Choosing between Indian art and western art is a secondary issue in India. The number of art collectors in India is very small. The percentage of people who look at art as an asset class is not significant. If you look at residences in the West, or let's say New York, a million-dollar property will have more than a million dollars worth of art. The same is not true of India. We first need to build our collector base.
Coming to western art, the prices are very exorbitant. Western art can fetch up to $100 million at the top-end - such as those by Picasso. Indian art is nowhere near these levels - the highest a painting has been sold at is around $6-7 million. There is no comparison at the top-end.
I haven't bought any western art. The reason is that the museum I am building is a house of contemporary and modern Indian art (Kiran Nadar Museum of Art). The emphasis is on Indian art. The highest priced Indian work in my collection is F.N. Souza's Birth (bought at Christie's auction in New York last year, it is a 48 inch x 96 inch oil on board painting and is considered one of the best works of Souza) - I paid `28 crore.
Indian art, therefore, has a long way to go in catching up on prices. But I think it has the potential to grow and prices will climb sooner or later.
While the top-end western artists are well-known, the middle-of-the-line artists are completely unknown to us. The understanding of western art requires a certain amount of knowledge - you can't just collect on whims. Indeed, that knowledge base is lacking among Indian collectors. You have to study the subject. Second, if somebody collects a mid-range western artist and at some point wants to dispose that painting, his market is only going to be the West. There will be nobody in India who will have enough knowledge to buy that artist.
Auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's can help in spreading knowledge about western art. They have auctions of all art, western and Indian. You also get a wide selection of work if you look at their catalogue. So, acquiring that knowledge base is definitely a possibility in India. ~
The writer is the Chairperson of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation. She is one of India's most significant art collectors.
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