Indian art market on way to steady recovery: Gallerist Vadehra

A global economic downturn that gripped several economies of the world in 2007-08 has still left a scar on India’s art map just as the graph was soaring, but there are signs of recovery of late, according to one of the most renowned gallerists in the country.

“Art in India peaked six years ago. Then recession set in, and there has been a slide. I now sense a comeback in our art scene in a year or two,” says Arun Vadehra, director of Delhi- and London-based Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) which is holding a 15-day exhibition of Padma Bhushan A Ramachandran in this city.

Vadehra, who set up VAG in 1987, regrets that many Indian galleries have closed down in the past half a decade. “We have lost a lot of entrepreneurship in art. Today, there is a need for new ownerships and a spirit of enterprise in this field. I see it happening,” he adds.

Vadehra says India’s contribution in the world art market has yet to grow to match its potential. “Our country contributes only 0.5 per cent of the global art market. Latest annual figures peg India’s art market turnover at 400 million dollars, when the worldwide figure is 65 billion dollars,” he states.

This is, Vadehra notes, when India’s gross domestic product (GDP) stood at 4 per cent of the global GDP. “Our country has to ensure that its art market contribution grows by a similar proportion,” he points out. “Close to 4 per cent of the world’s art market turnover should be from India. It will happen. Say in the next two to five years.”

Vadehra, however, notes that lucre wasn’t exactly what prompted him to launch VAG more than a quarter century ago. “Those days, India did not have a booming art market. We launched the gallery basically for our love for art,” he recalls.

Soon, VAG began working with icons such as MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, SH Raza. VS Gaitonde and Ram Kumar, followed by indigenist modernists that included Ramachandran, whose first-ever show in Kerala is concluding here on August 26.

“Such interactions gave us a clearer idea of the value of the field,” notes Vadehra, who subsequently strove to introduce Indian art to the world. “Between 1991 and ’94, I travelled many times to London to convince (leading auction house) Christie’s about the need and viability of marketing Indian art globally. Weathering initial indifference, Vadehra realised his dream in 1995 when Christie’s held its first auction of Indian art.

Soon after, VAG collaborated with the Government-owned National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, to host a Husain exhibition. “It took us many months of persuasion. We’re happy we could impress the (Union) Ministry of Culture,” says Vadehra.

As for 78-year-old Ramachandran, whose mini retrospective is on at Durbar Hall Gallery, Vadehra said the artist’s relation with VAG traces back two decades. “There is so much faith he has in us and vice versa,” he notes. “Next year, we’re hosting in Delhi a bigger exhibition of his works marking his half-a-century-long life in the city.”

VAG’s international recognition was further solidified by the 2006 collaboration with the Grosvenor (now the Grosvenor Vadehra) Gallery in London on the first-ever Pablo Picasso exhibition held in a private gallery in India. Two years later, VAG opened a first-of-its-kind bookstore in India, combining it with a reading room/library space by Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art.

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