March was a good month for Osian’s, India’s leading auction house and archive for the contemporary arts and cinema. Sales of Osian’s ‘Indian Modern and Contemporary art’ auction touched Rs 30.28 crore.The average lot price registered was Rs 31.22 lakh; 77 per cent of the 126 lots were sold. A couple of days earlier, Osian’s also announced that it had signed an agreement to sell a minority stake to Dubai-based private equity investment firm Abraaj Capital. The transaction for Rs 80 crore for a 9.4 per cent stake in Osian’s values the company at Rs 840 crore. Osian’s share price, which has been privately placed since 2001, has grown at an approximate cumulative average growth rate of 85 per cent, to reach Rs 1,600 during the latest transaction.
“Abraaj is our fiftieth investor. We will be the first cultural institution in the world ever to go public late next year,” says a proud Neville Tuli, Founder-Chairman and CEO of Osian’s. Tuli believes that the art market in India will be largely insulated from the tremors the financial world is experiencing right now. Explains Tuli: “After 30 years of public auctions across the world, you have barely a market for 200 artists; of these 200, 40 constitute 90 per cent of the market.
Of those 40, about 10 constitute half of the market. So after 125 years, you have 10 people’s work that creates liquidity in the market. Once you have crossed that threshold, you will sustain value… come hell or shine.” Tuli says that the market for art in India which was about a million dollars in 1997 has grown to about $350-400 million (Rs 1,400-1,600 crore) today.
— T. V. Mahalingam