New collectors drive Indian art market surge, says Christie’s

In 2010, Christie's sold Indian artist Syed Haider Raza's work 'Saurashtra' at over  ₹16.3 crore in an auction in London.
In 2010, Christie's sold Indian artist Syed Haider Raza's work 'Saurashtra' at over 16.3 crore in an auction in London.


The emergence of a new category of Indian buyers who collect luxury products through auction houses highlights the growing interest in art

NEW DELHI : The art market in India, riding on a decade-long upward trend, has seen a significant boost during the pandemic, led by a small group of dedicated Indian collectors. The emergence of a new category of Indian buyers who collect luxury products through auction houses highlights the growing interest in art.

Although Christie’s discontinued its India auctions business a few years ago, the British art auction house remains positive about collector interest from the Indian subcontinent. Having sold artworks worth 400 crore in these previous auctions, Christie’s believes that India will continue to be a significant market for the auction house in the years to come.

Sonal Singh, managing director of Christie’s Indian department, emphasized its focus on modernist and contemporary art, which has played a prominent role in its Indian sales. In a global auction in March, a remarkable 60% of the bidding activity came from India.

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Graphic: Mint

“The market has changed a huge amount. It is a really good time to sell since the market is strong. There is a huge appetite for material that has not been seen before, and people are selling them. When there is high-quality material, people will step out to buy, in spite of what the economic situation may be," Singh said. The auction house saw record sales of $8.4 billion in the year following the pandemic.

Christie’s acquires artworks from both India and outside, including private collections. This approach provides opportunities to find previously undiscovered artworks by esteemed artists such as V.S. Gaitonde, M.F. Husain, and H.S. Raza.

The auction house expects to see more contemporary art in Indian auctions and believes that overlooked artists will gain greater recognition. Additionally, it expects categories such as 18th or 19th-century paintings and miniature art to find their place in the market.

Singh has a positive outlook for the Indian market and highlighted the upcoming launch of two new art fairs and the emergence of private museums, such as the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, within the next five years.

“We are trying to do more in India now and want to do an exhibition of some kind. I am very optimistic about the market. It has a huge potential for growth. The economics are clear to indicate that people are getting wealthier, and there is more to spend on art and luxury collectables, and we want to be a part of that. In five years, spending may even double. Numbers have changed drastically since the pandemic in the last three years, so I really don’t see why this trend would not continue," she said.

Interestingly, Christie’s has observed a shift in collecting habits, with individuals expanding their interests to include other art forms such as maps and luxury products like handbags, watches, wine, and old master paintings. While historically focused on Indian art, Christie’s has seen these alternative categories contribute to 20% of its business from Indian buyers. Notably, the older cities in India have produced many art collectors.

The global market for luxury collectables has been growing, with demand for jewellery, handbags, and watches driven by cities outside the major metros. “Watches and some types of bags have become multi-million-dollar objects. That is why Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Hermes bags do so well at auctions because you cannot go into the store and buy them," she said.

During the pandemic, Christie’s witnessed an influx of new online art buyers who engaged seriously in collecting. This opened doors to new art forms like NFTs (non-fungible tokens), and although the initial surge in interest has tapered, interest in online art remains strong.

The art market has also seen increased engagement from younger buyers, with millennials accounting for 31% of all buyers this year. About 38% of all new buyers were millennials or even younger, reflecting a growing interest in art among the younger generation.

“There is so much interest in art in cities other than Delhi and Mumbai and the other metros. About 10 years ago, we started auctions in India. We also saw a lot of interest from collectors in tier-two cities such as Ahmedabad, Pune, and Nagpur. We are now seeing some collectors from Bengaluru and Hyderabad too, which are newer markets for us," she added.

Collectors in these emerging markets are also seeking guidance from advisers to navigate international art purchases, which they subsequently acquire domestically.

The robust activity in the Indian art market reflects growing enthusiasm for art and luxury collectables. As collectors diversify their interests and younger buyers participate in the market, the future looks promising for both established and emerging artists, as well as auction houses like Christie’s. Christie’s competes with Sotheby’s and SaffronArt in India.

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