By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Asian modern and contemporary art is witnessing a resurgence in the international market with buyers expressing confidence in its viability as a safe investment option despite the slack economy in the art capitals of the globe.
The sale of the Asian Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s for four days Sept 11-14 at the Rockfeller Centre in New York that mopped up $44,735,075 is being labelled by experts as a comeback for art from Asia and India.
The Indian section was led by an untitled oil-on-canvas work by V.S. Gaitonde, which the master from the progressive contemporary school painted in 1969. It raked in $962,500.
Jonathan Stone, the chairman and international head of Asian Art, says the auction reflected a world-wide demand for the greatest objects of Asian art.
“An 18th century Joseon dynasty blue and white dragon jar, selling for $ 3.2 million, led the dynamic series of sales. Other highlights included Hasegawa Tonin’s ‘Screens, Egrets and Ducks in a Winter Landscape ($ 626,500), a Tibetan thangka of Green Tara ($ 1,762,500) and a 12-10th century BC archaic bronze, ‘zun’ sculpture ($ 1,426,500),” Stone said.
According to experts, Asian art has become an important growth catalyst in the international market as collectibles in the last year despite the general slump in the economy. Rough estimates by private organisations in the US say the bulk of the collectors across the country – both established and amateurs – like to pick up Asian curios from auctions for their private collections.
Stone says the share of the Christie’s sales turnover in Asia art has shot up two-fold in the last five years.
In an interview to the international media last week, Stone pointed to an increasing participation of Asian buyers at Christie’s international auctions saying “in the first half of this year, there was a 31 percent increase in Asian clients registering to bid in sales in London and New York”.
Estimates say Christie’s Asian art sale in New York in spring earned the auction house $69 million while Sotheby’s sold $61.8 million of Asian art.
A breed of new collectors in China is reinforcing the established circle of collectors in Asia, Europe and the US, says Sotheby’s.
Henry Howard Sneyd, the vice chairman for Asian art at Sotheby’s, traces the boom in the market for Asian art to 2006 riding on the strength of the variety, price and newness of collectibles on sale.
One of the factors fuelling the growing demand for Asian art globally is the increasing din for restitution of art to home countries as part of a cultural revival movement prompting collectors from Asia to buy Asain art at international auctions.
An example of this is China.
As the nation prospers money-wise, it is trying to bring home its cultural heritage from collections and museums across the world as part of the restitution process. The heat is on in India as well where private collectors and even the government are trying to repatriate national art treasures outside the country, experts say.
A team from Christie’s, which was in India in August, said the growth of several parallel intra-Asian markets in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, which had never experienced art-related activity, has opened a new market for Asian art both in the continent and abroad.
A spurt in institutional buying by museums and private archives to build up Asian collections in a new phase of growth marked by building of art infrastructure around the world has also pitched in to the rising demand for Asian art – both modern and contemporary.
Auctioneer and gallerist Vikram Bachhawat says the success of the Asian Art Week – a week of Asian art sale in New York in September – has pushed the popularity to new heights.
“Of the top 10 auction houses in the world, seven are Chinese auction houses dealing in Asian art. Chinese art is the top-selling and has smashed auction records held by Pablo Picasso. The markets in several Southeast Asian countries are also picking up,” Bachhawat told IANS.
One of the reason for the spiral in demand is the affordable price of Asian art compared to European and American art, the auctioneer says.
Back home, the Asian boom will find its way into the India Art Fair – the country’s biggest international art showcase – in 2013 where works by modern masters from Pakistan and Bangladesh will be presented for the first time, says Neha Kirpal, the founder and director of the India Art Fair.
“There is a consistent demand for these artists from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, similar to the demand that exists for Indian modern masters, but they are lesser known to many collectors, and often they are available at lower prices than their Indian contemporaries e.g. Souza or Raza,” Kirpal said.
“Interestingly, we have seen a stronger interest from galleries across Asia than in the previous years. Many of the leading galleries from the west also represent Asian artists. The fifth edition of India Art Fair will feature some of the best known and emerging artists from South Asia (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan), and well as Singapore, China, Australia, and the Middle East, including Iranian artists,” Kirpal told IANS.