration saw installations, interactive artwork and performances spread across the historic port town. Internationally renowned names, including Anish Kapoor and Francesco Clemente, displayed their works, as did locally known, younger artists such as Sahej Rahal and Benitha Perciyal.

The total cost of the biennale was 15 crore, and the state government, which had approached artists Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari in 2010 to organize an international platform for contemporary art in India, allocated 2 crore. By November—a month before the biennale was to begin—the organizers had initiated a crowd-funding exercise online. They raised 2.99 lakh, and funds from the government eventually reached just before the biennale began; the state is expected to give the Kochi Biennale Foundation another 2 crore this year. A number of companies, like DLF, Apollo Hospitals, Bank of India and BMW, and individual donors, including artists such as Atul Dodiya, Sudhir Patwardhan and Vivan Sundaram also chipped in.

On 7 April, Saffronart will hold a charity auction in Mumbai with works donated by 40 artists, including contemporary artists like Dodiya, Ranbir Kaleka, Pushpamala N. and Navjot Altaf. Dinesh Vazirani, co-founder of the online auction house, speaks about the auction house, the forthcoming auction, and how the Kochi biennale affects the art market. Edited excerpts:

What is the idea behind holding an auction?

Most biennales around the world have massive sponsorship. You cannot host a not-for-profit public-private partnership without funds and supporters. So the idea was to have an auction every year, where artists would donate works to raise the money. The corpus would go some way in helping the biennale sustain itself.

Unlike some charity proceeds, where a little bit of the money goes to the artist and a bit goes to the event, all the proceeds of this auction will go to the biennale. There is no buyer’s premium either.

What about other aspects of funding?

The Kerala government has been very supportive. The whole process of getting private sponsors in, whether they are corporates or individuals, takes time. Very few people believe in the success of a project the first time round—they want to see the consequences before they pitch in with an amount. Now, however, the biennale is getting more corporate sponsors. But it’s not enough.

To install works, to prepare the spaces, the events around it—all of it costs a lot of money. Not just Indian artists, but also international artists, are bringing their works to Kochi. There is a cost to it.

This particularly affects the lesser-known artists, the local ones. Anish Kapoor has the means to transport his work to Kochi, more so than younger artists from around the country.

Let me give you an example. Manisha Gera Baswani, who has been photographing the artist community for the last 15 years, had an exhibition at Kochi, which we sponsored. The organizers also asked for sponsors for a day or an event. That’s what young artists need, and I hope that more people come up to support them.

There are patron slabs— “platinum", “gold" and “silver" are 25 lakh, 10 lakh, 5 lakh donations, respectively. We’re in talks with two artists that we hope to fund during the next biennale.

Through this auction, we hope to raise about 2.5-3 crore. This year, about 40 artists have donated works. We have put an estimate on the work, which is based on the market price and the guide price given by the galleries. The reserve prices of the artworks are much lower, because the objective is to sell the works and raise money for the biennale. A charity auction like the biennale is not a price discovery mechanism. It’s a donation mechanism. The object is that the work sells, and the biennale gets the money for their projects.

The biennale seeks to go back to the basics, rekindle interest in contemporary art in India, which was hit by the recession in 2007-08. How does it help the art market?

The KMB creates public consciousness. There is no price to any of the artworks at the biennale. It’s all about the experience, especially since a lot of the works are interactive. This changes the way we look at art—it’s not only canvas and paper, it’s something that can be housed anywhere, and not just inside a gallery. Over time, this changes the mindset of collectors. This will translate into a healthier market, but not immediately.

I’d break the art market today into two: modern and contemporary art. The best of the modern art touches record prices in auctions. The simple reason for that is their supply is limited. Over time, with strong collectors, including museums, works that were purchased don’t come back easily into the market. The best works, like, say, a (Francis Newton) Souza from the 1950s, or a (Syed Haider) Raza from the 1970s or 1980s, have gone into very strong collections.

The contemporary art market was in some ways the worst hit after the financial crisis. The reason for this was that most of the collectors were housed outside India. (When the recession hit), the non-Indians who were buying contemporary art from around the world stopped buying and began to cull their collections. There wasn’t enough of an underpinning of an Indian collector base. This was why the crash was so severe. It’s showing signs of recovery now. Things like the biennale help because it is a contemporary Indian art platform.