Art collection on the rise in India: Christie’s | Mint
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Business News/ News / India/  Art collection on the rise in India: Christie’s

Art collection on the rise in India: Christie’s

Digital access has also made it easier for connoisseurs and dabblers alike to purchase an art work online, said Francis Belin, the Asia-pacific president of art auction house Christie's.

Francis Belin, the Asia-pacific president of art auction house Christie's.Premium
Francis Belin, the Asia-pacific president of art auction house Christie's.

NEW DELHI : The Asian art market has been remarkably resilient during the pandemic, and has seen a new bunch of young, millenial collectors emerge. This surge is being driven by an immense wealth creation that is taking place in the region, reflected by the stock-market boom. Digital access has also made it easier for connoisseurs and dabblers alike to purchase an art work online, Francis Belin, the Asia-pacific president of art auction house Christie's, told Mint in an interview. A flourishing Indian stock market has prompted many to start looking at art as an investment category here. Luxury collectibles, especially watches and jewellery, are also in great demand, Belin observed. Edited excerpts:

How has the Asian art market performed over the pandemic?

Asia as a region has been quite resilient and has a very strong influence on the way forward for us. There is a long-term trend that we see across the continent, bringing forth a strong influx of new collectors. These new collectors are adding to the original base of committed collectors that have been around for decades. This entire region isn't getting weaker and might just eventually start selling as they grow older. The region in terms of buying accounts for 25-30% of our global sales. Last year was on the higher end of that range, at 28%, growing from the year before at 26%. The region accounts for 50-60% new buyers being added each year.

Do you also see a similar trend in India?

We see it very strongly in India as well. We debate about where this is coming from, and we think this is where money is being created. Another thing is we engage with collectors much more on the digital media. We present art that is coming up for sale, and we support transactions too. So, for instance, if a millennial wants a SH Raza, they can just wake up one morning and buy it online. We're seeing almost 80% of all the bids that were placed last year with us, were done digitally. In our November 2023 sale in Hong Kong, which was for about $25 million, 40% of all sales were done online. This could also be because earlier there used to be a cap on the value that they bid on, and that is becoming less and less now.

Buying art online also makes sense, because collectors don't want to be seen either, right?

Historically, they didn't want to be seen, and on a lot of the big bids placed, it was very rare to have a private collector in the room bidding themselves. They would have an agent or be on the phone bidding.

Is the average age of the Indian buyer lower than that of the west, given that India has the largest and the youngest demographic profile?

The average age of art collectors is much lower in India, as compared to around the world. Indians buying art are in their 40s, when the rest of the world is in their 50s. Interestingly, in India last year, almost half of the value purchases made were by new buyers, which is the highest proportion that we have across any category in any geography. So, I would say there is a very strong influx in the past few years of new and younger collectors in India.

So, although you are not actively conducting any live auctions in the subcontinent, you are still seeing active interest?

We've been in India for 30 years now. Last year, while buying in Asia was slightly down, by, say, 4%, at an overall buying level, India was up 30%. And we see a pattern of more new buyers and an increased level of activity. If we look at the Indian stock market -- a reflection of the wealth being created -- (it) has recently overtaken Hong Kong in market cap. Whenever there is more wealth, there is more confidence and collectors acquire more. Initially, it is easier for a lot of people who have wealth to buy real estate, or private jets. But buying art requires a lot of homework as well. From a value perspective, India will continue to increase.

Outside of art, how is the luxury-collectibles part of the business doing for auction houses?

Luxury collectibles are growing very fast. There is a very clear distinction between what we auction, and people buying branded luxury goods like Gucci or LV (Louis Vuitton). The latter is categorised as luxury consumption. So, collecting wines, diamonds, or vintage jewellery, and handbags or champagne will fall under what we auction. We've seen in the last year, even if luxury had mixed fortunes in the world, we continued to see a record year as collectible luxury grew over a billion dollars, and Asia accounted for 40% of whatever was sold globally. In this too, we are seeing an increasing participation from Indian collectors, particularly in watches and jewellery.

What else are Indians collecting?

South Asian art historically accounts for 70-80% of what is being collected. That is typically the trend in most geographies that start collecting. We see that in Indonesia, Thailand, and China. What you're acquiring is your own roots. South Asian art, though, is a fairly small category in terms of the supply compared to, say, Western art. Since it mainly began in the 19th and 20th centuries, and exceptional artists had very few works. So, I think the prices of this art are likely to continue to stay up.

What about international collectors not of Indian heritage collecting Indian art? Is there any interest?

We certainly see collectors who have collected Indian art, but are not of Indian descent. We very much work on increasing having shows, in very prominent institutions around the world.

Contemporary Indian art—which was produced during 1960-80s—hasn't seen much growth, not at least in the same way as progressive or modern art. Your views?

Contemporary Indian art has gone through a tough time, though, we see it growing again. Unfortunately, we see this pattern in many places where when wealth develops, there's a rush to buy domestic art and modern artists who have passed away. And since modern art is constrained in supply, it is more likely to retain its value rather than contemporary art which has no lack of supply.

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Varuni Khosla
Varuni Khosla is a journalist with close to 14 years of experience in writing business news stories for mainstream newspaper companies like Mint and The Economic Times. She reports and writes on luxury and lifestyle brands, hospitality and tourism news, the business of sports, the business of advertising and marketing and alcohol brands.
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Published: 07 Feb 2024, 11:38 PM IST
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